`Hi' Hopes

Attract New Customers

Q: We're in the software business and know that it's far cheaper to solicit more business from old customers than to try to snag new prospects. But are there any innovative ways to do it?

A: Let me tell you about an approach I recommended to a client of mine a few years back. I suggested he pick out his 20 best customers and send them each a $25 audiocassette tape recorder, inside which was a 10-minute cassette titled something like "April Specials for My Best Customers." An accompanying letter explained that he was sending the player because he wanted to be able to regularly introduce, in the most personal way possible, new opportunities he and his company were offering to loyal customers. While sending out audiotapes is a fairly common marketing approach, actually including the means to play the tapes would make the customer feel flattered and somewhat obliged to listen--not just now but in the future.

Although not all 20 customers had the desired reaction, the majority did: My client got positive feedback from a number of the recipients, as well as an increase in business over the following months as a new tape was issued every other month. For a $500 investment in tape recorders, he got the attention and response of customers whose business he valued most--and whose additional orders more than made up for the total cost of the tape players.

For this approach to have long-term results, the tapes need to contain news and opportunities of genuine appeal and interest. They also need to be delivered in a way that's not boring to listen to. It's almost a sure thing that your clients will push the "play" button to listen to the first cassette that's already in the recorder. But thereafter, he or she needs to feel motivated, based on the content of past tapes, to put your new recorded messages into the player and hear you out. The cover letter you send with each tape should always "tease" your customers about the contents of the tape, such as "I'll reveal news about a new software productivity bundle that no one else in the industry is able to offer."

Audiocassettes are fairly cheap to duplicate, and your "recording studio" doesn't need to be anything more than your office. You might even include a second person on the tape--an employee, for example--to complement your own comments and break the monotony of hearing only one voice. Try a few test recordings to decide how best to present yourself. Always use at least an outline of what you want to say, if not a complete script, to make sure you stay focused.

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This article was originally published in the April 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: `Hi' Hopes.

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