Mind Your Manners

Thank you is appropriate any time of year.

The holidays have always been the traditional time for sending cards and gifts to clients and business associates. Aside from the occasional fruitcake, most of us welcome those gestures.

But when the sugar haze clears, it can be difficult to recall who sent what to whom.

Kelly Sharp, owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place in West Des Moines, understands that dilemma from both sides of the desk. “Before buying Heart of Iowa, I spent 11 years at Hubbell Realty as VP of Marketing and VP of retail operations. So I understand how important it is to show gratitude and respect to your customers and potential business partners,” she says.

Most of her professional career has been spent in and around the construction business, from architecture firms to construction and development, so she recognizes the value of a good impression in a very relationship-based field. “That’s part of the reason Heart of Iowa Market Place appealed to me. I’d been looking for a business to invest in, and this offered a nice blend of retail and business-to-business that fit my background and experience.”

And having come from the other side of the desk, Sharp understands the value of a well-planned thank-you gift. If you want your gratitude—and your business—to be remembered, consider a little helpful advice and a lesson in good manners.

Make it timely

Thank-you gifts don’t have to wait until the holidays. “It’s always appropriate to send gifts at Christmas,” Sharp says. “But gifting is appropriate all year, and sometimes you can get more bang for your buck if you send a gift when the recipient isn’t expecting it.”

In fact, Sharp says, “Timing is key if you want your gift to stand out. For instance, sending a gift in January, after all the other holiday gifts have come and gone, is a terrific way to stand out.”

Sharp says she has several customers at Heart of Iowa Market Place that have standing orders for custom gift baskets. “They just call or email when they have a new customer or a new business prospect, and we send out the specified gift. It really can be a very simple process,” she explains.

Heart of Iowa can also set up a program to send out a scheduled gift every few months to keep your business front of mind with your customers or business prospects. “Consistently showing your customers that you appreciate them is a key to building solid, lasting relationships—and a solid, lasting business,” she says.

Make it appropriate

Connect the gift to your business. “First determine what you’re trying to accomplish,” Sharp advises. “Is it a thank you for a referral, a welcome to a new employee or customer, an effort to bring in new business?”

Tying the message to the objective makes it more memorable. “For example, with our fudge gift boxes, you can include a thank-you message saying, ‘It was really sweet of you,’” she says. “Or you can send a new business prospect a popcorn gift basket that shows ‘things are really popping’ for your company.’”

With the accessibility of digital printing, you can easily include your company logo on packaging or products within the gift basket to further reinforce your message.

Sharp advises choosing a gift that is appropriate financially, too. “You can send a gift for anywhere from $6 to several hundred dollars,” she says. “But sometimes you need to be careful not to overgift. The value of the gift needs to fit the occasion. Also, government employees and some other businesses restrict the gifts employees can receive, so you need to be sure you follow the necessary guidelines.”

Make it personal

Even if you’re sending gifts for Christmas, they don’t have to be red or green or covered with snowmen.

Sharp says no matter what the holiday or occasion, “your gift should still match your brand. You can include your logo or colors on products that tie in with the recipient’s business or with yours.”

She also advises her customers to include local products if appropriate. “A lot of our clients are doing business all over the country and even all over the world, so connecting the product to Iowa helps their business stand out and makes them memorable.”

Just as important is connecting the gift to the recipient. “Giving gifts in the business setting has a practical side, but it’s important that it come from the heart also. It should involve some thought about what would really delight the person on the receiving end,” Sharp explains.

The objective is not to inundate your customers or business prospects with calendars, refrigerator magnets, or pens. The goal is to make a connection. “Your gift should always communicate that you have their best interests in mind,” she says.

As the old saying goes, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

That’s the essence of good manners—and good business.