Should You Regret the Gift You Didn't Give That Client?

To leave a lasting impression, give a gift at an unexpected time of year. Valentine's Day, anyone?

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By John Ruhlin

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Valentine's Day is coming up, and you might want to consider that day of flowers and chocolates as a gift-giving opportunity -- not just for your sweetheart but for your business clients.

Related: 10 Ways Competition Helps You Win in Business

The reason? "Holiday" gifts, as in the December holidays, often feel burdensome, and not just for individuals. According to a recent ASI survey, 42 percent of businesses planned on giving holiday gifts to prospective customers in 2014; but in 2016, that number fell by 10 percent.

Are businesses just getting stingy? Far from it. This decrease in giving around the December holidays is arguably just good strategy. After all, it's difficult for a business to stand out from the large crowd of Christmas/Hanukkah gift-givers.

But gifting out of season conveys a prospect's true value. Even a mediocre gift midsummer will stand out.

What about tradition?

Strategically, the holidays are not a smart time to be investing -- and gift-giving is certainly an investment in a relationship. The additional distractions throughout December can be overwhelming, as well, and to be effective, a gift must be well thought out.

Besides, the majority of gifts companies give during the winter holidays are given as tokens, not investments, simply because that's the way it has always been done.

Instead, a good gift-giving strategy will focus on the entire year, just like any other business strategy does. And the ideal price for a gift? It should float somewhere between $100 and $500 as a general rule -- around the price of a nice dinner or a round of golf.

Strategies should be based, too, partially on what the competition is doing (or what they're not doing), so pick a few holidays throughout the year when nobody else will be sending their clients and prospects gifts.

That's why last year, my company picked Valentine's Day as well as the opening day of baseball season, the Fourth of July and Halloween for our gift-giving. No prospective client is expecting a gift on any of those occasions.

Our Valentine's Day gift was a little cheesy, but it was perfect: Cutco shears with a red handle, engraved with prospects' last names. They cost $100 each, but the "priceless" part was when some of the male recipients who hadn't thought ahead re-gifted them to their wives instead of going home empty-handed! You can bet that small investment made a big impression.

Fostering relationships with gifts

All relationships, personal or professional, are a game of give-and-take. So, make it a point to give more unexpected gifts in the coming year by following these tips:

1. Send a handwritten note. Handwritten notes are one of the most powerful tools you can use, and people remember notes. Take some extra time this month to write a personalized note to prospects. Instead of hurriedly scribbling a note in December that says a whole lot of nothing; make it thoughtful.

The CEO of Prepwise, Kate McKeon, tells me she swears by handwritten letters, whether she's thanking vendors or getting in touch with potential clients. A note that clearly required time and effort sticks out in people's minds.

Related: The Business Benefits of the Handwritten Letter

2. Spotlight your prospect in the industry. Giving someone else's business a "shout out" in some form of media is a simple way to impress your prospective clients. Focusing on other people and giving them the limelight goes a long way toward eventually getting their business.

Try using a shout-out in a company blog post that concerns a leader in your industry or mention this person while you're being interviewed for a podcast. Any type of publicity will show a true belief in this person's product or service.

3. Provide your prospect with networking opportunities. Take the time to connect the dots for people, and think about whom they should really meet. This could change their business forever. Be intentional about forging connections and thoughtful with the introduction, so your contact can actually reach out and follow up.

Planning travel well in advance will maximize these opportunities. Ultimately, the technology that helps connect people will never replace meeting someone face-to-face. In fact, a study conducted by Virgin and shared through HubSpot said that 95 percent of those surveyed believed that in-person meetings were vital for business partnerships to last long-term.

Related: 5 Steps to Rock Any Networking Event

In sum, business gifting during the holiday season is an uphill battle, and it's more likely that gifts in December will be seen as tokens, rather than a sincere show of appreciation.

To leave a lasting impression, give a gift at an unexpected time of year. Plan ahead and be thoughtful -- the competition will evaporate in the face of those Valentines candies you sent.

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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