Reprinted from Strategies newsletter, 1st Quarter March 2000 by First Marketing, 3300 Gateway Drive, Pompano Beach, FL 33069.

Initiating the connection that turns prospects into customers

Many think that prospects become customers after they place an order, but the conversion begins before the sale occurs. You need to connect with your prospects by understanding their wants and needs and offering appropriate products/services. This is the beginning of the relationship, and you should actively continue the courting process once they become customers.

Courting Customers

Imagine a schedule or timeline that you'll follow, with a prospect relationship at the beginning. This first stage is when you establish the connection. Then the relationship matures, leading to the end of the timeline where you have a loyal, permanent customer.

The first stage involves developing the learning relationship, which makes it easier for customers to do business with you because you demonstrate that you're aware of the customer's preferences and usage patterns. Some ways to learn about your customers are: application forms, preferred customer programs, contest entries, registration cards and surveys.

As the relationship progresses, you need to provide ample channels of communication. Integrated customer communication programs helps establish better one-to-one relationships. Effective customer communication programs should inform and educate customers about current or new products or services and reaffirm the purchase decision.

Finally, you should strive to actively show appreciation for their business. Ways of doing so include sponsoring special events, offering seminars and/or affinity merchandising. Another is to measure satisfaction delivered to your customers. This provides decision-making information for the marketer and shows the customer that the marketer cares.

Think about how your current customers may view your advertising to prospects. The more ambitious the claims, the greater the resulting desire for the product among the target audience, right? But hype may create unrealistically high expectations, which can result in short-term dissatisfaction as customers resolve not to repurchase the brand, product or service. This can be addressed by using ongoing customer communication that reinforces the purchase decision and reminds customers why you're the best provider and that you value their business.

Marketing that Nurtures

Nurturing customer relationships is key to winning and keeping customers year after year. Yet, in planning marketing efforts, more attention is given to winning new customers to one's brand, product or service. Customer marketing means adjusting your mentality from completing a sale to beginning a relationship; from closing a deal to building loyalty. Basically, you can treat customers as prospects, in a sense, but as a different kind of prospect - one you know something about.

Sustaining relationships with customers requires a long-term strategy. The immediate goal may be to trigger another purchase but, in the end, you can reassure your customers that they have purchased the right product or service from the right company by connecting with their needs.

Keys to successful relationship-building

Maintaining a database of current customers
Analyzing and responding to complaints
Providing offers/incentives to existing customers as well as prospects
Providing toll-free telephone numbers for customers
Sponsoring special events for your customers
Conducting regular customer satisfaction surveys
Offering a repeat buyer incentive program
Conducting exit interviews with departing customers
Establishing an ongoing dialogue with customers through a variety of channels


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