You want to stay in touch with your customers. (Or as Jack Nicholson might say, "You need to stay in touch with your customers.")

The reason is simple: You want to turn transactions into ongoing relationships.

But that's not easy, especially when all you can think to do is send a "Thinking of you--hope you're doing well!" email that sounds like 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 stay in touch in a meaningful and memorable way.

What is memorable? Having a purpose that benefits the other person--not you. Here are some ways to pull that off:

Set up an alert on each customer.

Plenty of tools help you keep track of customers (or competitors). Google Alerts is one, Talkwalker another. Mention includes, um, mentions on social media sources as well.

Pick a tool and set up an alert on the person's name, company name, her industry, maybe topics of personal interest … and then you can reconnect with something to offer: congratulations, information about new competitors, trends in the 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. You will not only strengthen a connection but also get the chance to (subtly) describe your business and services when you discuss how you and your customer did business in the past.

Or go further. Be a matchmaker and recommend a customer's services to another customer. If you pick the right people, both will be grateful for the introduction.

Never forget: People tend to like, and remember, the people who like them.

Show some PR love.

Content marketing--or as Dharmesh et al call it, inbound marketing--is a great tool. But content marketing requires content.

So kill two birds with one stone. Profile a customer. Better yet, ask customers to share tips, advice, and strategies. You get content, you both get a content marketing boost, and they feel good about the fact that you respect them enough to feature them on your blog, video … whatever media you use to market your business.

(But don't ask a customer if you can do the same; that's like inviting yourself to a party. Always wait to be invited.)

Do something nice.

Building customer relationships isn't totally altruistic; you eventually want something (like more sales). But when you're staying in touch, forget about what you want and focus on what you can provide.

If you're creative, the list of things you can give--tangible and intangible--is endless.

Giving is the only way to establish a real connection and relationship. Focus solely on what you can get out of it and you will never build a long-term relationship.

Ask for meaningful--not gratuitous--input.

While a, "How can we improve our products or services?" inquiry is fine, go a step further and ask customers to share their knowledge or expertise. Ask if they'll be beta testers. Ask if they will try a product or service for free in exchange for recommendations for improvement.

Or call and say, "We're really trying to do a better job at (something specific you do). Can I take you to lunch and get your advice?"

Keep in mind this only works if you already have a relationship. Try this with new customers and they'll assume--justifiably--that you're just trying to sell them more stuff.

Comment.

Lots of people write blog posts and articles. Few receive any comments on their posts (which can be pretty disheartening).

Subscribe to your customer blogs, use 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.

Keep helpful notes.

Say you run into a customer and he says, "How is Luke's first year of school going?"

Wow, he knows your son's name and that he just started first grade. You barely remember your customer's name, much less whether his kids are in school … or even whether he has kids at all.

But since he did mention kids, you figure that must mean he has kids (let's hope) so you respond with a weak, "He's doing really well and, um, how's yours?" (And then you cringe while you wait for his response.)

Casual meetings are great for building a more personal relationship, but you have to be prepared. That means actually remembering something personal about each customer.

So keep an informal database. Or add notes to your contact. Do whatever works for you. Then, before you call or email, quickly scan your notes so you're up to speed. And occasionally review your notes; you never know when someone will call unexpectedly.

Put in the effort; it's worth it. Memories come and go, but electronic data is forever--and that's how long you want your customer relationships to ask.

Published on: Sep 23, 2014