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Customer Retention

Last week, we introduced the term previous post, we also defined the terms “Client” and “Customer“, and explained why “Customer Retention” is our goal.

So what do we mean by “Customer Retention”? And why does Retention come before Engagement and Acquisition? The reason is quite simple actually – if your Small Business is already up and running, you already have customers.

You probably don’t actually know how you got them, or how to deliberately get more: you might not have developed an engagement strategy, or any particular customer acquisition methods. While you’re working these things out, it’s your existing customers that pay your bills and keep the lights on.

Retaining existing customers happens to be MUCH cheaper than acquiring new ones. Thus, unlike many other books and articles on CRM, we focus on retention *first*. Once you understand the customers you already have, and how you got them, it’ll be much easier to figure out how to engage and acquire new ones.

Begin at the End – Fulfillment

When we first launch our new business and start working for ourselves, we’re grateful to make any sales at all. The journey from that first conversation to that first paid invoice feels like a thousand mile journey on foot, and the tendency is to immediately focus on the next customer, the next sale… often, forgetting to properly finish the job of completing the work for the customer who just paid us.

There’s a reason the term for this is “fulfillment”. Remember – buying is an impulse. People buy what they want first, then what they need, and emotions – not logic – are usually what compels them to finally say “yes”. So they’re not just paying you to do a job: they’re expecting you to satisfy a need, an urge, a desire. Once paid, you are responsible for fulfilling their expectations, not just complying with the “letter of the law”, or the terms of agreement in the signed contract.

Misunderstanding this is why so many startups flounder and fail, despite making steady sales, closing deals and delivering products. Superior customer service, promptly replying to emails, text and voice messages will make the difference between a one-time client and a loyal customer when there’s not much difference between you and your competition.

While fulfillment usually refers exclusively to delivering hard goods in a timely and cost-effective manner, we expand the definition to “soft” goods and services as well. Did you just do the least that was expected of you, or did you go “above and beyond”, proving to your customer that the relationship didn’t end once the money from the sale was in your account? It’s too easy to become almost disinterested in your customer once the deal is closed; this leaves them feeling like a neglected date once you’ve “had your fun”.

Always remember: sales is a transaction – fulfillment is part of the relationship. Marginally satisfied customers won’t complain, but will shop around. Satisfied customers – those that feel truly fulfilled – stay with you, and are the ones who will recommend you without you having to ask. Because the thought of their connection with you leaves them happy, and we all want to share happiness with people we love and respect.

TOMA – Top Of Mind Awareness

Know your market. Clearly state your Unique Value Proposition. Close the deal, make the sale, get paid. Fulfill the purchase beyond your customers wildest expectations. Then… you’re done, right? This should be enough to retain your customers until the next sales cycle… shouldn’t it?

In a word, NO. Your customers are not concerned with the fact that you need to make money, and most certainly do not wake up thinking “how can I do more business with [your company]?” That’s YOUR concern… so how do you keep them on board, simmering and sizzling and ready for the next round? Well, quite simply, the same way you did it the last time.

Sales, as we see it, is a conversation about the exchange of value for money – take a look at the sentence in the upper left of the graphic below:

Business Fundamentals Pyramid - 21st Century Sales Conversation.jpg

If sales is a conversation and, as this series proposes, business is a relationship, then as with any relationship we “keep the flame lit” by maintaining an ongoing conversation. Too often, we forget all about the series of exchanges which took us from initial contact to closed deal with a  paying customer. Face to face meeting, phone calls and emails, text messages and maybe even social media interaction. Once the sale is made, for most of us all that goes out the window, and we treat our customers like a discarded lover.

Whether we have an immediate upsell or cross sell offer – and especially if we don’t – we want to stay “top of mind” with our (hopefully) highly satisfied and emotionally fulfilled existing customers. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is using one of the oldest Internet technologies – email. Without getting fancy or using any tool or program whatsoever, how about simply dropping your customers a “hey, what’s up” email every now and then.

NOT a sales letter. NOT a hustle or pitch masquerading as a friendly note: I hate those, you can’t stand them and you KNOW your customers most likely delete them and mutter This type of tool is referred to as an “autoresponder”, and is the best way to maintain the ongoing conversation with your customers. You write a series of emails in advance, insert the modifiers that will add each customer’s (first) name and other personal information, and then just add them to the email list or create a form where they can add themselves. The software does the rest, sending out the next email with a frequency you determine – weekly, monthly or whatever – and they’re automatically sent to each person’s INBOX. Thus the term “autoresponders”.

This is a great way to send off an informal “just keeping in touch” message rather than they typical “haven’t been thinking about you, but now I need more money” email usually sent by these tools. And you don’t have to limit yourself to just emails, although we all but insist that you DO send a series of emails this way. So few businesses send out genuine, “just thinking of you/thought I’d say hello” messages that it will definitely be a pleasant surprise, and will surely help distinguish you from your competition.

Newsletters, of course, are the types of communication distributed by automated email campaign software. Sadly, they are often so unfocused they’re useless and confusing. Just consider the term most people use when preparing to send them out: “time for another email BLAST”. A blast – really? Does that sound like a concentrated, focused kind of anything? Ugh – no thank you! You should never send ANY communication if you don’t know why you’re sending it out, and what you hope to accomplish.

Ideally, newsletters should not be used for “hustling sales”, but for building and maintaining ongoing, long-term relationships. Let your customers know what you’re doing that might benefit them, and not just what you’re trying to SELL them. Give them a glimpse “behind the scenes”: instead of words like “quality” and “value” merely being sales jargon, let them see how these traits are “baked in” to your business’ operations.

Feature customer testimonials. Case studies. Results of online surveys you’ve conducted, complete with a review of your goal in doing the survey, who participated and what they and the newsletter readers might get out of it. In a feature rich newsletter like this, it’s much less “sales pitch-y” to include a link to a targeted “landing page” on your website where it would be more appropriate for you to make an offer, rather than a blunt, out of nowhere money grab.

Be Fair, Play Square

Your customers know you’re in business to make money, and they know you make money by offering things you hope they’ll buy. There’s no need to pretend otherwise, but this doesn’t mean you can’t be subtle, and approach it with a bit of sophistication. The point and purpose of retaining a customer IS so that you can do business with them again. Just as you’d court a sweetheart you hope someday will be your spouse by showing them how special they are to you, nurturing the ongoing relationship with your existing customers is the surest way to ensure a profitable relationship with them, hopefully for years to come…