Gifting important clients or vendors, always a fine line to walk. You don’t want to insult them by going too cheap–or go too expensive and raise suspicions that you expect something big in return.

John Ruhlin thinks a lot about these issues. He not only runs a corporate gift advisory service but just wrote a book, Giftology, with these 8 practical tips on strategic gift giving:

1.  Budget for gift giving as a business expense.

Ruhlin recommends setting aside from 2 to 10 percent of net profits for gifts as a necessary selling expense. He also suggests budgeting for a gift at about the same level you would spend to entertain a client with a nice dinner, round of golf or game tickets, $100 to $1,000. Those expense account events tend to get forgotten, he thinks, while a considerate, tangible gift stays around as a reminder.

2.  Don’t worry about not pleasing everybody on your gift list. 

Corporate gift givers too often go for the most acceptable, least memorable gift. Mistake. Not every gift needs to succeed to make the whole program a successful investment.

3.  Give “practical luxuries”.  

In other words, items that will continue to delight daily. Example: A finely tooled leather golf pouch for $75 will probably have more impact on a successful executive than a $200 golf club–which she probably already has. Ruhlin is also a big fan of fine kitchen knives as gifts.

4.  Buy what’s best in class that’s within your budget. Or with no budget, write a classy note. 

Above all, says Ruhlin, don’t give a cheap, mediocre gift.

5.  When you make a gift all about you, it’s not a gift. 

So don’t engrave your company logo on it. Engrave the client’s name.

6.  Gift at unexpected times. 

Ruhlin is not a fan of Christmas gifts for business–too hard to stand out. Better to send a gift in February. Recipients see unexpected gifts as given for the sake of the relationship, with no strings attached. Another smart and classy surprise: Give a gift when you lose a deal, not just when you win one.

7.  Remember who’s standing behind the executive. 

If you give an executive a fine gift, give his assistant the same gift. Your calls will get through.

8. Generosity will be rewarded, if you give it time. 

Look at gifting as a long-term investment in relationship building and be open-handed in many ways, not just with engraved kitchen knives. Ruhlin quotes Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu: “The wise man does not lay up his own treasures. The more he gives to others, the more he has for his own.” 

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