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How Existing Customers Can Grow Your Business

Media expert and former journalist Alec Lom draws on his 30 years of experience in Fleet Street and at the BBC to help businesses harness the power of the media. In this guest blog, he offers Flowbird readers tips and advice on how companies can use their existing resources and databases to develop sales.

Notre-Dame after fire damage - how to grow your business

Photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash

A time for resurrection?

As I sit down to write this blog, church bells are ringing across France to mark the time when the tragic fire broke out at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Television news crews and journalists worldwide have converged on the country to record this tragic event. President Macron is leading efforts to reconstruct the 850-year-old building in time for the Summer Olympics in Paris in five years.

That’s odd! I hear you thinking, what a strange way to begin writing a blog about customer retention.

What on Earth has Notre Dame got to do with building my business? Where’s the connection to my company’s turnover and prospects?

Well, as an ex-BBC journalist who’s worked in Fleet Street for more than 30 years and sat in newsrooms large and small, the answer is clear to me. The strength of any news operation depends heavily on its ability to plan and follow up.

So, I know that the News Editor, Diary Editor, and Forward Planning Editor will have responded to the Notre Dame fire differently.

The first executive will immediately have dispatched reporters, photographers and TV crews to the scene. In contrast, the latter two may have sat back and entered the words “Notre Dame follow-up “on their story lists for future news coverage.

The Notre Dame fire is a news item that will demand updates on the blaze, its investigation, honouring the firefighters, France’s fundraising efforts, reconstruction work progress, etc., for many months. Audiences worldwide will buy into the story for five years, until the 2024 Olympics and beyond.

The initial news recorded on the journalists’ ‘database’ will become a rich source of future features, and building a business should follow a parallel path.

Once customers are on your database, they should remain on your radar for constant, fruitful follow-ups.

In the same way that a journalist will work to build up their contacts on a story, for example, by befriending the Paris fire chief to secure ‘story leads’ over the weeks ahead, so too should you keep in close contact with your previous customers, encouraging them to provide you with future business, helpful feedback, and new follow-ups.

In business, as in journalism, it’s all about building relationships. Dedicating time to this will bring you a return on your investment. Yet, companies often become so focused on generating new leads that they neglect their existing and historical customers, resulting in lost opportunities and poor retention.

Given that there are never enough hours in the day, your small team is stretched, and resources are limited, what are the most time-effective and productive ways to get results? What’s the best way to ‘squeeze the lemon’?

As a reporter, I was often sent to France on assignments, possibly because my bosses knew I spoke French. I lived in Paris for a while as a student at Sorbonne University. My editors reckoned I’d probably get the best value from my contacts in that country because I spoke their language. In business, too, when using media platforms to communicate with your customers, it pays to seek out their tongue.

If your target clients are very active on Twitter, so should you be. That’s the right place to reach out to them. Your competitors are probably doing this already; the business community favours Twitter. Remember, opening and running a Twitter account is free. Buying a half-page advert in a national newspaper, which appears for just one day, can cost you thousands of pounds.

‘Social media? … We don’t have time.’

Despite the cost-effectiveness of social media like Twitter, you’d be surprised by some people’sCRM-for-Financial-Services (1) resistance. “Oh, we don’t have time. We’re far too busy with the day job.” I usually reply: “Well, your competitors are all getting ahead using social media channels, and so should you be.”

Another view I frequently hear is: “We don’t have anything to say, and it takes too long to think up posts.” The answer is to spread the load among your team. Appoint one person as co-ordinator, ask team members to generate one post per week, plan the content on a grid, pre-program your posts to go out when you want them to, and the problem’s sorted. A problem shared…

A new client once told me: “We use social media a lot. We love Twitter, and we tweet regularly. “(Actually, I had researched their account before the meeting and discovered they’d tweeted just 12 times in the previous 12 months.) “When you say you’ll tweet regularly ‘, I’m afraid once a month is not enough, “I replied. I was met with frowns of disbelief and shaking heads.

If you put your feet into your clients’ shoes and view the world from their perspective, perhaps conducting some additional research, you will understand what matters to them. Maybe they are about to celebrate an anniversary, the CEO is due to receive a gong in the New Year’s Honours list, or the client has landed a big new contract. These are all things you can congratulate them on over Twitter. Get alongside them. They’ll notice.

You can use countless tips and tricks on all social media to build relationships with previous and existing clients. There are plenty of illuminating articles out there. Invest time in researching these on the web.

Some companies make a mistake when choosing a senior executive to manage social media. Whoever you decide on, make sure they are genuinely passionate and engaged with a wide range of social media channels before you put them in charge of your accounts.

You will have heard and read about the power of video on social media. Research proves that tweets that are ‘words-only’ gain less traction than those with a ‘still picture’ attached. Tweets with a link to a short video clip gain the most traction. Video footage need not be lengthy; 10 to 15 seconds is more than enough. People are busy. One cost-effective option is to record footage on your mobile phone. Such footage is entirely acceptable and commonplace on social media.

‘Positive endorsements are gold dust.’

A company in Kent called Prisma Broadcast makes successful corporate videos for growing UK businesses to use as a marketing tool. Their previous clients are often happy to record filmed testimonials, another great way to re-engage with your existing client database.

If a client has enjoyed a positive first relationship with you and gone away happy, they should respond warmly to a request for a brief testimonial. If you don’t have time to visit them with a camera or iPhone, you can always record the testimonial on Skype. Present these testimonials on your social media channels, website, and accompanying messages to encourage repeat business. It helps promote your client to new audiences and convince them (and others) to do business with you again.

One hotelier who was pleased to film a testimonial for Prisma told the camera he’d recouped the cost of his video several times over within the first year. Such endorsements are gold dust and a great example of the content you can circulate widely to all your previous customers. The ‘call to action’ for others to follow suit is persuasive and unmissable.

Writing and publishing blogs is another great way to boost customer retention and reawaken interest in your products and services from previous clients. You can post blogs on your website, highlight them on your social media channels, and include them in weekly or monthly newsletters.

Always be sure to pepper your blogs with compliments about your existing customers. You might say what a pleasure it was to work with them, how they’ve gone on to achieve ever-greater things or flag up their successes. It not only pleases that client but also serves as a reminder to others reading your blog that you’re an excellent company to do business with. They may consider doing so again.

And suppose you’re looking for an excuse to re-establish contact with a previous client on your database. In that case, you could tell them you’re writing a blog on a particular issue or topic that concerns them and ask if they would allow you to quote their CEO in your article. You might even invite them to write a ‘guest blog’ for you. Who wouldn’t want a bit of free publicity? It could give you a perfect opportunity to re-establish your relationship.

When harnessing the power of traditional media coverage, I always say that the business ‘horse’ must drive the media ‘cart’ and not vice versa. First, sit down with your management team and determine your business goals or plan. Then, and only then, should you start the discussion with a comms company like mine about how a media campaign and strategy can support those objectives?

Your media campaign must be tailor-made to meet your requirements, especially if client retention and repeat clients are among your goals. When a client asks: “Can you get me in The Sunday Times this weekend?!” we sometimes reply, “Why? “. That’s to say, why a Sunday paper, why a national paper, why a UK publication, why a broadsheet? What are you trying to achieve, and is this the right audience to help you achieve it?

Pitching weak stories is a waste of time.

Remember that news and business editors are bombarded daily by freelance journalists and PR companies trying to sell weak stories. The editor’s most common reply is: “So what?”, or far ruder words to that effect! So, make sure the account you offer is of genuine reader interest, i.e. new, unusual or quirky, and relevant to their audience before you pitch it.

When reconnecting with former clients, it always helps to reason for knocking on their door. It might be a new service or opportunity, a special discount you’ve arranged for loyal customers, something available only to them.

One of our favourite clients was the eco-friendly pet products firm Beco Pets, whose team are passionate about protecting the environment. They organised a beach clean-up, removing sack-loads of plastic litter along miles of the seafront in their region. Their decision to stage such a topical initiative to benefit the environment is a perfect example of a reason for contacting previous clients and maybe inviting them to participate.

Collaborating with clients to hoover hundreds of discarded plastic bottles from a beach not only gives you time to talk to them informally and build long-term relationships but also gives you and them an opportunity for good publicity in the media.

During my career, I spent seven years at the BBC and worked with other television companies, mainly in entertainment programming. One of the most popular formats involves individuals or families being “displaced “and relocated into a different scenario. Couples in the UK swap homes with their counterparts in Australia; children from a school in the Midlands swap classrooms with pupils in the East End of London; you’ll be familiar with such series.

Why not offer clients the opportunity to second an employee to your office for a day, a week, or even longer? Offer training in your expertise as part of their continuing professional development. As a swap, say you’ll loan them one of your team to join and learn more about their business for the same period.

Some spin-off advantages might include new business, a better understanding of each other, opportunities for positive media publicity for both of you, great content for your social media channels, and stories for your companies’ newsletters.

Everyone enjoys reading about a job swap and how the individuals got on. Why not get them to record a video diary, perfect for social media content?

The footage may not be as dramatic as the Notre-Dame fire, but you never know; you might resurrect some critical relationships.