Admit it. You cringe whenever you send a “thinking of you… hope you’re doing well…” email because you know your customer realizes you’re just fishing for business.
Want to stay in touch with customers without seeming obvious or gratuitous? It’s easy. The key is to have a reason.
A non-sales reason.
The key is to stay in touch in a meaningful and memorable way. What is memorable? Having a purpose that benefits the other person—not you. Here are six ways to pull that off:
Set up a Google Alert on each customer. Doesn’t take long; in most cases getting weekly updates is plenty. Set up an alert on the person’s name, company name, and perhaps his or her industry and topics of interest. Then you can re-connect with something to offer: congratulations, information about new competitor, trends in their industry, etc. The key is to turn a generic, "Thinking of you..." into a much more meaningful, "I immediately thought of you when I saw this."
Offer to recommend. Many people feel uncomfortable asking others to complete LinkedIn Recommendations. Instead of waiting for a customer to ask, jump in and write one. Not only will you strengthen a connection, but you also get the chance to (subtly) describe your business and services when you discuss how you and your customer did business in the past. Besides, people tend to like—and remember—the people who like them.
Ask for input. While the, “How can we improve our products or services?” inquiry is OK, go a step farther and ask a customer to share their knowledge or expertise. For example, in addition to writing (and ghostwriting) I’m a wedding photographer; a few years ago I wrote an article for The Knot and asked some of our couples what, in retrospect, they would have done differently in regards to wedding planning. Get input from customers for articles, blog posts… whatever media you use to communicate with your customers and your industry. They’ll be flattered you want to tap their expertise.
Comment. Lots of people write blog posts and articles. Few receive any comments on their posts (which can be pretty disheartening.) Subscribe to customer blogs, use Google Alerts to find articles they write for other sites (or articles they’re quoted in) and leave thoughtful comments. Your customers will greatly appreciate the support.
Offer to provide a credit reference. Most suppliers ask for references before extending credit. If a customer has a solid history of paying on time, offer to serve as a reference if they set up other credit relationships. Just call and say, “We were asked to provide references to a vendor, and I thought about how great you are to work with—if you ever need someone to provide a credit reference, just let me know.” Easy to do and shows you not only respect but also trust your customer. People like doing business with people who trust them.
Play J. Edgar Hoover (but in a good way). How embarrassing is it when someone asks you, "How was Patricia’s first year in high school?" and you can't remember their child’s name, or whether their kid is in school, or even whether their kid is a boy or girl so you can at least respond with a weak, "Really good… and how's your, um, daughter doing?" Conversations are like a gold mine for personal data, but you have to store the conversational treasures you dig up. Add notes to your contacts. Keep a database. Do whatever works for you. Memories come and go, but electronic data is forever—which is exactly how long you want customer relationships to ask.