Holiday Gift-Giving Etiquette

National Academy of Sports Medicine
National Academy of Sports Medicine

It’s time to add one more group to your holiday shopping list: your clients. Though buying gifts for this special population may seem daunting, making the effort will significantly benefit your business in the long run. “From a sales and marketing standpoint, giving your clients gifts can really differentiate you from other vendors,” says Dr. Scott Testa, professor of business administration at Cabrini College in Philadelphia. However, trainers should recognize some basic guidelines for keeping gifts professional and appropriate.

Executive Etiquette Coach and Author Suzanne Zazulak Pedro suggests trainers stay away from gifts that are personal, intimate or offensive. As Testa explains, “You have to be sensitive to certain issues, but most of it is really just common sense.” He advises trainers stay away from three main categories: religious items, food and liquor. Obviously, not everyone shares the same religious beliefs. Clients may have specific food allergies or dislikes that may complicate gifts of food. Remember: not everyone loves chocolate. Also, alcohol is not everyone’s taste, and some clients may find it offensive, even if that bottle of wine is aged to perfection.

As a general rule, Testa says trainers should not be spending more than $20 on each client’s present. Your client is not your significant other, and they’re not going to expect a bank-breaking gift. Instead, get them something thoughtful, but small. They will appreciate the thought no matter what. Testa says gift cards to convenient places like coffee shops or smoothie joints will make great presents: there are a lot of them and the cost per item is low, so you will get that “marketing reiteration,” he says.

On the other hand, personalization will always win over your clients. “There’s something to be said for knowing your client,” Testa says. “Let your conscious be your guide and try to feel out your client.” By paying attention throughout sessions, you may find out if they have a favorite restaurant or boutique that would make great gift fodder.

Trainers can take a middle-of-the-road approach while giving gifts to clients. By working with clothing companies or fitness equipment manufacturers, trainers can obtain wholesale products. Testa suggests trainers give clients a wicking workout shirt or yoga mat with their logo on it. “You can get more bang for the buck if you give a gift that maybe has some marketing on it,” he says.

If cost is an issue, trainers should extend their thanks in one a few ways. First, trainers could take the time to simply thank their clients for their business. “It’s a good move to say, ‘Hey, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your business,’ ” Testa explains. “That really goes a long, long way. People like to be thanked.”

Trainers can also give holiday cards to clients, but make sure to include a handwritten message. A generic, typed card won’t necessarily make clients feel appreciated.

Lastly, trainers who are hard-pressed for cash may want to give clients a free or discounted session as a gift. Testa says this is especially appropriate for loyal clients who give you a lot of business. But, he warns: “You don’t ever want to be in a position where you diminish the value of your services.” In a nutshell, don’t give out too many free sessions. Pedro suggests trainers give out a free session for your client and a friend. “This will kill two birds at once — an act or appreciation and introduction for a new client,” she explains.

Trainer etiquette for receiving gifts

Though trainers will certainly be preoccupied with giving gifts this holiday season, it’s important to recognize the etiquette of receiving presents as well.

Testa says receiving gifts, just like giving them, can be a major rapport builder.

“If a client is giving the trainer a gift, they genuinely want you to have it,” Testa explains. There is no reason to try to resist. The client is giving you a present for a reason and it’s crucial that trainers be thankful — even when they don’t like the gift. Instead of refusing the gift, “accept it graciously,” Testa says, explaining, “Not accepting a gift may not be good for business.”

Once you’ve received the present, it’s imperative you thank them at the time and later through a thank you note. Just like your childhood birthdays, a handwritten thank you note will impress your clients and show them you are actually appreciative of their gift and their business. You will consequently build rapport and establish a bond critical to create client loyalty.

“By giving gifts, accepting gifts and writing thank you notes, you’re developing that personal bond that may prevent that customer from leaving when you have an off day or you have to raise your prices,” Testa explains. “It’s much easier and cheaper to keep customers than it is to go find new ones.”

(Not) all clients are created equal

As a general rule, if you’re going to give one client a gift this holiday season, you should give them all presents.

However, you’re bound to have some clients who rise above the rest – the ones that have been coming to you for years and give you tons of referrals. These clients deserve a little extra thanks.

Testa says trainers can give special clients an equally special gift, especially if you know them well enough to personalize it. However, be aware that your other clients may get wind of the present.

“Your clients will generally talk to each other,” he says. “You don’t want to be in a position where you get a gift for one client and not the other.”

As a solution, Testa says you can show these clients your appreciation with a special gift at another time of the year. For example, you could give all of your clients a gift card during the holiday season, but offer your special clients a free session in the spring to show your appreciation.


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National Academy of Sports Medicine

National Academy of Sports Medicine

Since 1987 the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has been the global leader in delivering evidence-based certifications and advanced specializations to health and fitness professionals. Our products and services are scientifically and clinically proven. They are revered and utilized by leading brands and programs around the world and have launched thousands of successful careers.