Manners are a funny thing. In general, I think we all know what kind of behavior is appropriate and what kind is not. That's not to say that we always act in accordance with those beliefs.
I can think of several instances when I’ve knowingly dismissed what I know to be polite and proper. Most often it’s when I’m in trusted company, and I feel comfortable enough to relax the rules. When dining out with strangers, I would never dare claim the lone roll in the bread basket for myself. On the other hand, the last of the strawberries in my boyfriend’s fridge might as well have my name on it.
There is one area where I feel etiquette should never be ignored- and that’s in business.
A lot of our projects at Sonic Promos focus on helping our clients improve or maintain relations with their customers. Though there is no substitute for consistent professionalism and good service, a small gift can go a long way towards preserving a positive rapport.
Gift-giving in business can be a surprisingly complex practice, with a lot of grey area. Before diving in, take the time to consider a few points below:
How much money are you willing to spend? Before you even start to think about what to send as a gift, think about how many gifts you plan to send. Let’s say you’re planning to send a holiday gift to your top 25 clients. 25 clients might mean that you need to purchase 25 gifts, or it might mean that you need to purchase 60 gifts. If you work with a team of individuals at each organization, would it be appropriate to send a gift to just one person, or should you send something to each person? Don’t do anything that might leave someone out. In this situation, consider sending a gift that the whole office can enjoy- an engraved cutting board for the kitchen or a woven floor mat for their entryway are two unique ideas.
If you have a small list of people in mind, you can afford to give a nice gift to each person. On the other hand, if your list is hundreds of people long, adjust your budget per gift accordingly.
What is your motive? Never send a gift simply because you feel obligated to. You should have a clear intention in mind. Leah Ingram, etiquette specialist and author of “Gifts Anytime: How to Find the Perfect Present for Any Occasion,” says:
There are two very real reasons to buy business gifts that are not necessarily warm and fuzzy. One is obviously to thank someone for their business for the year. The other is to make sure you remain top of mind, and to get your name in front.
Ingram brings up an excellent point- a great business gift should be regarded as a marketing tool. For greatest effect, consider a gift that has a utile value, something non-consumable that will be seen and used often.
What kind of relationship do you have with the recipient? Do you have a strictly professional relationship with this person, or would you call it a friendship? Let the formality of your relationship dictate the formality of the gift. A nice bottle of scotch and an engraved decanter might appeal to some, but offend others.
When will you mail out your gifts? A word of advice here- if sending a holiday gift, do so right after Thanksgiving, or wait until the New Year. Don’t forget that many people are out of the office between Christmas and New Year’s Day. If you’re giving a gift to thank a client for recent business, send the item within two weeks of the project’s close.
Did you know…
That gift-giving is forbidden in Chinese business culture? The official policy recognizes the gesture as an illegal act of bribery. Recently, this attitude has begun to relax, but there are still many guidelines one should respect. For example, be prepared to insist. It is customary to decline a gift at least three times before it is finally accepted. Additionally, giving a gift to the entire company is more acceptable than giving to a single individual.
I hope you find these tips useful. We may not be experts on good manners- note to self: elbows off the table- at Sonic, but we definitely know good gifts!