I've been interrupted at the dinner table by countless marketers who can't wait to sell me their product. They launch right into their spiel and are met not only with a dial tone, but with a potential customer who is now annoyed at the item they're trying to sell. Charities. Financial products. Lawn care services. All of them pester, all of them annoy, and all of them lose my business.
Yet these organizations keep trying. Why? Because they know if you can effectively follow up and keep a customer's attention, they're likely to become a repeat customer who will bring you a steady stream of revenue. Such steady streams are the lifeblood of every small business.
How can a small business balance the need to maintain a connection to their customers without crossing the line into the type of annoyance that drives them away? Here are five tactics for doing just that.
Send a coupon letter. We're not talking about a sales pitch here. Instead, just drop a note in the mail to the person you want to follow up with. State that you were very happy they chose to do business with you and include a coupon for an appropriate follow-up product. What's an appropriate follow-up product? It might be a repeat of what they already had if it's something that needs to be done regularly. It might be for something that builds upon what they already have. Alternately, it might be a coupon for your "best" product - the one upon which your positive reputation is built. Whichever way you go, it's a simple way to attract their attention back to your product without annoying them, since a letter is non-intrusive.
Send a greeting card. During the holiday season, send out greeting cards to all of your customers - or to all of your customers that meet some sort of threshold that you define. Perhaps you'll only send cards to customers who bought something in the last year, for example. A large quantity of greeting cards can be purchased at a very low price. Such cards can be a very effective way to keep your business in the minds of customers.
Get involved in a community event. This works particularly well if you're strong with names and faces. Community events are often great places to touch base with lots of people, so if you run a business in the community, attend a community event. Look for customers and say hello to them without a sales pitch - but wear a shirt related to your business so they're reminded of who you are without being uncomfortable. If you know their name, that's a definite positive for you, as you'll reflect well on the customer.
Avoid making every interaction about selling a product. When a customer calls you or stops by to ask you a question, don't view it as an opportunity to make a sale. View it as an opportunity to help a customer. These are your bread-and-butter follow up opportunities.
Answer their question. If you can, tell them how to solve their problem (at least partially) without them having to outlay money. Give them advice that actually works - not advice that is just a "clever" ploy to sell a product.
In my community, I am extremely loyal to a small handful of businesses. Why am I loyal? If I stop in with a question, I'm confident they'll give me the best answer they can whether or not it sells a product. Because of that, I'm always interested in going back to them, time and time again.
Carry true business cards with you throughout your day. The other day, I was at a gas station in town. The guy in front of me struck up a conversation with me and revealed that he was a chiropractor. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a voucher that entitled me to a very low cost session at his business along with several pointers on stretches to do at home to alleviate back pain. This went far beyond handing me a mere business card, as it gave me useful advice as well as an avenue to follow up on that advice. Most businesses can do similar things.
This serves the dual purpose of helping you get more customers in the door and helping you touch base with older customers. Since any customer that produces a card gets a discount on their next session, the card works well for both new and old customers.
Repeat customers are often the lifeblood of a small business. There's money in keeping their attention, but there's money to be lost in annoying them.