I recently observed my children doing something I often see happen in business. It might only annoy me, but I have a feeling that it might tick you off, too.

My son really wanted a cell phone. He had just earned straight A’s in his first marking period in middle school (not important to the story, but I’m proud of him). He was on his best behavior. He constantly volunteered to assist with chores around the house. The problem was that each time he made a small stride in doing something nice, he would follow the task with “Now can I get a cell phone?” This request did not come immediately after the random act of kindness… in some cases he would wait as long as 9 seconds before asking. Suddenly, his kind gesture seemed like an intentional act with a clear path to get something in return.

How does this show up in business?

Around the end of the year, it is common for companies to send out holiday cards and well wishes to their customers, partners, or vendors. Some kindly extend their message to anyone who happened to meet them at a networking event and has been added to their Spam-O-Matic system for inundating you with unwanted communication without permission. I’m not getting cranky here (ok – maybe just a bit). There is nothing wrong with a kind holiday wish. However, many companies see the holidays as an excuse to ask for business from people they have not contacted in months.

How might it sound?

The messages usually start with a nice sentiment: “During this holiday season, our thoughts of appreciation turn to our clients, partners, and friends who have made our success possible.” If it ended here, this would be fine. However, it is the double whammy that gets me.  The next line might be something like “We are proud of the fantastic solution we delivered for XYZ organization… please let us know how we can help you spend end-of-year dollars or get the new year off to a strong start.”  You may as well say “Have a happy holiday season, and we’d be happy to invoice you if money is burning a hole in your pocket.”

What’s the problem?

If you want to wish people a happy holiday season, fantastic.  It is a human thing to do, and I’d encourage it. If you want to extend an offer to your clients and partners to illustrate how you can help them, that’s part of business and it is a good practice. But, when you tag-team the concepts together, you end up with a horrible message on both fronts.  Specifically, your holiday greeting seems to have an ulterior motive, and your marketing message is wrapped in a snowflake wrapper. Neither of which is appropriate.

Sending cards, eCards, or gift baskets is a great gesture. Want to really shock a client? Give them a call. In today’s world of electronic communication, your heartfelt wishes might have a greater impact if you call someone to wish them a happy holiday, ask about their family, and avoid any business topics. When you call them down the road to discuss business, they’ll remember your genuine message… but that’s not why you should do it.

Oh, and if you are wondering, we eventually caved on the mobile phone for our son.

Happy holidays to you and your family… and remember to buy something from me (just kidding… but see what I mean?). I can’t wait to hear your stories of double-whammy holiday greetings.