If there was a simple tactic that you could easily employ that could generate more referrals in the next thirty days than what you normally generate in a quarter (or possibly a year), would you be interested?
Or if there was a simple practice that you and your team could engage in that could rapidly generate significantly more new business in the next thirty days than normal, would you be interested?
Even better, what if I told you that this simple tactic that could make this much difference wouldn’t even cost you any money, would you be interested?
Now that you are, here’s the tactic. Note: you’re about to be totally underwhelmed by what I’m about to share. But if you’ll hang with me for a moment, you’ll appreciate why I’m sharing it.
The tactic is … touch base with your current and past customers. I know, totally underwhelming. And yet, think about it, when was the last time you touched base with a past customer? Or even a current one?
I recently had one of my clients finally decide to use this tactic (yes, I mentioned it to him months ago) and, not only was his past customer happy he checked in with them, they wrote him a big check afterwards for new business (all for simply reaching out).
I. Remember That Most Businesses Never Stay In Touch
Instead of thinking about you and your business, think about all of the businesses you use. How many of them have followed up with you and stayed in touch over the years? My guess is, not many.
Think through some of the businesses you use (or have used frequently). When was the last time one of these companies followed up with you (with more than an online coupon, which doesn’t count)?
- Restaurants you’ve eaten at (in my case, virtually none have ever reached out again)
- Home repair companies (HVAC, Plumbers, Carpenters, Pest Control, Painters, Electricians, Pool care, Landscapers, etc.)
- Insurance sales people
- Software programs/vendors
- Furniture galleries
- Retail stores (clothing, shoe, computers, electronics, athletic gear, florists, etc.)
- Medical personnel (Chiropractors, Dentists, Optometrists, Family Physicians, Surgeons, Specialists, etc.)
- Accountants, etc.
You get the idea. If your life is at all like mine, the answer to all of the above is … VIRTUALLY NEVER. Occasionally I’ll get a reminder notice (It’s time to get your teeth cleaned) but that’s a clear call for me to spend more money.
No, what I’m talking about is an honest to goodness human contact. When was the last time your insurance salesperson (who’s still getting paid for a conversation they had with you ten years ago) called to say, “How are you doing?” In my case, never.
Listen, just because something seems obvious and a no-brainer, doesn’t mean it’s common practice. “Everyone” is always looking for a new idea or new tactic (the shiny object syndrome), when, frequently, the answer is right in front of them. Pick up the phone and talk with a human being.
II. Let Go of The “Length of Time” Issue
Typically when I talk with clients about this tactic they almost always wrestle with the fact that they haven’t stayed in touch for so long that it feels “awkward” to get back in touch. If you’re feeling that way, let it go. It’s all in your head.
If you’ve done a great job for your clients (present and/or old), they’ll be happy to talk with you … even if it’s been ten years. In your mind, it feels awkward. But for them, it’s no big deal. For example, it’s been ten years since I had my rotator cuff surgery on my left shoulder. If my surgeon (who was phenomenal by the way) were to call me and ask, “How are you doing?” I would be thrilled to talk with him (and shocked he called). Or if my insurance guy called me, I’d be happy to talk with him, as well as any of the restauranteurs or retail stores or software vendors or … that I’ve used over the years. Unfortunately, virtually none of them do.
However, in your case, as long as you’ve done a great job, you still have a stock pile of good will with your customers. They’re not worried about the length of time. Only you are. So, let it go.
Now, I know that’s easier said than done. I had one client several years ago where I had to talk him through the emotional part of getting back in touch with people he hadn’t talked with for years—for several months. Then, one day I finally said, “Listen, trust me on this. Just call up five people who you really loved serving and simply have a conversation with them.” He finally did and guess what, not one of them said, “Why are you calling me now? I haven’t heard from you in five years!” Not one! This is all in your head. Let it go. Time is irrelevant.
III. Start With an Apology
So, here’s what I’d encourage you to do. Create a list of all your current and past customers. I don’t care if that’s 30 or 300 or 3,000. Then create a grid for deciding who you’re going to contact first.
Next, you have three options. Option a, you call them. Option b, you email them then call them. Or c, you call them and if they don’t pick up, you email them. It’s your choice.
Personally, my favorite is c. Why? Because it feels more personal.
So, here’s the simple script.
“Hi, Bob, Bruce Johnson here. How are you doing? [Small talk] Hey, the reason I’m calling is because I was just thinking about you and realized that I haven’t touched base with you in the past three years and that’s just wrong. That’s not how I want to do business. So, I just wanted to call and apologize. I promise to do better moving forward.”
Can you do that? Absolutely.
Note: you can always say, “I was just thinking about you,” because you were just thinking about the person you contacted before you called or emailed them. Therefore, it’s always a truthful statement.
IV. Don’t Try To Do Any Business On Your First Call
This is one of the issues that hinders a lot of business owners and entrepreneurs from making this kind of call (thinking their job is to get business from someone they haven’t talked to in X number of years). That is not the objective of this first call. The whole objective of this first call is to reconnect and that’s it.
Trying to do business with someone you haven’t talked with for years (or for some length of time) is a poor choice. So, don’t make that your goal. Make your goal, reconnection.
And here’s what I’d say if they asked, “Why the call?” after you’ve engaged in some conversation.
“I just want to reconnect. I’m not trying to sell anything or get anything from you I just realized, as I mentioned earlier, that I hadn’t talked with you in three years and I wanted to apologize for that, as well as hear how you’re doing. Nothing more.”
This will totally shock most people. A, they virtually never hear from any business they’ve used in the past and b, when they do, it’s almost always to ask for something more (which is almost always more money).
You, on the other hand, are simply touching base to further the relationship. In other words, you’re a breath of fresh air.
V. Don’t Be Surprised At What Happens From That First Call
Remember your goal on the first call is to simply to reconnect. But their goal might be to help you.
As I mentioned earlier, I have a client who recently went to talk with a client of his whom he hadn’t talked with for years. He went to see them and did the apology part and then did something else I suggested. He gave them options.
“So, moving forward, I want to do better at staying in touch. So, you tell me, would you prefer for me to touch base with you quarterly, semi-annually or annually?”
His contact said that twice a year would be perfect and that the best months for those calls would be X and Y because those months would allow them to talk before their budget cycle was completed (or money had to be used before the end of the fiscal year). Isn’t that cool? His client literally told him, “If you want more money, we’d like to give it to you. Contact us here and here for the best shot at that.” Even better, his client sent him a check the following week for a new project without even sending a proposal. All because he simply touched base, apologized and didn’t ask for anything.
The other client I mentioned above, when he finally did contact those first five people, discovered that they were all happy he called, “It’s so good to hear from you.” And several of them even said, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about …” or “Hey, I have a friend I want to refer you to …” even though he, meaning my client, didn’t ask for any business or referrals because this was the first call.
In other words, don’t be surprised when good things start happening to you when you just pick up the phone (or email) and stay in touch. Never underestimate the power of simple things.
VI. Set Up a Regular System for Asking
If you were wondering when to ask for business or referrals, the answer would, “From the second phone call on (in a random pattern).”
The first call (or meet up or coffee) is just to reconnect and value the relationship (and to see where you can add some value to them and their lives). For example, you could solve a problem for them. Or if you’re a realtor and they have a problem with a leak in their roof, you could offer them two names of roofers. Or if you’re an accountant and they mention a business problem, you could refer them to a business coach. If you’re a TV or movie addict, and you know they like movies or TV, you could suggest a new movie or TV show you’ve watched recently. The goal is just to reconnect and add value.
However, the second meeting/call/coffee/meet up, that’s when it’s fair game to ask for a referral or to probe for a potential problem you could solve with your product or service..
The one thing you want to avoid here is being predictable. If every other time you connect you ask for a referral or new business, they’ll doubt the sincerity of you reaching out. So, randomize your system of asking. Maybe you ask on the 2nd, 5th and 9th times. Whatever works for you, works. Just don’t make it too predictable.
At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask. Too many business owners and entrepreneurs have companies that could be much larger if they’d simply ask more often. So, don’t be one of them. Ask often. Just don’t ask all the time.
Oh, and one last thing, make sure you keep track of their hobbies and families and send them short notes from time to time. For example, if you knew I went to the University of Wisconsin and you noticed this week that UW-Madison just moved up the AP and USA Coaches rankings to #5, you could shoot me a short email, “Hey Bruce, Congrats! Just saw your Badgers moved up in the rankings to #5! Hope they make the playoffs, George.”
That took all of 15 seconds. But your customers/clients would never forget the one business that remembered and took the time to reach out.
So, there you go. The simplest, easiest, and fastest way to generate more referrals and business in the next ninety days is— touching base with your customers/clients more frequently.
- Remember that most businesses never stay in touch
- Let go of the “length of time” issue
- Start with an apology
- Don’t try to do any business on your first call
- Don’t be surprised at what happens from that first call
- Set up a regular schedule of asking
Depending on the size of your business, I’d suggest you shoot for five contacts per day or per week as a good place to start. If you simply do that, I have a feeling you’ll be surprised 90 days from now at how many more referrals and new business opportunities you have.
To your accelerated success!