There is real growth potential in a sole trader’s existing customer base, but many fail to realise its full potential. Often, more energy goes into attracting new customers than looking after current ones.
Yet our existing customer base is one of our business’s best assets. It’s where the real growth potential for our business lies and where untapped profits can be found.
Moreover, existing clients can show us the best path for business development – that is if we invite them and listen to what they have to say.
Acquiring a new client costs a whole lot more than generating an order from an existing client. The extra cost is in all the unpaid time spent on research, proposals, marketing and promotion, meetings, follow-ups and so on.
However, there are ways to bring in “new business” from “old clients” that provide considerably more profitable and satisfying results.
To do this successfully, you first need to develop the mindset that your current customer base is your most valuable asset. Treat your clients as if they are your lifeblood, because that’s exactly what they are to your business. Responding to their needs should take priority over prospecting for new clients.
It’s also necessary to fully grasp their needs and understand their relationship with you. If you listen and observe carefully, you will find that your clients are often telling you what more they need, they are signposting where your opportunities for expansion lie.
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Handled correctly, your existing customers are in effect your Research and Development (R&D) team. By listening, observing, questioning and trialing, you can develop new service and product offerings that fit the needs they are articulating, rather than market testing new products to new audiences.
Seeing your customers as members of a kind of quasi-R&D team can save you a good deal of time and money and has the added benefit of producing increased goodwill. One of the most powerful steps you can take in relationship building is to ask questions relating to a recent transaction.
Staying in touch with your clients just for the sake of staying in touch is yet another essential action that is regularly overlooked, or at best, handled very irregularly. You don’t want to bombard past customers with sales pitches or hassle them with daily phone calls, but you can keep in touch enough to keep your business present in their mind. Enough to show that you genuinely value their business; value their relationship with you.
A popular means of this kind of customer contact is via an email newsletter.
Past customers should be respected every bit as much as new customers. Honour your deadlines and guarantees. Do what you say you’re going to do. Better still, do more. There is no surer way to lose credibility than failing to live up to your word. Respond quickly and never be late. When clients know they can rely on you, they return and will speak highly of you to others.
Remember, the more you invest in your business’s major asset, the more return you will reap. Happy clients make for a happy business. Satisfied clients are more likely to refer others to you. Stay in touch and the chances are they’ll promote your business for a very long time.