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Don't Assume What Gifts Potential Partners Want -- You Can't Afford to Be Wrong Treat your recipients' loved ones to something nice. Just stay away from their kids until you know them better.

By John Ruhlin Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Entrepreneurs attempting to make good impressions often falsely assume what networking contacts would like. To find out, they sometimes use the "catering" strategy -- steering conversations or opportunities toward the other person's interests -- at meetings and in gift-giving situations.

Related: Prepare Now so Your Team Can Enjoy the Holidays and Still Be Productive

But while, in a recent survey, 71 percent of respondents presumed catering to be the most effective method, research disproves this popular belief. Catering and gift choices based on inaccurate assumptions actually do more harm to relationships than giving nothing at all.

Instead, gifts should change a person's perception of the giver for the better. They should help build relationships at a time when most businesses want to escape the transactional phase. Rather than throwing a bunch of money at someone, giving a good gift makes a solid statement that shows an individual is valued.

And like any good networking tactic, earning the respect of even one person can lead to more introductions and exponential growth. But for gifts to help grow a business, they have to impress. Here are five ways to stop guessing and start giving gifts that will "wow" recipients.

Related: How to Pick the Perfect Business Gift

1. Treat their loved ones to something nice.

Impressing executives is hard. Higher-ups are catered to incessantly, so it's hard to make a strong impression without spending a ton of money. Instead, focus on delighting the people in their respective inner circles.

One hundred dollars, for instance, can go much further for an assistant or spouse, and even a modest gift for an executive becomes meaningful if it includes the spouse. Family-centric gifts such as a set of glasses the whole family will use are also a good idea.

However, be aware that targeting someone's kids before a relationship is established can give the wrong impression. Stick with the assistant or spouse early on. Giving specific gifts to someone else's kids can be creepy.

2. Respect their assistants.

Assistants have great influence, but they're not to be treated like pawns or gatekeepers. Build genuine relationships with them. No colleague will ever be as close to an executive or as trusted as his or her assistant. Make sure these employees know they're valued and receive as many gifts as the CEO.

I did this with the first NBA team I worked with, and the office assistant set me up with five more team department heads. In six months, we landed a six-figure deal. That never would've happened if we hadn't treated her like an equal.

3. Give gifts when they're least expected.

Giving a gift when expectations are low creates more joy and gratitude. Give gifts "just because," not simply because a holiday is approaching. And don't ruin the element of surprise by asking for an address outright.

When pursuing a partnership with someone, don't hesitate to send more than one gift. I once sent Cutco knives to a prospective partner every other month for 18 months. He was eventually impressed enough to invite me to his house. Four years later, he wrote the foreword to my book.

Keep adding value to someone's life from afar with handwritten notes, key introductions and tangible gifts several times a year. High-quality touchpoints will build relationships and open the doorways for future opportunities.

4. Give only the best.

If a high-end gift is too expensive, choose a gift with a lower price point. Don't give watches unless they're Rolexes or Breitlings. Someone who appreciates a watch doesn't want a mediocre one.

For example, I once gifted a set of green cleaning supplies from Better Life. Cleaning supplies may sound like a strange choice, but that guy's wife loved me for it. Gifting $200 worth of world-class anything will almost always be appreciated if it makes life easier.

When you're unsure how high a price range should be, use the price of a nice dinner or tickets to a ball game as a guide. Just keep your expenditure under $1,000 to avoid looking desperate.

Related: 8 Great Gadget Gifts for Entrepreneurs

5. Pick useful, everyday items.

Pick something that any human will find useful. Even people who don't like to cook enjoy having a good set of knives, and a portfolio is something almost anyone can use. Offering someone a $300 everyday item that's personalized and handmade makes a boring gift suddenly appealing.

Just as you would in your personal life, make business gift-giving a thoughtful act. In business, however, it's also a strategy. An effective strategy will propel your business forward, while a poorly thought-out strategy might be disastrous. Be intentional and genuine in your efforts to impress potential partners, and eliminate the possibility of failed assumptions.

John Ruhlin

Founder and CEO of the Ruhlin Group

John Ruhlin is an entrepreneur, international speaker and author of Giftology. More relationship and referral strategies can be found at Giver's Edge.

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