When you reflect on the vendors and partners who've sent you gifts, how many made a return on their investment? Did it really make a difference?

It's almost impossible to find a gift that will be well-received by all customers, properly priced, and strengthen your work together. Spend too little and you look cheap, spend too much and you risk looking unethical. It's also hard to say what will set the stage for a great relationship.

That's why I've decided to scrap holiday gifts this year and take my clients out for a meal. People do business with people they like and with those whom they feel a connection. And since things tend to slow down around the holidays, getting away for an hour shouldn't feel like a waste of time. Actually it will feel just the opposite.

During these meals, I make it a point to discuss the year's successes and challenges, then take some time to plot our goals and dreams for the coming year. At the end, I'll offer a heartfelt thank you for their business and for celebrating with me in person.

Of course, taking clients out to lunch requires some foresight and should never been taken too lightly. I always plan in advance and treat it just like any other meeting with a client. Sure, the setting is casual, but keep it professional. 

During the meal, I strive to be a good listener and avoid a trendy or loud restaurant, where the ambiance might stifle our conversation. I also choose restaurants that are nearby and familiar, so I never risk bad service or food.

When planning the meal, I stick to the date we've originally set, no matter what comes up. A business lunch is about impressing clients and I don't want them to question my ability to stay on schedule. 

Taking your clients out to a meal gives you an opportunity to get to know them through dynamic conversation. You can learn what makes them tick and get valuable feedback to put toward your business. Perhaps there's a pain point you've yet to address or a feature they wish you'd roll out. Use this time to get in their head--but don't forget to be yourself. 

I recommend asking a few open-ended questions and not being afraid to share a few personal stories. It will make you look human, which is a good thing since people like doing business with people they trust. Whatever you do, don't worry about giving the perfect gift. If you make it memorable, thoughtful, and above all, sincere, 2014 is bound to be a good year.