Recently, I received a sales letter from a management consulting firm my company uses. Over the years, I have referred dozens of new clients to the provider and have given marketing advice to the firm's principals. In spite of our long and familiar relationship, however, this letter began "Dear Mr. Moran" and went on to invite me to become a new client. Because this was the first piece of correspondence I'd ever received from this organization, I was mildly annoyed and wondered how much this firm valued my account.
Every business should have a "VIP" list. Made up of key customers, referral sources, trusted advisors and others who make your business life run more smoothly and profitably, this cream of your crop needs to be kept apprised of your organization's news. But that shouldn't be your only outreach to them. If you continually benefit from your contacts without paying attention to building relationships with them, you risk alienating this important group.
Today's flexible contact management and database software packages make it easy to get personal with your VIPs. It's now a breeze to catalog detailed information, code your customer lists and sort them by virtually any criteria imaginable. Here are some tried-and-true tactics to tactfully keep your business in the front of their minds without constantly tooting your own horn.
- Remember when . . . Keep track of important personal dates, such as birthdays or anniversaries, and mark the events with a personal gesture. For convenience, stock up on greeting cards for various occasions, and keep them on file. Sending cards on nontraditional holidays--such as Thanksgiving instead of the December holidays--can make you stand out from the crowd.
- Personalize the masses. Before you send out your next mailing, pull the pieces addressed to your VIPs. Make sure their titles are up-to-date and names are spelled correctly. You may want to jot down a personal note. Even a brief, handwritten greeting on a direct-mail piece communicates volumes about how much you value that relationship.
- A clip in time. If you read something that may be of interest to a VIP, clip it out and send it along with a personal note. The information may be something your contact missed. If not, it still shows you were thinking about the individual.
- Share their news. When you learn that a VIP has won an industry award or introduced a new product, acknowledge the good news. In addition to sending a note of congratulations, you may want to ask the VIP's permission to mention the news in your company newsletter or other venue to publicly acknowledge the event.
- Thank you, thank you, thank you. When a customer places a big order or a colleague refers a new client, always send a note of thanks. A physician friend of mine sends a brief thank-you note to everyone who refers a new patient. According to him, the few seconds it takes to acknowledge a referral pays off thousands of times over in the goodwill the notes generate.
- Follow up on clues. If a VIP mentions getting over a cold or leaving work early for a child's soccer game, follow up with a phone call in a day or so to check on the outcome. People are flattered when you inquire about their well-being.
Simply being thoughtful can build those all-important relationships that make or break your business. Investing a few moments in communicating personally with your key audience can turn contacts into contracts--without a hard sell.
Gwen Moran is president of Moran Marketing Associates, a public relations and marketing communications agency based in Ocean, New Jersey. She is currently completing a marketing workbook entitled Promote Your Business. E-mail her at email@example.com