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First contact with customers

January 1st, 2013 / By: / How-To Articles

That first transaction with a new customer is all-important. It can cement the new relationship and lead to a lifetime of mutually profitable sales—if it’s managed right. That first transaction might be big or small, in-person or online. It might involve a purchase or it might center on a freebie.

Happy young business people sitting together and discussing
Happy young business people sitting together and discussing

Make each first contact count by turning the transaction into a personal encounter. Here are some ways to do just that:

Commonalities. When you’re talking with (or emailing) a new customer, ask about common acquaintances. When your new customer feels you are part of his “circle,” he may want you to remain there.

E-card. After first contact, pass along your e-card and ask your customer to place it in his contact file. Ideally, it should contain all of your contact information—address, telephone numbers, email address, and website—along with a photograph, key product info, and a brief but compelling business message.

E-friends. Do you sponsor an active social-networking page? If so, invite your new customer to link up. (And if you’re not using social networking, why not?)

Freebies. Foster first contact by inviting prospects to place an “order” for a tantalizing (but inexpensive) product or service, or some valuable information.

Help. Let your new customer know that he’s your priority. Ask how you can help him in the future.

Introductions. Once you made contact, introduce yourself. Share details about your business background, family, education, interests, and avocations. Give your customer a chance to see you as a real person.

Invitations. A party or social event is a great way to cement a new business relationship. Consider inviting your new customer to a customer “get together,” open house, anniversary celebration, or other event. When she arrives, be sure she gets a name tag, a gift, and—most important—a personal welcome.

Links. Send a few useful web links to new customers. Think about sites or blogs that you find helpful and insightful, or sites that offer a bull’s-eye focus on your new customer’s interests.

News. If you keep close tabs on what’s going on in your field, how about passing along a captivating news bulletin or piece of expert commentary to your new customer? Consider a handwritten thought-you’d-be-interested note.

Orientation. Offer your newfound customer a brief “orientation” to yourself and your business. This might consist of a simple fact sheet, a DVD, a link to your “About Us” web page, or a colorful question-and-answer brochure highlighting your capabilities and strengths.

Photographs. Although it is a cliché, a picture can be worth a thousand words. If you can’t meet your new customer in person, send along a picture of yourself, your co-workers, and some scenes from your operation.

Promises. What’s your brand or company promise? After first contact, inspire customers by sharing your promise—and commitment—with them. The promise, stated in a brief letter, card, or personalized giveaway, will do the trick.

Questions. After you meet a new customer, ask a few probing questions about their needs. Jot the responses in your customer data file. And the reverse is also true: extend an open invitation to new customers to ask questions of you.

Referrals. Is your new customer a business buyer? If so, can you offer a sales referral or two? Or a few referral tips?

Response. After a prospect contacts you with a question, offer the most personal response possible—an e-mail message written specifically for that prospect, a telephone call, or handwritten note. Your prospect will notice.

Staff. If your new customer might communicate with your employees or colleagues in the future, pass along their photos and bios (make them short, punchy, and interesting). This simple getting-to-know-us gesture is a great relationship-builder.

Surprise. What can you do to surprise and delight a new customer? An extra quantity of product? Hand delivery? Cash back? Discounts for the next 90 days? Pleasant surprises can foster strong relationships.

Survey. Send a brief (three- or four-question) survey to new customers. You might ask them to “rate” their experience with you so far. And ask what’s important to them in future encounters.

Testimonials. Pass along a few testimonials from satisfied customers. Let your customer know that 100 percent satisfaction is your goal, and welcome your new customer into your business network.

Thanks. After that all-important first order or first request, be sure to say “thank you”—in the most personal manner possible.

Tickets. Do you purchase blocks of tickets for regional or community sports or entertainment events? If your new customer is located nearby, consider passing along a couple of tickets—and be sure to offer a hearty and gracious welcome at the event.

Richard Ensman is a business writer based in Rochester, N.Y.

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