Converting prospects to first-time buyers requires a good amount of blood, sweat and tears. But generating repeat business online is a challenge all its own.
“It’s like the difference between a first date and a 20th date,” says Elijah R. Young, co-founder of Social Talk Live, a California-based social marketing and training firm. “Asking a customer on a first date is awkward—you’re fighting for a chance. On the 20th date, you’re not as nervous, but you’re worried about creating a new experience and finding something both of you would like to do together.”
First-date analogies aside, repeat business requires maintaining contact and nurturing relationships. Check out the dos and don’ts of generating repeat online business:
DO keep in touch regularly. This can be accomplished online through email newsletters, audio podcasts or even YouTube TV shows once or twice a week, says Ian Greenwood, an online marketing trainer and consultant in Scotland. “These are all powerful marketing tactics and can be done for free,” he says.
DON’T contact customers just to make a sale. “Contact should be more informational than sales-based,” Greenwood says. “You should be relationship-building, not selling.” Try sending “tip of the week” emails or offering customer-only offers once a month.
DO thank customers for their business. This could be in the form of a free gift, an automated thank-you email or even a simple hand-written note. “Follow-up notes—a ‘thank you’ or ‘hope you enjoy your order’ note—leave a positive impression in customers’ mind, letting them know you care about their purchase,” says Susie Ghahremani, of BoyGirlParty.com in San Diego. “They feel more inclined to come back as a result.”
DON’T automate everything. Automation can be useful in certain instances, but automating the entire customer experience can turn off some customers. “Even if your product or service is awesome, there’s no connection to come back to if your marketing is cold and heavily scripted,” Young says.
DO offer coupons and discounts for repeat business and referrals. Cell phone retailer Bigtime Wireless sends every customer a unique coupon code when an online purchase is made, says Shai Atanelov. “This builds relationships and shows we care about the customer,” he says. “We have one customer who buys a new cell phone every six months and always uses the special coupon code we provide him.”
DON’T add customers to your mailing list without their permission. It’s a basic rule of online marketing. Instead, ask all customers who purchase online for permission to receive your newsletter, Greenwood says.
DO give customers a sense of ownership. This can be achieved by inviting customers to create their own profile on your site, or asking them to join special membership programs to receive exclusive offers.
DON’T forget the personal connection. Just because transactions are made online doesn’t mean they have to be impersonal. “Talk on customers’ terms—it doesn’t always have to be about business,” Young says. “Learn about your customers personally, and they’ll feel more of a natural connection to you when it’s time for repeat business.”