Eileen P. Parzek, SOHO It Goes! Contributing Writer, Smallbiztechnology.com
Traditionally, businesses set up a “tickle” file to recall and reconnect with clients at period intervals, or when specific events occur. You have probably heard that it takes less time and money to market to your existing customers than it does to create a new one. And yet, most of the times, marketing articles talk about how to reach and attract new customers. Let’s take a look at some ways that you can harness computer technology to “tickle” your past customers, and maintain your place when they need you again or have a referral to send your way.
Before you can start, you should look at how you gather and organize all of your client information. You can’t market to them correctly if you don’t know who they are! And you can’t market to them at all if you can’t find them! Make sure that you have a good contact management system and that you use it to retain at least the core information on each customer. Even something free like Outlook provides a wide assortment of organization tools to let you categorize, sort and manage your contacts.
Then there are the fancier “customer relationship management” applications like Act! and Goldmine which allow you to maintain a tremendous amount of detail about your customers, and generate reports and lists based on all that criteria. They only work if you put in the time to set it up and then use them, but they are invaluable tools if you do.
Getting your customer’s contact information from them once is one thing but then you need to maintain it. That is when services such as Plaxo.com come in handy. It integrates with Outlook and provides a way to automatically get current updates from all your contacts.
Now that you have your customer information neatly organized, its time to think about what you can do with it, and schedule a routine for making it happen. Again, you can use Outlook to attach follow up reminders to clients records individually, or make tasks to remind yourself on a period basis to make a larger scale contact.
Send a newsletter
One way to routinely contact your existing customers is to develop a newsletter, whether you chose to do it as a PDF, an HTML email, or snail mail. Set a schedule that you can reasonably accomplish consistently, either weekly, monthly, or quarterly. There are dozens of options for automating the process of creating the newsletter, and designing it yourself. But the bottom line is you need good content, whether you write it yourself or take advantage of the other authors who have free content online for your picking. The important thing is that you provide good valuable information targeted to your customers, sprinkle in some updates about what is new in your business, and be consistent. Existing and past customers usually don’t mind hearing from you but make sure you let them “opt out” if they want you to stop sending them your newsletter.
Surprise them with a postcard
Occasionally remembering your past customers with postcards is another way you can stay in their awareness. You might want to set your contact management system to remind you of birthdays or anniversaries of their business. Even sending seasonal postcards with an attractive design and better yet, useful information, is a welcome surprise in the mail. Depending on your industry, you might be able to brainstorm pieces of knowledge you can design into a post card, for example, a seasonal calendar, tips list or meaningful quotations. You can also plan to send special offers by postcard, offering special offers or advance knowledge of products and services to your past customers.
Sending postcards does not have to be difficult or expensive if you take advantage of services like Amazingmail.com. You can import your customer’s addresses, pick an image or upload your own design, create a message and send – and the service does the printing, addressing, adds postage and mails it out, all for a per-postcard fee. You don’t need to purchase hundreds or thousands of cards at once, either – just send one here and one there, as you wish.
Send an Interesting Email
The way you stay in touch with your past customers does not even need to be that formal. You might consider subscribing to services that ëaggregate’ content and provide you with industry related tidbits of information. Then, periodically send an occasional email to your old clients with links to information you know they might want. For example, you might subscribe to blogs about your industry or your clients and use the “email this article” feature to send your customers relevant material, as you find it. Or maybe it makes sense to set up a Google Alert for particular search terms, and keep an eye out for material that will help your clients. For example, if one of your clients is a realtor you might spot a great article about an innovation in the real estate field and send it.
Just be sure to keep this short and succinct, and not so frequent that you become a nuisance.
Pick up the phone!
Okay, so maybe it’s not computer technology but some times we actually forget the easiest way to stay in touch with customers: the telephone. Even if you leave a busy client a voice mail message that you were thinking about them and would love to catch up but they’re too busy, people do appreciate knowing you thought of them. In Outlook, you can schedule a phone call by simply clicking the contact, and setting a follow up date and time. Spread them out over the year – maybe you’ll plan to give a different client a friendly check-in call every 2 weeks, or contact each one every six months. You’ll be surprised at where it can lead.
Whatever method you decide to use to stay in touch with your past customers, doing so is the difference between a business that grows exponentially and one that has to scratch and scrape it’s way to success.