Christmas tree with lights in the background.
Every year, members of my family wake up bright and early the day after Thanksgiving to partake in Black Friday shopping. I’m still working off my turkey hangover, so the last thing I want to do is get out of bed and fight crowds of people.
I always wonder why people want to deal with Black Friday. The deals can’t be that good, right? As Popular Science explained, people go shopping on Black Friday for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s a family tradition or ritual; others use this day to socialize with people they don’t usually spend time with or people watch. We’re also a herding species that strives to be part of the group.
Over the past couple of years, however, I’ve noticed a similar trend in business when it comes to sending gifts to clients. Because it’s tradition, we feel we must give gifts during the holidays because we’re part of the herd — businesses just fall in line when it comes to gift giving. It’s an expectation. Additionally, giving gifts to clients shows your appreciation and can strengthen your relationship with them.
But my company has taken a different approach, making it a priority not to send gifts to clients during the holidays. It’s not because I admire Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s because the holidays are the worst time to deliver gifts to clients.
Sending gifts during the holidays doesn’t differentiate you.
The main reason we’ve taken this stance is that your gift will get lost in the shuffle. Like the endless flood of cards filling your mailbox, you appreciate the fact that others thought of you — but at some point, each one just becomes another card taking up space on your mantle. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t grateful. With so many cards, you lose track, and the cards lose their specialness.
The same is true with gifts. It’s like that scene in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” when Clark Griswold gives his boss a present. He’s told just to leave it on the table with the rest of the gifts. His boss, Mr. Shirley, could care less, no matter the sentiment. Placed among the other presents, Clark’s just fades into the background.
Even if you take the time to send a thoughtful gift your client would enjoy, your client is receiving more than enough gifts during the holidays. Even worse, what if they love your gift and then receive something better from someone else? Because of relativity, they’re going to compare your gift and sentiment less favorably to the business that sent the more expensive and shinier object.
Holiday shopping can be stressful and distracting.
I’m not going to deny the benefits of giving. Research has long found that it can make you happier, boost your health, promote social connections, and evoke gratitude. It can also add stress to an already hectic holiday season.
According to Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, “People in the United States are more likely to feel their stress increases rather than decreases during the holidays. The holidays can be a hectic time for many, and a lack of money, a lack of time, and the hype and commercialism of the season causes increased stress for people in this country.”
Even if you aren’t personally shopping for your clients and delegated the task to someone else, time and money are both in short supply during the holidays. If you’re on a tight budget, splurging on gifts for clients probably isn’t the best use of your funds — and the use of phones for holiday shopping hasn’t done us any favors.
Also, between wrapping up end-of-year business obligations and holiday festivities, searching for the perfect gift for each and every one of your clients can be a time-consuming task that takes people away from higher priorities.
Moreover, before shipping any gifts to clients, take into consideration tax implications and gift policies. For example, if the client company is in the insurance or medical industry, it’s forbidden from receiving gifts from vendors.
It can send the wrong message to clients and employees.
“In the 1980s, you couldn’t spend enough money,” Bruce Bachenheimer, director of the Entrepreneurship Lab at Pace University in New York, told The Street. “But today clients are saying, ‘Forget the hunting trip, forget the lavish treatment — just give me a better price.”
Bachenheimer added, “If you’re rolling out the red carpet for a customer, they’re going to assume you have incredibly high margins to do all that spending. They’re going to think, ‘Oh, he’s overcharging everyone — including me — in order to afford all this.”
Besides sending the wrong message to clients, it could also anger employees. If you’re going all-in on lavish presents for clients, while your teammates haven’t received a bonus, they’ll question why. Remember, your team can make or break your business. You need to keep your teammates happy and ensure they feel appreciated.
It’s more impactful to think beyond the holidays.
Just because we’re not sending gifts to our clients during the holidays doesn’t mean we’re against the practice. Instead, we choose to think beyond the holidays and send gifts at the right times throughout the year. For example, we’ll send out gifts to reward accomplishments or to show our appreciation. We’ll also take opportunities to congratulate clients on weddings, new babies, and other personal celebrations.
John Ruhlin, an expert in corporate gift giving and the author of the book Giftology, suggests surprising clients by sending them a gift on days that aren’t associated with gift giving, like St. Patrick’s Day or the 4th of July.
“There are a million and one national holidays to choose from,” said Ruhlin. “For instance, send a pizza along with a high-end pizza stone and slicer on National Pizza Day. It can be so easy if you are willing to open your eyes to the possibilities.”
Ruhlin added, “By doing this, we cut into any sense of entitlement because the gift never becomes an expectation. It’s always a surprise, and it always makes an impact.”
Giving gifts to your clients is a great way to show your gratitude and appreciation. But don’t feel pressured to do this during the holiday craze. In fact, it’s better that you do this throughout the year — it will be more meaningful and more impactful, and it will keep you top of mind.
When you purchase gifts for your clients, make sure they’re personal and thoughtful — not just a shameless plug for your business. While you may want to avoid a Scrooge-like reputation, don’t overdo it — keep the present within a budget that works for you, and make sure it fits the recipient.
Do you send holiday gifts to clients? If not, when do you send gifts, and why?