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Why you are giving business gifts all wrong

A bottle of wine. A box of chocolates. A gift card.

If those gifts are on your corporate gift giving list, you are missing out on one of the secret skills of successful entrepreneurs and leaders, according to John Ruhlin, the author of “Giftology.” He believes radical and strategic generosity is an investment that pays off while climbing the corporate ladder.

Ruhlin, the founder of gift logistics company The Ruhlin Group, has designed gift giving strategies for everyone from Fortune 500 companies to celebrities to Silicon Valley startups. One big mistake he sees companies make is confusing gifts with promotional items. Think logo polo shirts or magnets or pens. That’s not a gift, says Ruhlin. That’s an ad.

A sauna. A Brooks Brothers’ wardrobe. An ice cream scooper and bowls. Those are gifts Ruhlin’s used to make a sale, secure a meeting or just say thank you.

Sending the right business gift means breaking old habits. Ruhlin says gift cards are a no-no: “It’s like giving cash. But it’s like you can’t spend money anywhere else other than here. It’s an unthoughtful gift. No creativity. And it doesn’t make people feel warm and fuzzy, especially the higher up the food chain you go.”

If you are trying to get to the top of the food chain, one of Ruhlin’s strategies is to give gifts to the “inner circle” rather than the executive. “When I take care of an assistant or a spouse, they become my sales advocate. They are the ones that are like, have you called John back? Have you reached out to him? Have you done any business with him?” Ruhlin says.

Of course, gift giving can get expensive. Ruhlin recommends spending whatever you would spend on a round of golf, nice dinner out or ball game tickets. As he points out, “You should be willing to invest in something that’s tangible and lasting. I call it an artifact.”

Ruhlin loves buying gifts people will actually use on a regular basis. Knives for the kitchen. A fancy golf accessory. He steers clear of electronics, like an iPad, because most executives already have one. Most importantly, he never gives over the holidays when people are already inundated with gifts.

Most gifts Ruhlin gives range between $100 and $500. If that is out of your budget, Ruhlin says a simple hand-written note can also do the trick.