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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Look to existing customers for more business in the new year

While searching for new customers is always critical,

While searching for new customers is always critical, there can be gold in your past customer lists, experts say. Photo Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto / kzenon

As the year comes to a close, companies will be looking for ways to fill their sales pipeline in the new year.

While searching for new customers is always critical, there can be gold in your past customer lists, say experts.

Past customers are more likely to buy from a company they’ve done business with, but the key is finding ways to re-engage them through multiple channels.

“Salespeople typically do a bad job of touching base and staying top of mind with their clients and previous clients,” says Jeff Goldberg, president of Jeff Goldberg & Associates, a Long Beach sales training and coaching firm, and co-author of “Leverage Your Laziness” (Sound Wisdom; $9.99). “If they’ve already done business with you before, most likely they already like you.”

Goldberg tries to stay on past clients’ radar himself. This can’t be done with a sales pitch, he says, but rather with something that adds value or keeps you in mind. You might send an email newsletter or perhaps print out an article you think they’d be interested in and mail it to them. Most people email, so snail mail is a differentiator, he says.

Anything handwritten sets you apart.

“I like things like a personal letter,” says Jack Mandel, an East Norwich marketing consultant and a professor at Nassau Community College in Garden City.

For example, a restaurant might send a note that says “We haven’t seen you in six months; we hope you’re well and would like to invite you to come back and we’ll buy your first appetizer or dessert,” says Mandel.

When possible, look for something that makes you stand out, says Stephan Schiffman of SteveSchiffman.com, a Manhattan sales consulting firm, and author of “The 25 Sales Skills They Don’t Teach at Business School” (Simon & Schuster; $7.95). Perhaps there is a new product or service or innovation your company is offering, he says. You can even offer updates on your industry and how you fit into that picture.

The problem is “most salespeople don’t maintain the relationship until they want more business,” he says. They also tend to drift toward the bigger spenders, which is usually only 20 percent of their customer base.

With today’s technology there’s no reason not to keep in touch, says Joe DeMicco, president of AIMG, a Lake Success web development and integrated-marketing firm.

But first you have to look at the past customers you’re targeting and make sure they still fit your growth model, he says. Sometimes your business changes over time, and so does your customer base. You have to think about where your customers are in their buying journey and how you can bring value to them.

So for example, someone who buys a lawn mower likely doesn’t need one again right away, but after three months you could keep in touch by sending an email to remember to change the oil, says DeMicco.

When possible try to figure out a way to get them to tell you their social media handles, he says. You can even have a sign at the point of purchase that says “Engage us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter” and then follow them back where possible, says DeMicco.

Look for offline opportunities as well.

Because fewer people use direct mail, that could be a differentiator nowadays.

For example, you could create a mailing piece that has an image of a $20 bill or $50 bill that could be used toward their next purchase if they spend a certain amount, says Mandel.

If you don’t want to give a discount, you could send them a rewards club membership or invite them into your VIP club with special offers, he says. “Open up that level of communication that has been lacking.”

Fast fact:

You have a 50% chance of getting more business from an existing or past customer vs. a 20% chance of getting business from a new customer.

Source: Stephan Schiffman

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