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OMG! Less Than a Week Until Christmas! 4 Ways to Find the Perfect Gift for a Relative Stranger. Know that that gift will be appreciated and maybe make you stand out to a new client or prospect.

By John Ruhlin Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Gifting isn't a new concept, but a recent Bloomberg article highlighted just how effective the strategy remains. According to Bloomberg, businesses in Japan spend hundreds of dollars per arrangement on exotic orchids. They present these beautiful plants to one another not only because gifting is a cultural custom, but because it makes a strong connection between the giver and receiver.

Certainly, it can cost a bundle to send a prize orchid -- or any other expensive gift -- but this kind of imaginative, thoughtful gifting often gets businesspeople past the transactional phase and into a relationship quickly.

Have someone you want to connect with through careful cultivation? Sure, you might be able to score an introduction through a mutual friend. But how will you stand out? To differentiate yourself, you need to cut through the trappings of formality, and gifts are a surefire way to get your foot in the door.

The value of gifting to strangers.

I recently worked with a woman tasked with buying a gift for her boss's boss. She didn't know this man well, and he seemed like the type of guy who already had everything. I encouraged her to do as much research as she could before I arrived to help her shop.

When I met up with my client, she had gathered information on her gifting target from people who knew him. We talked through her notes and found one golden nugget of information: He loved technology, and he had a dream to one day write a rock opera about inventor Nikola Tesla. Bingo!

With that detail in mind, we set out to shop. My client had a limited budget, and she didn't want to look as though she and her colleagues were trying too hard with the gift. So, we decided to get him a Shinola journal, personalized with a reference to the prospective rock opera. The journal was high-quality but not ostentatious -- the perfect blend of simplicity and sophistication. We packaged the journal in a box worthy of a business leader, and my client set off to deliver the gift.

The journal was a hit. The recipient did a double take upon opening the box, and the subtle encouragement to finish his rock opera really moved him. That's the power of the right gift. The story is also a testament to the fact that you don't have to know someone personally to dive into the gifting pool and come out with a treasure.

Learning to give spectacular gifts

Looking for a way to win over new clients or get meetings with high-level prospects? Gifting simply makes sense. Even if you aren't certain what your recipient will like, these four tactics will help you dazzle and delight with your next gift:

1. Keep your ears open. Harvey Mackay is a published author, most notably of Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. He's also in a decidedly unsexy business: envelopes. Yet he's known globally because he gives and serves. How does he always seem to know the right gift? He relies on what he calls the "Mackay 66." In essence, this is 66 things you should find out about your key contacts, from what they drink to how they spend their down time.

Related: 5 Easy Ways to Build More Business Relationships as an Entrepreneur

Mackay gathers his 66 items by listening intently; then he acts accordingly. Follow Mackay's rule by truly listening to your intended recipients and making note of their preferences, habits, likes and dislikes. When it's time to send something their way, refer to your notes to come up with gifts they'll appreciate for years to come.

2. Lean on your team's knowledge. Use your team's ears to amplify what you know about gift recipients. Your marketers, assistants and salespeople are great resources for valuable information about your clients, suppliers and vendors, as they tend to be these individuals' first point of contact with your business.

For example, a sales manager at ADP was the first to find out that a client had recently made a new acquisition. She reached out to ask how ADP could help with the transition, impressing the client and securing a huge addition to the client's package -- one that wouldn't have been possible if the sales manager hadn't kept her finger on the client's pulse.

Before you send a gift, reach out to those in your company who have most recently communicated with your intended recipient. Find out what's been happening in the recipient's life. In addition, regularly reach out to your team to learn whether anyone your company works with recently got married, had a baby or experienced a death in the family. These events are all good excuses for a personal gift that you shouldn't miss.

3. Leverage social platforms. Want to get the real scoop on someone? Take to social media. While some individuals prefer to keep personal information offline, most of us leave digital footprints across the web that a quick search can reveal. Find your intended recipients on Facebook or Instagram, and you'll likely be rewarded with photos from their daily lives, giving you insight into their personalities.

According to an assistant professor at Stanford University, people tend to reveal more of their true nature on social media over time. Dig through your recipients' online profiles to find the real human beneath their carefully crafted boardroom images. Who knows? You could discover through Twitter that the most ruthless CEO you know loves to cook with his kids every weekend, leading to a whole new world of meaningful gift ideas.

Related: Why Being Human on Social Media Is the Best Strategy You'll Ever Have

4. Start with the basics. Just getting started in the gifting world? Searching for a couple of ideas to get your wheels turning? A few types of gift always make a stellar first impression, and you can use them while you build your gift-giving databases and acumen. For example, everyone appreciates a handwritten note, especially if you make it special. We send notes written with a Sharpie on metal letterhead. Make sure your notes similarly stand out.

Related: Want People to Remember Your Gift This Holiday Season? Follow These 10 Tips.

You can also go for a high-quality, personalized version of a useful, everyday item, such as a kitchen tool. Finally, remember your contacts' spouses when you send gifts. My company once worked an event featuring leaders from Apple, Microsoft, Google and Chevron; and in the middle of the event, we sent gifts to those leaders' spouses. The executives were pleasantly surprised when their partners flooded their social media with photos of the gifts; and we gained some powerful friends that day.

Giving a great gift isn't rocket science, even if you don't know your recipients well. If you put your heart into researching your contacts, get help from your team and ensure your gift is both useful and meaningful. You could find yourself some new, lifelong partnerships.

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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