To start, investigate whether your clients have policies concerning accepting gifts, as many organizations limit the value of gifts or prohibit them entirely. Check with your client's HR department to get the info you need without tipping off your client to your plans.
Next comes the tricky part: selecting an appropriate gift. Experts in this area advise that you should match your gift to the recipient's interests. The challenge for you and your sales team is to do this while reflecting your brand positively.
Some sales managers don't want to give their sales force that much control because they are concerned about three things: suitability of the gift, budget and efficiency. They'd rather have their salespeople selling than shopping. As a result, they adopt a one-gift-fits-all policy. If you go this route, make sure your gift choice is appropriate for clients of all stripes. Avoid humorous gifts: what you think is funny might be offensive to a client. Also avoid a product with your logo on it, which constitutes a sales promotion rather than a token of your appreciation.
If budget is an issue, it is always better to give fewer gifts and spend more per gift. But don't go overboard. You don't want to embarrass or alienate your client with a gift that is perceived as too expensive.
In all cases, a handwritten card or note is in order, particularly since so much communication is digital these days. Also, be aware of cultural differences. For instance, I was reading recently that in China, a gift wrapped in white paper symbolizes death. You don't want to make that mistake.
Packaging counts about as much as the gift, so don't skimp here. It says that you care and value the relationship down to every last detail.
Lastly, if you get in this game, next year's gift will need to be at least as good as this year's, because clients remember.
More columns by Harvey Copeman