Consider audiences’ needs and products’ usefulness. Promotional products, corporate apparel, and the like are viewed by many in one of two ways: a painful, near waste of advertising dollars or a fun, personal way to boost brand recognition and connect with customers and prospects. Managers in the latter category know that the best promotional products are ones that get used in some practical way by the prospect. Consider the target market you’re after and what you could give them that won’t simply take up more of their precious space or, worse, get thrown in the garbage.Consider the occasion. Trade shows are often saturated with giveaways, making them a bad place for businesses to bring premium-priced giveaways. However, showing up empty handed has potential for starting every customer interaction off on a low note. After all, promotional swag (Stuff We All Get) is one of the hallmarks of trade shows… one thing that adds a bit of fun for attendees. So, find something less expensive that still stands out from the crowd. One approach is providing customized tote bags that customers who come through your booth can carry all their free stuff in. The logic is no matter how many of your competitors they meet, the swag goes in your bag. Sales presentations, on the other hand, are situations where quality means much more than quantity, so spending a few extra dollars to create a better experience for attendees can go a long way in producing huge returns. Just be sure to remember the first rule, which is to consider the audience and what kind of products they will find the most useful.Trust your gut when considering the quality of your source and, especially, the quality of their pricing. How flexible are they? What is it like discussing finances with them? Do they have processes to follow or are they flying by the seat of their pants? Look for professionalism and product knowledge. Anyone with a catalog and a business card can come in and blow smoke, but a professional will ask questions first. They won’t be afraid to ask about your budget, since there is a direct correlation between the availability of products they can offer and the amount of money you are willing to spend. It is a waste of both of your time to go over a list of products not in line with your company’s expectations.Never purchase promotional products without getting input from your inside sales or customer service departments. They know your customers better and have more access to your customers than anyone. Ask them to get some customers’ opinions and share that information with your sales rep. If you’ve narrowed the field down to the professionals described above, they should be able to take customer feedback and present you with a host of appropriate options.The golden rule of purchasing custom products is simple: You get what you pay for. If your budget is not in line with your overall expectations, you are inevitably going to be disappointed. Figure out when and where you’re going to need the products ahead of time, prioritize whatever you come up with, and give plenty of thought to what you are trying to accomplish. Set a budget and reach out to your contacts to start seeing available options. Chances are very good you will be pleasantly surprised by what you are presented. If not, you will then have realistic expectations and a better grasp on how far your budget dollars will go in the creation of smart, successful promotions.