The Ultimate Guide to Business Gifting Etiquette in 2021
So you want to grow your business with corporate gifts but you're not sure about the proper business gifting etiquette? Or maybe you don't know which gifts will make the best impression? Or perhaps you've received a gift from another business and don't know what is expected from you in return?
A lot of these situations require a bit of tact and business savvy in order to avoid a breach in professionalism.
I'm here to help you in these moments, and hopefully, if you follow my advice, you can grow your brand super effectively with good gift giving etiquette.
These are just some of my tips and general rules for professional gifting.
As a prefatory note, I'm going to use the terms "business gift", "corporate gift", and "promotional gift" a bit interchangeably in order to describe gifts given between one business and another or between a business and a client. This is not to belittle their technical differences; it's just to emphasize different aspects of the same essential action.
While so many businesses are super open to receiving gifts, and there's a shared sense of understanding that you are indeed promoting your brand and services, just know that others might perceive you as either trying to bribe them or else interpret it as a thinly veiled attempt to make a sale.
Even to you, it may indeed be just such a thinly veiled attempt, but it really doesn't have to be. It's a completely normal part of business to exchange promotional gifts, and the initial gift exchange is often understood to be just a plain old show of goodwill.
So feel free to give, but do it with the proper etiquette, and don't use it as a bribe.
A bribe is an exchange performed with a varying degree of dishonesty which comes with the expectation that someone will return certain goods or services in one's own favor.
Bribes can range in severity: there are little bribes that people do without really thinking of them as bribes, and then there are the big illegal kind prohibited by certain laws and policies. For instance, bribing a public servant in order to gain special preference or treatment.
A gift, on the other hand, comes with no expectation of return. It is given freely.
To avoid the perception (or the accidental enactment) of a bribe, just remember to ask for nothing in return.
If you're using promotional gifts to grow your brand, send your merchandise to the other business, maybe include a note about who you are and what your brand is.
As the good folks over at That's Caring says, "Do: Keep your company in their mind," but also, if you put incentives in place for them to hire you out or purchase from you, make sure they're business appropriate. When sending a gift, including a special deal is usually okay, provided it's totally pro bono.
When you send a gift, avoid language that says or implies, "This is what I can do for you." This can be
Instead, give a gift that just kind of says, "Here's what we're about," and leave it at that.
Brand recognition is the big benefit with the widest-reaching long term effects.
But giving a gift also establishes trust in your brand with potential clients.
Here's BELLA CANVAS' take on the benefits of corporate gifting on your brand:
What are the best items for promotional gifts?
The best promotional gifts are generally of high quality and universal taste. They show that you know the brand to whom you're gifting while still also connected to your own brand.
The Spruce has a great shortlist of appropriate and fun business gifts, but you should also spend time researching different possibilities and even try to strategize some unique, previously untried ideas.
The type of corporate gifts you give should be catered to their interests. Your branded merchandise is great so long as it's not simply a box full of novelties and fidget spinners with your logo on them. Stuff like that probably isn't all that related to the work either you or your recipient is doing.
It's pretty much just like giving a gift to one person: you have to really know what the other person likes and give them a corporate gift that's either functional, symbolic, or at the very least valuable. It's got to show your appreciation of them.
It shouldn't just be a "taster" of your own interests and services.
Do your research and get to know the business to whom you want to send a gift.
What is good business gift giving etiquette?
Good gifting etiquette can vary depending on your brand and the brand of the recipient. Overall, maintaining appropriate professionalism is key. You want to make sure to communicate in such a way that potential business partners, collaborators, clients, etc. don't perceive you as devaluing their work by being too informal.
You're a professional, so be professional in your gift giving etiquette.
Should I establish contact first?
It's acceptable to send a promotional gift to someone or some business with whom you've not previously had contact. However, be sure to leave a note of introduction that is thorough and explains clearly why you've sent them a gift. And be sure to add your contact information.
That said, sometimes it is better to establish contact first either personally or through one of the many forms of electronic communication available to you.
Establishing contact first can show that you're not trying to just annoy them with merchandise and whatnot.
How should I present the business gifts?
Business gift giving is an opportunity to communicate more than just what you do but how you do it, and it's often not the business gift itself that communicates that.
Spend some time on presentation; don't just send someone a box with some pieces wrapped in plastic. You're not going to get any appreciation for your work if presentation is lacking.
Go the extra mile and get custom packaging made to the proportions of your gifts. Present your promotional gift in the way you yourself would want to receive it. Show an attention to detail in a way that communicates the culture and care of your workplace.
So much of the effectivity of corporate gift giving is in the details around the business gifts, and that's what's really going to communicate the quality of your work at first glance.
Should I expect a response?
If you get a response, then great! Just don't always count on it.
When you give gifts, often times other businesses won't respond because they might not know whether they should or how they should, and that's okay.
A business might also feel that to respond would be to initiate a conversation about your services that they might not be ready to have.
But businesses with good gift giving etiquette will likely respond with a simple note of gratitude, sometimes just in an email.
I'll talk more about receiving gifts a bit further down.
Should I repeat gift giving?
It's okay to give more than one gift, and it's generally alright to give multiple times over an extended period.
However, don't just give gift after gift until you get a response or pester the other business into buying from you. Don't drown your potential client in merchandise.
Spammy gifting can edge into bribing territory, so avoid repeating unnecessarily.
A good rule of thumb is if you give a business gift, and the other business or client gives a return gift or sends a note of gratitude, then you can safely give another gift after a while.
Other national holidays are great times to give too, especially if your brand can develop relevant thematic connections to it.
Another time to give is when a business reaches a major achievement (for example, perhaps its sales are way up to reach a sales goal) or receives a major award or recognition in a major publication. These are all reasons to celebrate someone else's success and therefore reason enough for giving a gift.
If you are gifting in between holidays or simply not on a notable occasion, it's best to include a note explaining why you are sending a gift in the first place.
Can my business receive gifts?
Absolutely! You should get excited when another brand sends you a gift. Take time to go through everything they send you so that you don't miss potential opportunities to grow your brand by building a relationship with outside business partners.
Things might feel strange when you find yourself on the receiving end of corporate gift giving.
The etiquette is obviously different when you are the recipient.
Is it ethical to accept gifts from another business?
As far as business practices go, it's better to give because that helps grow your brand recognition.
However, if you receive a gift, don't think of it as an opportunity for the giver alone to grow their brand. A response of gratitude can also be an opportunity for the recipient to promote their business in return!
What is good etiquette for receiving a business gift?
At the very least, send an email thanking the giver and showing gratitude their small act of gratuitous kindness. Add a note of personal appreciation for the value of their work and how you think your brands might be related in content, and leave it at that.
If you want to go above and beyond, send a small return gift with some goodies and your own branded items.
This might seem a bit strange, but when you receive their gift, have some of your employees look at their branding and appraise the value of their brand.
The decisions for continuing a business-to-business are up to you, but getting your employees' input can offer a bit of detached appraisal, helping you to make wise decisions about how you could respond to their gift and strengthen professional ties.
Plus, if anything, your employees will feel like they have more stake in the day-to-day decisions that happen around gift giving.
What are good business gift ideas?
You can find a ton of great gifting ideas on the internet.
Here's some other questions a lot of people ask about business gift giving in the workplace.
Can employees accept gifts?
Absolutely, bosses and managers can give gifts to their employees.
But you should still be careful about professionalism in workplace gift giving.
What’s a good gift for an employee?
Be aware that the type of gift that you give is very important. Don't give anything that's too personal.
You don't want your other employees to think that you're showing favoritism. You have to maintain a healthy and professional culture of gift giving among the employees on your team so that no discontent arises out of shows of appreciation, value, and gratitude.
Set clear policies for gift giving that everyone can easily remember and follow.
Opt for a functional gift that applies to the workplace. A small gift card is also makes a perfect gift.
Can I give gifts to my boss?
It's completely fine to get a gift for your boss, but you'll need to be extra careful.
It's not professional to appear to be currying your boss's favor with a gift.
And it's usually only appropriate to give gifts on special occasions like the holiday season or a birthday.
A great way to avoid a breach in professionalism is to opt for a group gift. Group gifts disperse the personal aspect of the gift across multiple people, and they include those people so it doesn't look like it's just one person trying to get ahead by taboo means.
Follow the policies that your office has in place for healthy business gift giving.