How, when to reach out to customers, prospects

By Jim Kendall

This column originally appeared in the September 29, 2014 Daily Herald

There presumably are differences between your client and prospect lists, but there’s an important similarity many entrepreneurs overlook: Customers and prospects both need to hear from you on a reasonably regular basis.

Even though the messages you send most likely will vary, your growth strategy should include scheduled outreach activities to the different segments of your marketplace. That’s because you want your business to be top-of-mind when buying decisions are made, not ignored because you decided “Everyone knows us anyway.”

They probably don’t. The truth is that no one knows about your business unless you tell them. Even if your market recognizes your business name, it may not know you’ve built a left-handed mouse trap – because you haven’t told anybody about your cool new device.

You simply must talk to your marketplace, the customers you have and the ones you don’t have but wish you did. The tricky parts are how often to reach out, what communications tools to use and what to say.

* Frequency matters but will vary with each business and its needs. Unless yours is a coupon-driven business, weekly messages nearly always are overload – and headed for the junk email box. Quarterly messages leave a lot of days between the time your audience receives something helpful from your company and the next message.

Reaching out every six weeks or so is a good compromise, assuming you have a message others will want to read. If not, hold back a while.

* How you deliver your message is open. An email with tightly edited but cogent text is fine. A link to an article you’ve written and posted on your website – so readers must visit the site – may be better. A few design dollars spent on an e-newsletter will help, although most e-mailing services have design templates you can use.

* Content can come from your own awareness and knowledge; with permission, you can reproduce others’ writings on your chosen topic. The basic intent, of course, is to increase sales, but you’ll do better if your outreach messages are light on selling and heavy on sharing information – insights into industry and economic trends, for example.

Within that context, there are two goals: Impress customers, and prospects, with your ability to unearth information they find useful; and, by doing so, raise awareness and appreciation of your company.

Rather than an email message, consider three or four Breakfast at (Your Company Name Here) Seminars, with an outside speaker discussing an issue that matters to your audience.

Today you might choose a speaker on ways smaller businesses can best use social media. A second seminar might feature a presentation by an employment attorney or HR consultant on hiring rules.

The seminar should start at 7:30 and run for an hour. Offer a continental breakfast, and require pre-registration. Call the people you really want to have attend.


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