Giving gifts to your loved ones is a staple of the holiday season.
But if you’re trying to make a good impression on a business client, the holiday season is the worst possible time to buy them something.
That’s according to John Ruhlin, an expert in corporate gift-giving and author of the book “Giftology.” Although the subject is something of an afterthought in the business world, Ruhlin claims that strategic gift-giving can help increase a company’s referrals and lead to more meaningful relationships with clients.
Ruhlin has consulted with companies such as Wells Fargo, Shell, and sports teams like the Chicago Cubs and Orlando Magic on the art of gift-giving. He said the holidays are one of three occasions in which you should avoid gift-giving.
“I don’t send one gift from a business perspective between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or Thanksgiving and year-end, because i feel like it’s the noisiest and most-cluttered time of the year,” Ruhlin said on the podcast “Success Insider” in 2016. “So we do our gifting the other 11 months out of the year.”
The idea, he explained to Business Insider, is that your clients will be so overwhelmed with token gifts during the holiday season that yours will have little chance of standing out. In other words, it’s a time of year when gifts are expected from every angle.
“We teach people, don’t send gifts at Christmas, at anniversaries, or birthdays, so no ‘ABC’ gifting,” Ruhlin told Business Insider.
A better strategy, Ruhlin said, is to give on occasions where gifts aren’t typically exchanged between business associates: think Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, or the Fourth of July.
“On Valentine’s Day, send a gift that says, ‘We love working with you!’ On St. Patrick’s Day, send one that says, ‘We’re lucky to have you as a partner!'” Ruhlin wrote in “Giftology.”
“There are a million and one national holidays to choose from. 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.”
He 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.”
Better yet, don’t even wait for a holiday to send your client a gift. Ruhlin recommends surprising clients with thoughtful gifts and random times of the year.
“Take that bottle of really good wine that you were going to give at Christmas time, and send it in the middle of the winter tundra of February instead,” Ruhlin wrote in “Giftology.” “I guarantee the response will likely be, ‘That was the best gift! It was the only thing I got in the mail that wasn’t a bill this week!'”
Gifting on these unorthodox occasions will help you stand out from the crowd, Ruhlin said, and signal to your client that you’re treating them genuinely, and not because you have to. Over the course of a business relationship, those moments add up.
“Our whole goal is to get something in somebody’s hands where you’re remaining top-of-mind and triggering that memory of it being given by that particular person,” he told Business Insider.