Drawing former customers and clients back to business can be...

Drawing former customers and clients back to business can be done with planning and care, experts say. Credit: iStock

Small businesses are always looking for the next new customer to fill their sales pipeline. But often, they ignore the low-hanging fruit: their past customers.

Previous customers can be a good source of revenue if you know how to renew the relationship, say experts.

"Customers and clients don't just materialize," says Rhonda Abrams, president of PlanningShop, a Redwood City, Calif.- based publisher of books and software for entrepreneurs. "You have to spend some time, money and resources to make that happen."

There are multiple costs involved in landing a new account, including advertising and marketing. That's why "once you have them you have to make the most of them," says Abrams, also author of more than 15 books including "Six-Week Start-Up" (PlanningShop; $21.95).

Make plans, update information: Being able to reactivate past customers requires planning, she says. At the very least, start building a client database and keep it up to date, even if it's just entering their information into an email newsletter database.

The more detailed information you can keep, the better. Keep notes on what you did for them and when, suggests Lori Richardson, CEO of Score More Sales, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based sales strategy organization. You can use customer relationship management software to track information.

Then use the information when you call the prospects, perhaps getting their feedback about a past project you did for them now that some time has lapsed, Richardson says, noting that "a call is much better than an email."

Adrian Miller, of Adrian Miller Sales Training in Port Washington, agrees.

Offer something helpful: "Pick up the phone and have a plan," says Miller.

Don't just touch base or check in. Have some valuable information you can share or insightful questions you can ask, she says. Do research on the company to refresh your knowledge and perhaps call alerting them to an article you thought would be valuable to them, she notes.

Adds Richardson, you don't have to make it an actual sales call. Offer up some helpful tool, resources or ideas. "Find a way you can help them," she says.

Stay connected: Newsletters are a good way to stay connected as well.

Jeff Goldberg, president of Jeff Goldberg & Associates sales consulting and training firm in Long Beach, sends out a video newsletter each month via email.

"I get business almost every month from sending out my newsletter," he notes. "It keeps you top of mind."

It pays to take a blended approach when trying to reconnect with clients, including calls, emails, direct mail etc., he says.

Rich Isaac, president of Sandler Training in Hauppauge, a sales training and consulting firm, will be using multiple outreach methods as part of Sandler's current client reactivation campaign called "Reboot Camp."

The firm is reaching out to past clients to alert them about new services it has and to offer a skills refresher. As part of the campaign, Sandler will use direct mail, email and personal handwritten notes, and will create a special landing page for the program.

Tips for reactivation: Isaac has four suggestions.

First: Analyze your old accounts to make sure they're still a qualified customer and still in business.

Second: Analyze your company and its offerings. What's changed that might be relevant to them?

Third: Set goals and targets. Identify how many people you'll reach out to, how many will turn into business.

Fourth: Create an action plan on how you'll actually contact them and under what pretense.

"You can make things happen by being proactive," says Goldberg.

Fast Fact:

It costs five to nine times more to attract a new customer than to retain a current customer.

Rhonda Abrams, president of PlanningShop

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