Is a Holiday Client Retention Program in your Future?

It’s that time of the year again. The candy rush is over and the stores are playing wall-to-wall holiday music. We, former client-side marketers, refer to the period between Halloween and Christmas as “Holiday Gift-List Hell.”

As the weather turns colder, and we begin to set our sights on Thanksgiving and Christmas, people in marketing departments across the country are scrambling to track down sales teams’ members, managers and executives, in order to put together a comprehensive gift list of clients to receive a holiday gift. One would think that this would be a happy, joyous task. One would be wrong.

Sending your clients a holiday gift as part of an ongoing client retention program is one of the most stressful projects a marketing department can undertake. What one considers primarily a strictly administrative function (to create a list and get mailing addresses), generally requires the abilities of the department’s most tactical member. This person is detail orientated, patient and has a track record of wrangling executives and salespeople, all while staying on time and on budget.

This person needs to walk a constant balancing act. He/she will serve as a project gatekeeper. He/she will also be constantly berated by salespeople who can’t get their acts together to provide a list of names. This person needs to be able to effectively manage executives’ expectations and insane requests yet remain calm and collected throughout the process.

Depending on the size of your list, it may also be necessary that this person is pulled from all of his/her other job functions for the length of this project. And if something goes wrong, and something always goes wrong, this person will be considered the designated scapegoat. Being tasked to coordinate a corporate holiday gift list is not for the faint at heart.

Holiday gifts can be a logistical nightmare, but they don’t have to be that way. After a decade of coordinating client-side holiday gift giving programs for nearly 2,000 recipients a year, here are our top 10 suggestions for implementing a successful holiday client retention campaign.

  1. Know your audience when picking a gift.

Nothing tells your clients how clueless you are to their wants and needs than picking a holiday gift that they are going to give away. For example, over a decade ago a company decided to send iPods to all of their clients. At the time the iPod was the “hot” gift of the season.

The only problem, their target audience were older gentlemen who ranged in age from about 50 on up. Not exactly early adopters of the iPod. The result: most of the recipients gave their iPod’s to their children or grandchildren.

If your audience isn’t going to use your gift, or if there is a high probability of them re-gifting it, then pick something else.

  1. Pick a gift that is useful.

Nothing is more annoying to a client then receiving something that a) they don’t know what it is, or b) makes them feel bad.

This comes back to knowing your audience. While you think sending a donation to a charity in your client’s name is a good idea if you have always sent a tangible gift a change of this magnitude has the effect of going over like the proverbial lead balloon.

  1. Pick one gift for everyone.

This one comes down to how much you care about the mental health of the person coordinating your holiday gift efforts. Picking one gift for men and another for women or picking a high-end gift for “A” clients and a lower priced item for “B” clients becomes a logistical nightmare.

Especially, when the recipients work in the same firm. It’s never fun getting a call from Joe saying that Mark got a different bag than him and he likes Mark’s bag better (true story!). Your marketing department is not Publishers Clearinghouse.

  1. Not every high-end brand wants to co-brand with you.

Whatever you send to your clients should be branded in some way. A tasteful tone-on-tone logo is perfectly acceptable. Now if you decide you want to send your clients a luxury item keep in mind you may not be able to co-brand the item. Brand reputation is very important to many companies and it may not be in their best interest to co-brand (have their logo next to yours) with you.

Don’t take it personally. Find another item whose manufacturer has less stringent guidelines.

  1. Find a promotional marketing dealer.

Finding a dealer who can help provide you with ideas for an appropriate holiday gift can be worth his/her weight in gold. Promotional marketing experts have the resources and contacts to help secure items that might be difficult to source. (Especially when your item is being shipped from overseas).

  1. Find a fulfillment house.

If you are going to be sending gifts to more than 50 people, consider working with a fulfillment house. The fulfillment house receives the incoming shipment of your gift.  Each gift box needs to be opened, a printed card with your company’s name should be added (so your client knows who sent the gift). Then they need to repack the boxes, print the mailing labels and arrange for shipping. A mailing house is worth the expense for high-volume mailings.

  1. If you plan to send food, do your homework.

You don’t want to send alcohol to a recovering alcoholic (or a teetotaler), cookies to the CEO with celiac disease, or anything that is not properly certified to your clients who keep Kosher.

  1. Make sure you send your gifts to your clients before they leave the office for the holidays.

Generally, deliveries between the 17th and the 20th of December will work for most clients.

  1. Make sure you are only sending gifts to active clients.

This one is very important. The recipients of your gifts need to be active clients who you are not currently negotiating a deal with. Prospects DO NOT get holiday gifts. You want to avoid any improprieties that could potentially be misconstrued as a bribe. Especially, if you work with the government.

  1. Check your client’s gift-giving policies.

Just because you want to send someone a holiday gift doesn’t mean that they will be allowed to accept it. Some companies have full-on gift bans. Others have a dollar amount cap that the gift needs to come in under.

If there is a gift cap, a tray of treats to be shared by the office may be a nice gesture. Make sure you respect your client’s rules.

That wraps up our 10 suggestions for sending clients holiday gifts as part of a client retention program.  If you are interested in learning more about how a client acquisition/retention program could benefit your business please send us a line at

Happy Holidays!


Angela M. Insalaco is the Founder and Managing Director of Strategic Tactics Consulting Group, LLC and The Reputation Factory. She spent more years then she cares to remember coordinating corporate holiday gifts for clients and has the battle scars to prove it.



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