How to nurture your prospects for the future

I was at a professional networking function, chatting to a fellow who mentioned that he tries to contact his past clients once a year.

After we spoke some more, it was obvious that he didn’t really have any formal method of regularly staying in touch with his clients — let alone sales leads and prospective clients (qualified leads). He didn’t want his clients to feel that he was spamming them, so he erred on the side of caution and didn’t email them unless they had a project in place.

Most service businesses find that they often come across potential clients who could possibly use their services, but these prospects don’t need them just at that point in time.

So what do you do when someone responses to an ad, an email, a direct mail piece, or registers on your web site for a download, but when you follow up doesn’t want to buy anything just now? You have two choices — hope that they remember you when they’re ready to buy, or stay in touch on a regular basis so they will be reminded of you when the time is right for them.

This is a fundamental part of building any professional service practice.

It takes a light touch to do it well. You need to maintain contact with people in a non-threatening, personal manner that isn’t pushy or aggressive. You could call them and chat, send them something (an article, infographic, e-book, press release), call them, write them an email, see if they want to meet at an event you’re attending, — whatever, but when you do reach out, it has to be in a personal and sincere manner that builds trust, comfort, and credibility.

What you are trying to do is to “nurture” a relationship with your clients and prospective clients. This is similar to “drip marketing”, a concept borrowed from agriculture whereby plants are nourished by drips of water on a regular basis until they are ready for harvest. Note that drip marketing isn’t about a flood of contacts and then a draught — rather a steady stream of messages.

The most common approach is to collect all of your leads, prospects (qualified leads), and clients into some sort of system by which you can manage this process. There are lots of choices — your system could be something like the Priority Manager (a paper-based contact management using forms called Communication Planners), Outlook (you probably have your contact info in Outlook already, but it isn’t too powerful for anything other than email), a purpose-designed contact management system such as ACT! (the grandpappy of this type of software), or a marketing automation system such as Hubspot (great for those who have a nurturing program in place and want to automate it). The point is that you need a method to look up people, see the history of your contact with them, plan follow-ups, and make sure that you keep in touch.

Once you have collected your data, the next step is to categorize it. A simple A-B-C system works great. For me, A’s are clients, B’s are prospective clients, and C’s are sales leads. You can prioritize and decide how to best stay in touch. For example, I send A’s a Christmas card with a personalized message in December, and maybe a few A’s get gifts. B’s get a card with a personalised greeting and a generic message. And C’s get a “happy holidays” e-mail. My database lets me sort out who’s who, and I can get all of this done in a few hours.

The next thing is to set some goals about how frequently to stay in touch, and how to stay in touch. Ideally, you’ll mix things up — a letter here, an e-mail there, and a phone call once in a while. Like all plans, you need to consider your resources, and how much time you can put into it. If you have a few dozen clients, you can probably call them all once a quarter. If you have hundreds of clients, you may have to prioritize and call your best clients more often.

And you can shuffle things around to fit your available time — maybe you can only do one lunch or coffee meeting per week. If you can only call two clients a week, that’s still two dozen calls per quarter. Maybe the others get a simple “how are things?” email. Spread out your time to reach everyone by some means regularly.

So, here’s your action list.

  1. Decide what contact management system will work best for you.
  2. Gather together your client, prospect and sales leads contact information.
  3. Import or enter it into your contact management system.
  4. Categorize it.
  5. See how many there are in each category and set some achievable goals for how often you can reach out.
  6. Prepare a calendar of what you will do each month, and break that down into what you will do each week. Put it on your to-do list.
  7. Brainstorm possible messages and means of reaching out.
  8. Be disciplined about getting it done on a regular basis. Try to enjoy it — it will be more sincere, and you will use a lighter tone. Remember, it isn’t about selling anything today.
  9. At the end of the month, see how you did and plan the next month’s activities. Try to improve every month until you get into the grove.

Good luck, and let me know how your nurturing program goes!

Comments

2 Responses to “How to nurture your prospects for the future”
  1. Stephen says:

    Greg’s action list is a good one.

    Cold-calling, no matter how you do it isn’t much fun for the initiator or the recipient. However, you can’t always rely on existing customers or inbound calls to grow your business.

    If you nurture your contacts like Greg has described you can warm up the waters.

  2. Greg says:

    Stephen, thanks for your comment.

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    photo of Greg Graham, Certified Management Consultant - Strategic Marketing - Ottawa, Ontario

    Market Metrics Inc. helps knowledge-based businesses with strategy, planning and innovation and was founded in 2003 by Greg Graham, a seasoned marketing professional. Greg is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC), an Accredited Small Business Consultant (ASMEC), a member of the American Marketing Association, and holds MBA/BEE degrees as well as a Certificate in Strategic Management. He frequently performs consulting engagements on behalf of the Government of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP). Prior to Market Metrics, Greg's 21 years of corporate experience encompassed tech start-ups through Fortune 500 companies.

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