Is there a customer or client you haven’t spoken with for a while now? Over the last few months, have you missed their name in your order book?
Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder
When you’re busy, often months can slip by in silence between you and a customer or client. Once an order or project has completed, both of you naturally focus your attention on other pressing matters. But in business, absence rarely makes the heart grow fonder. If we want to win repeat orders or new business from a customer or client, we need to keep in touch. Without that contact, we can soon become a distant memory and, if one of our competitors is being very proactive in their marketing, we risk being forgotten altogether.
But how many of us, when we’ve let a long period of time pass without contact, feel awkward about getting back in touch? It’s a situation that we often feel guilty about. We worry whether our contact will remember us. We feel we may be criticised for ignoring them. We are nervous about coming across as desperate or sniffing around for work.
One entrepreneur we recently helped was in just this situation. We’ll call her Rachel for the purpose of this article. A highly popular trainer, Rachel had experienced a very busy period where she had been booked up solidly for several months. About 50% of her work came from existing clients and previously (and in less busy periods) the contact she’d maintained invariably identified opportunities for additional training programmes that she could deliver. Emerging from this busy period, Rachel was worried that her relationships with some of her clients had significantly weakened because of her inability to keep in touch.
No time like the present
We all recognised that there could be no further delay in making contact, but we encouraged Rachel to make this ‘touchpoint’ a really valuable one for each of her contacts. That way, the period of silence could be more easily forgiven and forgotten and each relationship strengthened.
Give to gain forgiveness
We examined Rachel’s last contact with each of her clients to try and identify their situation as it was then. Fortunately she had a database where she had recorded key points from her client discussions. This was enormously helpful in trying to help Rachel pick up where she’d left off. We also looked at the news sections of her client’s websites and ran searches in their trade press sites to see what had changed in their organisations recently. Combining this new knowledge with Rachel’s past conversations, we then identified what we call ‘Sorry Sweeteners’ that she could give.
Be honest. Say sorry
Each Sorry Sweetener was something that Rachel could use to give a purpose for her call and soften the fact that she was saying sorry for being out of touch. They varied from client to client. For some Rachel used latest information relating to a changing human resources practice, which she knew would be of interest to a number of her clients. In another case she had someone she would recommend, who could help with a specific situation that client was facing. When Rachel called, she was very honest about the lack of contact.
Here’s how she structured her call. She:
1. Apologised for the lack of communication and said things have been busy
2. Reassured her clients that, whilst she’d been out of communication, they hadn’t been out of her mind and she had been following their progress
3. Gave the reason for her call – offering her Sorry Sweetener and building a discussion around it.
The importance of listening
During the discussion, Rachel was very careful to listen to what her clients said. She didn’t try and sell solutions at this stage. She knew, after such a period out of contact, she had to restore her client’s confidence in her. This came from them knowing that she was listening and interested in the situation they were describing.
Create a next step
And from listening, Rachel was able to close each conversation with a next step. The majority of these took the form of meetings, scheduled to give the client and Rachel a more in-depth and face to face ‘catch up’. By creating a next step with each of her clients, Rachel got herself back on track in strengthening each relationship. As she’d done in the past, she made a note of her conversation in her database and set a date in her diary for that step. These enabled her to forward plan her points of contact so she never dropped out of communication again.
By devoting thought and preparation to her calls with her lapsed contacts, Rachel was able to make those conversations positive and valuable – both for her and for her client. All of the clients she approached in this way, were happy to resume dialogue with her and new business opportunities soon began to come in.
Try not to lose contact in the first place
It’s very easy to lose contact with a client or customer and it is much harder to regain it. The trick is not to drop out of contact in the first place (and with electronic diaries, task lists etc it’s much easier to set yourself prompts). If time does, however, slip by then ditch the guilt and get back in touch. It is so much easier and cheaper to gain business from an existing customer/client than a new one.
So if you are looking to rebuild some relationships this February, don’t forget to sweeten your approach. Here’s a list from John Timperley at The Results Consultancy – each give you an excuse to re-establish vital contact.
Get back in touch to:
- Pass on information
- Introduce an opportunity
- Warn them of a forthcoming issue
- Invite them to something
- Give them some market news
- Do them a favour
- Reciprocate something they have done
- Introduce a colleague or contact
- Generally ‘catch up’ with them
- Communicate progress
- Ask their opinion
- Check their contact details
About the Author: Michelle Daniels, Managing Director – Extended Thinking
An experienced and effective business development and marketing strategist, Michelle has built a successful career increasing top line growth for service businesses and organisations. She helps her clients turn their marketing, business development and thought leadership plans into reality with her ‘hands on’ support and practical advice. A prolific writer, Michelle also combines creative flair with business nous to produce highly effective results. She has written (and ghostwritten) for many professional and business publications and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and professional services marketing group.
Extended Thinking is a hands-on marketing and business development consultancy. Bringing together great minds and great ‘doers’, we help our clients devise and implement plans that achieve real business growth. Our clients come from a wide variety of backgrounds and sectors, but invariably are those who are too busy or lack the resources to action their marketing and business development plans. We roll our sleeves up and muck in to free them up to do what they really want to do and are good at doing.