Present Perfection: Holiday Rewards

Originally published in Sales and Marketing Management, December 2006

In the season of giving, family may be foremost, but brother, sister, mom and dad are not the only ones who have been nice. Fourth quarter is a perfect time to show how much you appreciate your faithful clients and hard-working employees.

Rewarding in the right way has benefits. "Managers who recognize employees on a regular basis have higher productivity rates and a lower number of sick days," says Amy Skylling, marketing communications director for O.C. Tanner, a recognition company based in Salt Lake City. She suggests you add a personal note that tells of the great deeds done.

Clients deserve a gift under the tree, too. "It should wow [them] so much that they'll call the company and say 'This is the best gift we've ever gotten,'" says Sheila Shechtman, CEO and founder of Giftcorp, a corporate gift company, in Hartford, Conn. Memorable gifts require extra thought, but not always extra cash. Here's what to stuff in everyone's corporate sock:

For Top Reps

Your star sellers bring in the most revenue for the company, so don't coupon-clip for them. Stick to high-end and luxury gifts for valuable employees.

Only time will tell how much you appreciate the sales your rep has been making. Watches are a lasting expression of your recognition for great numbers. Try the Coach Cocktail watch for her ($458). Sleek classic design and a quality brand come in a pretty package. The Polar USA heart rate monitor watch ($370) can track your salesperson's vital signs on his way to work or on his weekend run. Other popular brands are Timex, Movado, ESQ, Citizen and Fossil.

Digital Cameras:
She's great at capturing sales; now your top seller can snap up family photos. Digital cameras are a no-brainer. "They have dropped in price and increased in value in terms of their features," says Mike Horn, director of merchandise for Hinda Incentives in Chicago. But before you purchase, find the right picture-taker for your super-seller. You can find a useful buying guide on A safe bet is the Canon PowerShot SD800 IS ($335-$400) or S80 ($440-$800). Also look at Fuji, Samsung, Nikon, Sony and Panasonic.

Cashmere and Travel Sets:
Your top rep travels a lot meeting with clients, cashing in on reward trips and visiting family for the holidays. A luxury travel set will pamper your prince of persuasion in the air or on the road. Dreamsacks offers a kit with cashmere blanket, silk eyeshades and pillowcase ($196). You can find other cashmere and luxury sets at Saks Fifth Avenue and Red Envelope.

Experience in a Box:
The new craze in corporate rewards and incentives is the experiential gift. Companies like Giftybox, Wonderbox and Cloud 9 package spa trips, unique classes and outdoor adventures. Giftybox offers many options, as varied as bungee jumping, dog sledding, fencing and bellydancing. "Experiential goes all over the place depending on the person," Horn says. "Corporate America would tailor [the experience] to fit the needs of the individual they're trying to recognize." Prices vary.

For Sales Managers

Managers are often former traveling sales veterans. Now that they have a permanent office and can spend more time with their family, get them items to keep them organized and entertained at home and at work.

"This is the year of the iPod—and anything an iPod can fit into or that can amplify its sound," Horn says. With this gift, your manager can enjoy his tunes on the way to work or on the road and then get down to business. The video iPod ($250 -$350) or the iPod nano ($150-$250) are popular choices. If the iPod is too pricey or your special manager already owns one, choose an accessory instead. High-tech speakers and other extras are available from Bose, Altec, Logitech and others.

Leather Accessories:
A gift of luggage or leather will help managers on the go keep everything together. Your manager won't disturb others when he stows his compact Hartmann carry-on duffel ($350). And she won't mind visiting the powder room with her Social-Lite Tote cosmetic case in hand ($75). Check out Dooney & Bourke and Tumi, too.

Kitchen Appliances:
It's comelier than Tupperware, but just as functional. Kitchen appliances and stoneware from companies like Le Creuset and Cuisinart are great gifts. New products from Le Creuset include a stoneware cake stand in white, cobalt or red ($60) and canisters for flour, sugar and coffee ($35-$60, depending on size). Let your manager release his inner French chef with a crepe pan ($75) or fondue set ($140).

Office Gear:
Techy gadgets add pizzazz to the office. GN Netcom's Bluetooth GN 6210 ($260) headset can connect to both your cell phone and office phone. The Freedom mini keyboard can fit in your pocket and is as easy to use as a real keyboard ($100). Bose noise-canceling headphones eliminate office chatter and even the noise from an airplane's roaring engine ($350). Or listen and record music programming with the Sirius Stiletto wireless handheld radio ($350).

For Up-And-Coming Reps

New reps are usually the youngest on your team. Business basics gifts will help them get situated among tenured coworkers.

Writing Instruments:
Not a line on the contract will go unsigned—with a shiny new pen, your new guy will want to do all the writing he can. "Every salesman and manager wants to have a nice pen," Horn says. Cross's offerings include fountain pens, ballpoint pens and mechanical pencils. PNY Technologies offers a combination USB flash drive and pen. Other high-end pens include Montblanc, Waterman and Parker.

Gift Cards:
Cards can be loaded with any dollar amount. Gifts cards offer choice for your employee and flexibility for you. American Express, Best Buy, Macy's, Target and others offer corporate gift cards.

Logoed Apparel:
Why not build up a young employee's wardrobe with your own brand? Logoed apparel encourages team pride and is great advertising. Get your company's logo embroidered onto a fleece, jacket or vest. L.L. Bean's Three Season Jacket ($50) is revamped this year with a draw-cord hem, Velcro-closure cuffs and the same water- and wind-resistant material. Their often embroidered boat and tote bags ($20-$40) boast practically indestructible canvas. L.L. Bean embroiders the basic Double L Polo ($20) and Oxford shirt ($30) as well.

Younger employees have a higher turnover rate and so companies are increasingly giving welcome gifts to help cement the relationship. A Sudoku gift is small, but fun and challenging. Saks carries a silver plate table Sudoku game (shown right for $50). Try Amazon and Target for an extensive selection of Sudoku books, games and electronics.

For Loyal Clients

Long-term clients are your revenue foundation, so spend extra care when selecting their gifts. Creativity and originality will win you extra points—and hopefully extra profit.

Be it dry, sweet, bubbly or blush, a bottle of wine says thanks with flavor. But if your client is on the other side of the country, the message can be hard to deliver, thanks to ever-changing wine-shipping regulations. It's best to work with a company that knows the dos and don'ts., an online store specializing in family wineries, will not only send your bottle of cheer, they can help you select it, too. "If you're giving wine as a gift to someone who loves wine, they've never had [these particular ones] before and so it's a new discovery," says Mitch Schwartz, executive vice president of Winesource. Schwartz suggests a port from the Meyer winery ($50). Other wine retailers include GiftTree, Incentive America or California Gourmet Baskets.

Food of the Month:
A package a month shows a client you're always thinking about them. "One gift can satisfy and feed a whole group of people," says Sheila Shechtman of Giftcorp, which packages and delivers food gifts. "And think about how many times people say [the giver's] name in the office." Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Zingerman's Delicatessen has a coffee cake club ($85), cheese club ($65) and even a monthly bacon delivery service called When Pigs Fly ($89).

Custom Gifts:
If you really want to make an impact, do something no one has done before. Janet Helm helps companies do it all the time. She creates high-end corporate gifts that are custom-designed for each client's needs and purpose. For select Japanese clients of the Jim Pattison Group, she commissioned a limited edition glass plate award. The bear etched on the plate represents the relationship between the client and the Vancouver, British Columbia-based conglomerate. "A lot of companies want to give something that stands out; they're not satisfied with what's out there in terms of mugs, hats and pens," says Manal Elmasri, communication consultant for Janet Helm Presents, based inVancouver. Prices vary.

For New Clients

Since your relationship is just budding, your budget should be smaller for new clients. But keep things classy. Branding your gifts is a great touch.

You'll have your clients gushing, "You're too sweet." Chocolate is a great way to start a relationship. It is tender on the budget but shows good taste. At Godiva the sweet and savory list goes on and on and the budget is up to you. Godiva Signature Truffles ($33), Demitasse Gift ($25) or Chocolate Bar Gift pack ($17.75) are solid choices.

Golf Balls:
It's a swingin' idea. Golf balls can be inexpensive but still an exciting gift to receive. "There's a lot of attached value when you give [Titleist] Pro V1 balls — a lot of bang for your buck there in terms of image," Horn says. Make sure to pick a quality ball. Pro V1's are commonly used by the pros and are engineered to improve range ($58 for a dozen). You can even get your logo added to the balls for an additional charge. That way the client will be thinking of you when she gets a hole-in-one.

Wine Accessories:
They may not get the bubbly, but a wine accessory is another way to toast the new relationship. The Screwpull Champagne Cork Catcher keeps the celebration safe ($20). It will keep a cork from flying into an antique vase or a partygoer's eye, while still preserving the traditional popping sound. Another favorite is Hammacher Schlemmer's full-bottle wine glass. The glass can hold an entire bottle of wine, so hopefully your client will share ($24.95). Crate and Barrel's cocktail shaker and ice bucket are sleek but economical ($19.95 for the shaker, $49.95 for the bucket). No matter which accessory you choose, you'll be boosting their holiday cheer.

Gourmet coffee and tea sets from Red Envelope come in decorative tins and delicious flavors. The MarieBelle gourmet trio ($62) includes Aztec hot chocolate, Honduran ground café copan and royal English breakfast black tea. The Prosperity set ($25) comes with four different teas and is accompanied by a pamphlet on the Chinese myth on the origin of tea. Make sure you have Red Envelope deliver the gift in its signature red box for only $4.95 more.

Need more ideas? Read the last Personal Success: Gifts that Give Back for some holiday gifts that benefit worthy causes.

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