It can happen with the best of clients—you both start off fully engaged in a relationship, working together productively, more than satisfied with the partnership. Then, one day, you start noticing that they aren't returning calls as quickly as they used to. You don’t get together for meetings as much. You feel like your sense of what they're looking for isn't as sharp as it used to be. You’re drifting apart.
If that’s happening with you and a favorite client—particularly one that you're reliant on for revenue—it may be worth exploring how to rekindle the flame. But like any relationship, it will take some effort on your part.
1. Think about where you went wrong.
If you were trying to get an old flame to take you back, you would (hopefully) do some soul searching first, before calling, texting or emailing. You’d want to think about your relationship and try to understand if you went wrong somewhere.
Take that same principle when approaching an old client, suggests Grant Aldrich, CEO of OnlineDegree.com, an edtech platform where people can take online college courses for free.
Maybe plumbing the inner depths of your soul is an overreach, but definitely “do thorough research,” Aldrich advises.
“The company should understand why the work decreased with the client before re-engaging," he says. "Once the company understands why the work scaled down, they can know what to offer to make it scale up again."
2. Remind your clients what you can do for them.
“The best way to win back an old client is to show value,” says Allen Greer, the founder of FUZE, a digital agency in Miami.
Unfortunately, for some companies, that’s hard to do if you’re not working with certain customers on a regular basis. You may have to do a little extra work on your own, and come up with reasons why a client should team up with you again.
Last year, one of Greer's largest clients, a regional retailer, was struggling in the early days of the pandemic. While national big brand stores were doing curbside pickup, Greer’s retail client wasn’t. He contacted the client and shared that his company could create something on their website that would allow customers to pick up items curbside at their brick-and-mortar locations.
“They loved it and signed on with us to build the feature,” Greer says.
3. Set up a meeting.
Granted, for the time being, a lot of meetings need to be virtual and socially distanced. But when you’re able, getting together in person can do wonders, according to Kelsee Swenn, a lead graphic designer at Holden Brand in Dallas.
In 2018, an important client Holden Brand had worked with for eight years wasn't calling them as much.
“We got to a point where they thought they had no additional promotional product needs,” Swenn says of the client, an executive at a chain of indoor skydiving facilities. “Once we noticed the new lack of contact, we decided we needed to dig a little deeper.”
They contacted their client and asked to set up an in-person meeting.
“A small team of four people traveled to their flagship location to meet with their executives, tour the facility, and even went skydiving,” Swenn says. “By connecting with the client face-to-face and spending the day in the shoes of both their employees and customers, we were able to identify weak spots in their promotional product marketing and sales and offer them new, creative solutions that would not have been considered before.”
It worked. Holden landed a $250,000 deal with the client, and Swenn thinks that the meeting sent a positive message as well.
“We made it clear we valued our relationship with them and truly desired to use our expertise to help their company grow, which allowed us to retain them as a client,” she says.
4. Send a gift.
If you were dating or married to somebody where the magic seemed to be fading, you might make it clear that this relationship is important to you by sending a gift or two. You could do something in the same vein with a business relationship.
Announcing improvements is another great way to get a client back. When announcing that you have something bigger and better to contribute than what you had before, very often that client will reach out to you.
—Tyler Read, CEO and founder, PTPioneer
You could send pizzas during the lunch hour to your client’s workplace for employees with a note thanking them for all of the business that they’ve sent your way over the years.
Or perhaps your client partners with a nonprofit? You could let them know that you’re donating dollars, time or your credit card’s reward points to your client’s cause.
And, of course, during the holidays, that’s always an appropriate time to send a holiday card or a gift, thanking the client for their business—and staying on their radar.
5. Offer a financial incentive.
Tyler Read is the CEO and founder of PTPioneer, a San Francisco-based company that helps people get started in the fitness industry. (As you can imagine, Read works with professionals whose careers are essentially all about trying to convince clients to continue working with them.)
Read suggests making sure that big clients know of any sales or discounts that you’re offering.
“We even go as far as offering an incentive for booking a certain amount of training sessions for the month,” Read says.
6. Be direct: Ask why you’ve drifted apart.
It doesn't hurt to call up the client and ask what went wrong, says James Shaffer, owner of auto insurance quote company Insurance Panda.
“My favorite way to re-engage former clients is to simply give them a call and ask what went wrong,” Shaffer says.
He’ll generally say something along the lines of, “We worked together in the past, but it seems like we stopped working together for one reason or another. Can you give me some more information as to why?”
Often, the answer is pretty innocuous, Shaffer says, like a budget issue, but it can be clarifying to learn why a client has stopped calling. And often clients will return just by starting a conversation with them again, Shaffer says.
“In my experience, it's much easier to get a former client back or sell more to an existing client than it is to find a new one,” Shaffer says.
7. Check in occasionally.
It’s simple but important. When Shaffer talks to a client who is receptive to working together but not at the moment, he makes sure to follow up with them periodically.
"When they eventually have an issue with their current provider, they will let us know about it, and that's when we will strike," he says.
There are other ways you can check in and keep your business on your client’s mind. You can connect on social media, or send out a periodic newsletter to clients to get information about your company out there.
You don't have to make up reasons to call—text, email or call whenever you have something to share. Maybe, for instance, you’ve made an upgrade that you think would interest your client.
“Announcing improvements is another great way to get a client back,” Read says. “When announcing that you have something bigger and better to contribute than what you had before, very often that client will reach out to you.”
Wooing back old, important clients is going to become even more important in 2021, as companies try to get back to their new normal, Swenn says.
“Business has definitely been affected by the pandemic,” she says. “Our industry has seen about an 80 percent decline in business overall. Holden Brand has experienced about a 40 percent decline in business.”
In the coming year, Holden Brand plans on doing a lot of reconnecting strategies with clients who have drifted away, she adds.
While reconnecting with old clients takes effort, it’s worth it. There’s a certain shorthand you develop when teaming up with reliable and profitable, or just simply pleasant, clients that you enjoy working with. You can’t blame a good company for wanting to be among good company.
Read more articles on customer engagement.
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