Customer Gifts and Entertainment Etiquette! The Right Way!

BSJ - Business Gifts and Entertainment

Have you ever wondered what is appropriate when it comes to the proper holiday give when it comes to your valued customer.  It is that time again.  Read this one now, and master your entertainment and gift giving etiquette. Think ahead and do it right this time!


The holidays are upon us, and it would  be wise for us to review entertainment and gift giving issues as all sales professionals know, or need to know these points.  Proper etiquette in the matters shown below are important.  As a matter of fact, you can display proper sales manners and move to the top of the list as many sales professionals do not employ them consistently.  Whether in business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-personal (B2P), the number of sales professionals that display proper sales etiquette is not where it should be.

Proper sales etiquette comes in many important theaters:

  • Business entertainment and business gifts
  • Prospecting
  • Sales presentations
  • Telephone solicitation and use
  • Other

This post of Black Sales Journal will cover proper sales etiquette in business entertainment and gift giving. We will cover the other sales etiquette categories in the next month or so.

Entertainment Should be Entertaining!

Business entertainment should have a purpose and be enjoyable, even when the meeting objective is not the most exciting.  Obviously, it gives you time and a way to build relationships, and in sales, relationships are everything.  This area is important as it is ‘your’ moment in the spotlight and as you spend this time focusing on the customer, the last thing you want to do is to strike the wrong cord and turn him or her off.

You may want to take a look at Black Sales Journal 4/4, Business Entertainment – Some Do’s and Don’ts, for some basics on purpose and cautions.    It would serve as a simple refresher to set up many of the points made in this post.

You can be in two different positions with respects to business entertainment, you can be the host, or you can be the guest.  We will touch on these two different levels of status, as they are different.  Regardless of which position that you are in, you are in control of your own actions.

The Host With the Most

As the host you want to be in control of the financial elements and the operation of the meal.  You have to be prepared to exercise control regarding:

  • Selecting the venue to match the occasion
  • Assuming control of the event
  • Setting the financial tone
  • Managing the wine and alcohol
  • “Managing” the conversations to include all parties

Match the venue to the importance of the occasion in terms of cost and atmosphere.  Good ‘business’ restaurants with favorable pricing are essential to sales professionals, and are usually a good venue, but the occasion should dictate.  Gentleman’s clubs and topless bars are a strict no-no, even if the client suggests it.  You are in control, and your ethics, appetites, and professionalism are at stake here.

Assume control by giving simple signals to the wait staff that you are hosting and expect the tab.  This gives immediate control.  The knowledgeable wait staff recognizes that when a guest orders something that will impact you, they will look to you for a ‘veto’. Remember to tip correctly as it is evidence that you are the professional.

Set the financial tone for the event.  Order first to set the tone.  If you order a sandwich, they will most likely all order a sandwich, yet if you order lobster, you will have a monster tab if the others in your party follow suit.  This means you may need to order a substantial meal even if you have a limited appetite to make sure that the group feels comfortable eating (if you are not hungry), yet that is the responsibility of the host.  Also, be discreet with the tab.  The guest(s) does not need to know the amount of the tab.

Manage the wine and alcohol by reviewing the wine list, ordering the selection, and inspecting the purchase.  If you do not drink, you need to delegate that but give some clear directives on cost, and you approve additional purchases.  Know when to cut it off.

Manage the conversation to include all parties.  From your vantage point as the host, be inclusive in your conversations, and get to know all of your guests

Are You a Guest?

As a guest, you have some simple rules that you should follow which will help you.  These rules are simple, and show good manners:

  • Let the host choose the seating
  • Order based on what the host orders
  • Let the host ‘manage’ the alcohol, appetizers, and the deserts
  • Offer to leave the tip
  • Say “thank you” when the host pays the bill

Your objective is to be entertained, and these simple points will get you there without going ‘south’ of what the host is doing.

The Art of Giving

Your company probably has a gift giving policy, and you should refer to it for some basic rules.  While the IRS Publication 463 (2010) covering gifts notes your employer or your company receives a deduction for gifts, the $25 deduction that is afforded simply means you should always be careful and discreet in your gift giving.

What is more important is that the gift should be matched to the importance of the relationship.  The government prefers that gifts be ‘nominal’ in value, yet we do know that some relationships deserve more than others.  When you decide to give, the memorable way is to give a well-composed note with the gift that explains the purpose of the gift.  There is a good possibility that the note will be around for a while.

A gift that is ‘out of proportion’ with the relationship will be recognized for that peculiarity, and may not have the desired effect that may be honorable.  An engraved pen is a fine gift, and signifies a business relationship.  It is a great gift for an important business relationship.  A gift of golf balls is a sound and affordable gift for golf lovers, and does not break any rules.  Giving elaborate gifts can give the appearance that you are manipulating the relationship.  Giving a putter is good, giving a ‘set of clubs’ does not look as innocent.

Many organizations require their employees to sign disclosures of all gifts over nominal value once a year.  The firm that is auditing the customer usually requires this.  Keeping in mind that many of the buyers that are courted are financial professionals and very much careful with this requirement.


When I was a sales manager I had a a responsibility to determine if gifts were appropriate or inappropriate, as well as question and consider approval of some interesting entertainment.  For a valued customer, returning a gift is an uncomfortable process; you would be wise not to put a customer in that position.   By the same token, finding out that you might be funding some of your business entertainment out of your pocket because you violated expense policy can be quite painful as well.

These areas of etiquette easily learned but also meet the ‘smell’ test.  If it does not feel right, don’t do it.  Knowledge is important, so know your company’s expense policy, and keep it handy.  Expose yourself to your company’s gift giving policies as well, and avoid errors up-front.

Knowledge is everything.

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