6 Ways to Get Lost Customers to Start Buying Again

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You work hard to attract customers, but sometimes they just quit coming back. Lost and inactive clients still have potential, even when you haven't heard from them in months or years. Here are six things you can do to get those lost customers buying again. 

lost customers
Image source: Photospin.com

Would you like to make more money from your small business? Do you wish you had a way to increase sales and profits without a significant increase in your advertising costs? If you've been in business for at least a couple of years, the means for fulfilling your wishes may be close at hand. Here's why:

If you're like many businesses, you are probably sitting on top of a gold mine that you don't see.

That gold mine consists of the lost and inactive clients and prospects that have been relegated to file cabinets, archived email, or are just sitting unnoticed in your database.  They may be customers who have made a single purchase in the past, or placed multiple orders, but haven't ordered recently. They might also be customers who weren't happy with their purchase for some reason, who didn't like one of your sales people, or who decided to try a different vendor for some reason. They also may be prospects your sale team talked to once or twice and never followed up with. Or, they may be individual purchasing agents or buyers who no longer work for the company that bought from you in the past.

Many of these lost and inactive customers may still need what you sell and be willing to do business with you again. Depending on what you sell, you could be losing thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars in profits every year by ignoring them.  

Don't let those sales go to other companies. Regain the business and boost your profits by following these steps to reclaim former customers and prospects.

Identify Customers to Contact

If your customer records are in a database, have your programmer do a search to show you all customers who haven't made a purchase in the last year.  Be sure the list that prints out include some indication of how much each customer has purchased in the past. If your records are on paper, go through inactive files and compile a list that way.

Send a First Class Postcard to All Inactive Contacts

Send a coupon or other promotional mailing on a postcard to all former customers and lost prospects. Doing so accomplishes two things: It will remind past customers who receive the mail about your products, and, if you send the postcards via first class mail, is no longer at the address you have on file, the post office will either forward the mail to a new address (if it's within the allowed forwarding time) or return it to you.  When you get mail returned to you, you can look up the companies on the Internet to see if they are still in business and if so, call them to get updated contact information.

Although sending postcards is more time consuming than sending out emails to former customers, the postcard offers the advantages of being a physical reminder of your business to the customer and giving you notice through returns when the mail isn't being received. 

Call Your Best Former Contacts

These would be the individuals who placed the most profitable orders with you. They may have placed large orders once a year, or possibly a series of small orders over the course of a year that added up to a significant dollar amount each year.

Find Out Why They Haven't Purchased Recently

Although the purpose of your call is ultimately to bring in more business, before you ask the company to buy from you again, you should try to find out why they stopped buying.  Common reasons include:

  • Your former contact at the company is no longer the buyer or purchasing agent, or is no longer with the company.
  • The contact information for your former contact has changed. (ie, they have a new phone number, email address, or if the contact is a woman, they got married and have a new last name.)
  • The company was dissatisfied with your product.
  • The company was dissatisfied with your service.
  • There order didn't arrive on time.
  • A shipping error or other problem wasn't handled satisfactorily.
  • A competitor undercut your prices or provided better service.
  • Your company changed locations or phone numbers and the customer didn't have the new contact information.
  • The customer thought one of your sales people was rude or unprofessional.

If the business was lost because the customer was unhappy with your company, explain what's changed (if anything has) and ask what you can do to win back their business. If the loss of business was because contact information changed, ask for the new contact information and update your records.

Find Out If The Company Has the Same Needs for What You Sell

Sometimes companies needs change. The company that ordered 300 keychain LED flashlights from you two years ago may want 500 flash drives to give away at tradeshows this year, and may not know you can provide them. Or, they may need 10 times the number of products they ordered in the past and may be concerned that you won't be able to support their new volume requirements. 

Ask For Their Business

Once you know why the former customer or prospect hasn't purchased, determine the best approach to ask for their business.  For instance, If they had a problem with a product and there have been changes made that address that problem, let them know and send them a free sample if feasible. If they've switched vendors and don't give you a reason, ask what it would take to get their business back.  If another vendor undercut your prices, ask if they're getting the same level of service you had been providing. 

Related article: Customer Aftercare - the key to selling more 

© 2014 Attard Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted or redistributed without permission.

About the author:
Janet Attard is the founder of the award-winning  Business Know-How small business web site and information resource. Janet is also the author of The Home Office And Small Business Answer Book and of Business Know-How: An Operational Guide For Home-Based and Micro-Sized Businesses with Limited Budgets.  Follow Janet on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JanetAttard.

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