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Your often-forgotten former customers get a lot of lip service but no actual service. Forgetting them can cost you sales you could have gotten for a lot less effort than you’re spending now focusing on potential sales from prospects. This is true whether we are talking about sales to consumers or to businesses. No sale has to be a once only sale. Even those who purchase a home or a wedding ring will always at least think about buying something else — smaller or larger; newer, older, or established. Reconsider writing former customers off. It may not be in the best interest of your business.

Why Do We Forget Certain Customers?

When it comes to failing to remember and focus on former customers, it could be caused by what is called “working memory” in cognitive psychology and neuroscience. This is the memory capability that is immediately available and active. It is very different from long-term or short-term memory.

According to working memory theory, all active thinking and problem-solving occurs in working memory. It is where focus takes place as well. Chris Adams calls it the brain’s search engine. It filters and focuses the information stored in the brain and it is where a person can actually do something with that information.

It’s hard to have working memory of a former customer except on those rare occasions you come in contact with them again. You don’t search for them because they aren’t currently needed. But, they should be if you want more sales and higher-value sales.

Why Are Former Customers Ignored?

Why do business owners ignore those who have contributed to their success? Is it a case of “out of sight, out of mind”? Is it because they no longer seem relevant since they are not paying for anything or not asking for anything now? Who’s fault is that? Not theirs.

There are other excuses businesses use to explain why former clients are forgotten and ignored. The most common are

  • The person who the company worked with isn’t there any more. Not relevant unless the product or service was just for them. If the company used it, it stands to reason the company might want to use it again.
  • The seller’s situation has changed and the company no longer offers that product or service or it’s significantly different now. Not relevant. The buyer’s situation has probably changed also. What the old seller has is “history.” If it’s OK or good, then this former customer is worth approaching. They may be looking for just those improvements.
  • The buyer was a pain to work with. That’s relevant.  If the same people are still there and feel the same way, then stay away. The key is not to tar everyone with the same brush. There are excellent former customers as well as terrible ones.
  • The seller’s fear that the buyer won’t take the call, respond to the email, etc. It seems odd, but most of the time they will if only out of curiosity. A medical practice consultant was sent a LinkedIn request from a former client that she had refused to work with further because of his business ethics.
  • Salespeople don’t want someone else’s history or baggage. Poor excuse. Getting sales from a former customer can seem less exciting, less of a challenge — like shooting fish in a barrel. This is exactly how they are treated in some businesses. The perspective is that they will always be there if you need them. The key here is YOU DO NEED them now and always because the value they bring is much more than the potential that prospects have!

Why You Should Focus on Former Customers

Former customers should be considered as “low-hanging fruit” because unlike new sales, they have already proved that they like what you have to offer. You already have had, and could have again, a great relationship with them. Most important, they have already paid the price you asked. What could be better than that? In general, sales to former customers

  1. Take less time to find. The lead generation is practically done. They were interested.
  2. Take less time to get (see above).
  3. Take less time to service. If the seller has kept good records, they know just what this customer wants, needs, expects, will and won’t tolerate, and how to get paid. So, there’s no “getting to know you” learning curve that eats into profits.
  4. Bring more value to the business. Former customers know your business and usually have ideas that are relevant and can help you grow. They also know other customers like them that they can refer you to and to whom they are willing to provide personal introductions.

5 Steps to Win Back a Former Customer

Actively pursue the former, forgotten customer and reap your reward. Here are six must-do’s:

  1. Decide to focus on former customers but be selective. Identify those most relevant to what you have to sell now. Set specific goals and timelines.
  2. Set up a  six-step sales process that includes an appropriate initial re-contact with those selected former clients, marketing, merchandising efforts, close, reinforcement, and retention.
  3. Get marketing to assist with the sales process (#2) through what they provide for collateral and what message they put out on the website, in social media, and traditional marketing channels.
  4. Train sales staff that have true willingness and desire to focus on former customers. Eliminate anyone who has strong doubts or can’t deal with the history this customer has had with the company and its products or services. It might require an apology. It definitely will require understanding. Reward successful sales staff more for former customer sales than for new sales. In terms of lifetime value of a customer, a former customer always beats a new customer.
  5. Track and evaluate your results vs. your costs. Give staff enough time and resources to make it successful and be prepared to make sales and marketing changes to improve those results.
  6. Keep it going. You will always have former customers. Put them on the same successful path you’ve created.

Here’s to your long-term success with the right former Platinum Profile™ customers!

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About Jan Triplett

Jan Triplett, Ph.D., CEO of the Business Success Center, uses tools and systems she created to ramp up and scale businesses throughout the US and abroad. She is the author of several books and the former moderator for KUT’s nationally syndicated radio program, “The Next 200 Years.” She has been a keynote speaker for hundreds of national and international trade associations and presents free monthly webinars business development topics. She has served on state and local boards and commissions, created a chamber for women, won many awards, led international trade missions, and been a local, state and national small business activist for many years. She was the Governor’s delegate to the White House Conference on Small Business and an NFIB delegate to the Congressional Summit. In addition to writing her own blog, she writes for the Business Bank of Texas’ Resource Center. She hosts several Meetup groups, including an online one for bloggers, and leads the First Looks Mentoring Forum, a joint project with Texas Entrepreneurs Network. She is currently working on setting up a podcast radio network, BOSS-Talks Radio Network.