Q. I am finding it tough. Sales are slowing but I can’t figure out exactly why. No-one seems to be unhappy with what we do, and no competitor has entered the market. People seem to be buying less often and in lower numbers.
Your existing customers are your most valuable asset. This is because it’s easier and far less expensive to get an existing customer to buy off you again than to find new customers. So here are 17 ways to gain repeat business from existing customers, or to get your customers to think more positively about your business. The golden rule for success in business is to get your customers to believe that they are more important to you than anyone else.
Because small businesses are very diverse, not all these tactics will be relevant to your particular business. But many will be, so make a commitment NOW to try at least one, if not more, of these tactics.
Please also note that most of these ideas involve using your database of customers so make sure that you comply with the Privacy Act. (Check out the provisions of the Act at the Privacy Commissioner’s website www.privacy.org.nz where you can download the ‘Guidelines for Business’ file).
- Send a thank-you letter within two days of the customer buying off you. If at all possible, send a note the next day. It only has to be a handwritten note on a standard card-though a professionally typed letter is better. Other variations include sending a cartoon with your caricature to say thank you, or even a cartoon card (depending on who the customer is and how much they have spent).
- Send an offer of a product or service that’s related to what they bought, usually after one month. Offer a discount or special deal. If you don’t have any complementary products or services, then find a business that does and offer their products. Then get that business to do something similar with their customers, but this time with your products or services as the offer.
- If you sell products (such as printers) that use consumables, use your database date-of-sale records to predict when they might be ready to buy these consumables so that you can send them a ‘special offer’. Use the same technique for products that have a definite use-by date (such as timing the letter for when a lease arrangement on equipment is about to expire and newer technology is available).
- Send out a questionnaire once every three to six months to see what your customers now want, and to see if your market has changed. Use the feedback to update your database and refine your product and services mix.
- If you have a small number of highly loyal customers, then continue to acknowledge their custom with simple ideas like sending birthday and Christmas cards to them.
- Try a telemarketing exercise. Ring up the customer with a brief message about a special or new product they may like to try. If possible make the offer free, or offer some incentive that provides a genuine saving or deal for existing customers only.
- Send out a regular or email newsletter to your customers (even once every six months). Inform them about what is happening in your industry, community or area. Give tips relating to whatever business you are in. If you run out of ideas, then contact another business to share the newsletter (you can also share costs). Note: an email newsletter costs only a fraction of a conventionally printed and posted newsletter and the Internet offers a huge resource of useful information.
- Run a customer contest that only existing customers can enter. This rewards them for being your customer — not the competition’s.
- In appropriate instances you may be able to ask for referrals. Something along the lines of: ‘If you thought that we did a great job, then we’d really appreciate it if you could send us the names of three people who could also benefit from our product/service’. Or you could simply ask for your name to be passed on to any people the customer may see as needing your help. Sometimes you can also include a special deal for their friends. Be careful here, though: don’t make this deal better than the one the original customer received!
- If you have a new product or new technology just about to be released, then hold a ‘customer-only’ preview. Supply refreshments. This could even relate to someone else’s technology. For example, if you have just bought a new colour printer, invite your customers to see what it can do. Get them to bring in some printing so you can demonstrate on their work. You can also the supplier of the equipment to share the costs – it’s promotion for the supplier too.
- Have a sale that is available only to existing customers. Send them an invitation that selects them out as special and points out that the public will be excluded.
- A variation on the above is to offer existing customers first choice at your sale for a certain period (such as a few days or a week) before the sale is opened to the public.
- sending a letter or card or email that does not try and sell anything, but just keeps them informed of interesting facts or information for their use. This way, they don’t always associate hearing from you with hard sell. Instead, they come to look forward to receiving helpful information from you.
- If your customers spend lots of money, and the profit per item is large, then send your customers relevant CDs or videos. For instance, if you sell to other businesses, you could send them CDs or videos on selling or marketing, or motivation. Or even in the case of especially good customers a video on their interests: find out from the survey you sent them what sports they follow, and then send them the corresponding video tape of rugby’s greatest tries, soccer’s best goals, highlights of the netball series or whatever. Stick your business name on the video.
- Send customers a catalogue of all your products, and offer to direct mail to them anything they need.
- A variation on this if you have a website is to offer preferred customers a special PIN number or password that allows them to log in to sections of your website (special discounts, sales, etc.) that others can’t access.
- Come up with a special anniversary offer one year exactly after the customer first bought off you. If the offer is taken up, repeat the idea every year.
There must be something for every business in this list. The whole idea is to keep in contact with your existing customers, to build goodwill and positive word of mouth. By making them feel privileged and special you’re preventing the possibility that YOUR customer will be lured away by the competition. They couldn’t possibly after the way you look after them!