True confession: I own a timeshare. I know, it's horribly embarrassing, but I was young and got lured in by the promise of a lifetime of cheap vacations. Many years of trying - and failing - to sell said timeshare, I've come to accept the fact of life as a timeshare owner. As a new parent, it's actually worked out well for our family this summer. We used it to go to the beach (at our home resort) and had a really nice time. I also got to witness (once again) the selling techniques that keep this industry thriving.

Now, I'm guessing many of you know how the timeshare industry works: they invite you on a short vacation that's either cheap or free (and usually comes with extra perks), and in exchange, you agree to attend a 90-minute presentation where they will share with you the benefits of "vacation ownership" also known as: a sales presentation.

If you haven't attended one personally, you've probably seen it depicted in sitcoms. The process is typically this: you attend a presentation (which may or may not include entertainment and/or food), then you sit down with a "vacation consultant" whose job it is to bond with you, discover what you love about vacationing, and convince you that the best and cheapest way to live the life you've always dreamt of, is by "investing" in "vacation ownership." The most convincing part is when they add it all up for you. They show you - with clear, easy math - how much money you'll save by buying a deeded piece of real estate. And everyone knows real estates investments are great, right?

The problem is of course, that once you own one, you're stuck paying the ever-increasing annual maintenance fees. Yes, you can rent your timeshare, trade it, and of course, use it yourself, but those are all typically complicated options that do cost you time and money. This is why the American Resort Development Association reports that the industry is currently worth $79.5 billion (according to a study conducted by Ernst & Young).

Timeshare salespeople have the reputations of used car salesmen - pushy, misleading (if not downright dishonest), and only interested in their own commissions. Most of us aren't interested in selling that way or chancing our reputations with shady sales techniques.

There's one technique that really is gold though, and can be used to your advantage, no matter what you're selling. Most small businesses cannot afford to buy their prospects theater tickets, iPads, or other gifts, but you don't have to spend a lot of money and strong-arm people you want to sell to.

It is: sell to your existing customers.

On our vacation, they invited us to an "update presentation" which was basically a way to sell us upgrades. Now, it didn't convince us to spend any money, but I was curious to see their techniques (and I don't mind getting a free tablet and gift card). Any sales course worth its salt will tell that it is easier to sell to people who have already said yes to you once. They'll also tell you that you want to start off by getting little yeses. ("Are you enjoying your vacation?" "Yes, I am, thanks." Do you like the beach?" "Yes, I do, thanks." "Do you like free stuff?" "Yes, of course I do!" "If I told you there was a way to basically vacation for free, would you want to do that?" "Yes, I'd be a fool not to!" etc..)

The statistics are numerous and this article compiles a large variety of them from different sources. For example:

  • 40% of an ecommerce store's revenue comes from 9% of its customers;
  • after 1 purchase, a customer is 27% more likely to buy from you again, but after 3 purchases, a customer is 54% more likely to buy from you again;
  • average ecommerce conversion rates range from 1-3%, but repeat customers are 60-70% more likely to convert;
  • after 2 purchases, a customer is 9x more likely to convert than a new customer.

The statistics go on and on. Repeat customers spend more money, are more loyal, and are more likely to share their love of you via social media. You may not think the timeshare industry is one you want to model your business on, but their numbers certainly show they know how to sell.

The bottom line is this: if you are not offering your version of an "update presentation" to your past clients, you're missing out on low-hanging fruit (meaning, easy to pick). Reach out to past customers and give them the opportunity to say yes to you again. Chances are it'll be worth your time.