If there's anything I stress with the VARs we work with, it's the importance of showing appreciation to customers. When the details of life and work get in the way, it can be difficult to find the time to show customers how much they mean to you. Yet a customer who feels appreciated is a happy customer and this can go a long way toward maintaining a strong business relationship and locking out the competition.

During the holidays, many of our customers want to show their appreciation with a gift but aren’t sure how. I polled a number of business owners, sales managers and sales reps in LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to see what they suggest. Here’s what they said.

Choose Gifts that Suit the Customer's Personality

It's easy to send out a generic care package to a list of your customers, which is the route that many reps, business owners and sales managers sometimes take. Excuses such as budget issues and time constrictions make that the obvious choice. But just because you're sending gifts to a customer doesn't mean they're going to be effective. What salespeople told me is that gifts that suit your customers’ personality are the ones that score big and are remembered long after the gift is gone.

Try to hone in on what makes each one of your customers tick. If they're a sports fan, find gifts such as sports memorabilia, tickets to a game or light equipment (personalized golf balls, for example). Foodie customers no doubt would love a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant, or perhaps a unique piece of cookware.

The goal here is to show that you know your customer's likes and dislikes, which will help to ensure that they feel appreciated.

Put a Spin on Traditional Gifts

Traditional gifts certainly have a time and place in business. If you want your customers to feel special, however, you can get a lot of mileage out of putting a spin on the notion of a traditional gift. Plants, for example, are extremely common gifts in sales. Instead of choosing just anything, go with something exotic like an orchid.

When sending out a gift like this, include a handwritten note to the customer. Keep your message short and simple, stressing your appreciation for their business. It can help to throw in a little quip that relates the gift to their interests or personality, as well.

For Customers Who Can't Accept Gifts

In certain industries customers can’t accept gifts. Be aware of which of your customers are prohibited from receiving gifts and get creative. While they may be unable to accept gifts because of the parameters of their jobs you can still show your appreciation in ways they’ll pleased about.

Consider making a charitable donation to a cause or organization your customer or his company supports. Charitable donations help everyone to feel as if they're working together for a good cause, and are excellent ways to foster strong relationships with your customers. For a twist on charitable donations, consider volunteering your time at the charity in your customer’s name. Take pictures and share them with your customer.

Of course, a card with a handwritten thank-you note detailing exactly what you appreciate most about working with the customer is always valued by everyone. And with social media, you can also post a recommendation for a customer's work.

While now might be one of the best times of the year to show appreciation to your customer, these same principles apply year round. Sometimes one of the best ways to show a customer that you care is to send them a “thank you” gift for no particular reason.
Kendra Lee is a top IT seller, prospect attraction expert, author of the award-winning book, “Selling Against the Goal” and president of KLA Group. Specializing in the IT industry, KLA Group works with companies to break in and exceed revenue objectives in the small and midmarket business (SMB) segment.