Understanding the Basics of Marketing to Current Customers

Tap Into the Buying Power of Your Existing Customer Base

As you start out, your primary marketing objective may be to generate traffic and bring in new customers. But once you’ve built a database of customers, you should capitalize on their familiarity with your products or services and positive experiences with your store to have them coming back for more.

Did you know…

  • Up to 80% of total sales comes from return customers or customer referrals?
  • It’s less expensive to retain customers than bring in new ones?

As discussed in the post Understanding the Basics of Marketing and Branding, the key to successful selling is knowing your target customer. But once you make a few sales, you have accumulated all the information you need in order to make contact again and again for repeat business long into the future.

This post will uncover the many opportunities to reach out and communicate with your customers in ways that encourage them to return and buy. Consider this post to be the start of your research on this subject.

Up Sell. Up Sell. Up Sell.

Don’t let your customers get away without offering a little something extra. More often than not, when you capitalize on the impulse buy, customers will take the bait. Why? Your customer may NEED the product in his shopping cart, but he may WANT some other things as well. Here are a few ways you can increase your average sale before you close the deal:

  • Remind customers at checkout and in follow up communications of items that complement their purchase.
  • Invest in shopping cart software that recommends items to customers based on their shopping patterns.
  • If you’re taking an order over the phone, suggest small complementary items, such as a special cleaner to wash the new product, and offer a special “package” price.
  • Offer customers a discount on shipping if they spend a certain amount.

All successful businesses are fluent in up selling techniques and these suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg.

Unlock the Sales Within Your Database

Once you’ve made the sale, your customer information is sent to a secure database that you access for billing, shipping and tracking. But beyond these practical purposes, your database holds incredible sales potential…if you have the right software and know how to use it.

Invest in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to make the most of your customer base. Vendors that provide CRM software include: SalesForce (http://www.salesforce.com/), Highrise (https://highrisehq.com/) and Sugar CRM (http://www.sugarcrm.com/crm/). Some shopping cart providers offer software packages that include CRM solutions as well, such as NetSuite (http://www.netsuite.com/).  Your CRM software can be a fully robust package that helps you service your customers in the best way possible.  But how can it help you manage your database to improve communications with your current customers?

Your CRM software lets you gather information about your customer – contact information, buying history, etc.  This lets you personalize communications with very little effort.  For instance, when your customer buys from your website, you can send her back a personalized email thanking her for her business (e.g. Dear Jane Smith).  People like to receive messages that don’t have a cookie-cutter, formulaic feel.  They don’t want to feel like a number.  CRM software can actually automate this process.

Once you accumulate information about your customers’ buying habits, your software can help you assess behavioral patterns and develop promotions based on common themes.  For example, if you know a customer likes to buy a certain brand of merchandise from your site, you can send him an email promotion offering a discount on his next purchase, which may encourage him to come back to buy.

CRM software allows you to market to your customers in a number of ways.  That said, you should evaluate the ways that this software can work best for you based on your overall business operations plan. Once you’re familiar with the nuances of this subject, you’ll find that it will make your work life much more productive and profitable.

Get a Good Excuse

Most people don’t like to be solicited on a regular basis. Think about all the junk mail in your mailbox or inbox. You didn’t ask for it, but somehow, these companies find you, especially if you’ve bought from them in the past. If you don’t have good reason to contact your customers, your marketing materials could join the growing mountain of others in the trash.  Here are a couple of ‘good excuses’ to integrate:

Sales & Promotions

Start brainstorming some promotional and sales strategies that will turn heads. You might send out sales notifications on occasion, especially if you’re conducting an end-of-season or super clearance sale. Or, you could reward top spenders in your database with VIP customer discounts. And don’t forget to let customers know of any new additions to your product line. Use messaging like, “If you liked this product, you’ll REALLY like this product.”

Value-added Education

Your customers may be intrigued by promotions that might save them money on the latest and greatest product on your site, but they might also appreciate learning a thing or two as well.

A newsletter is a great way to offer them value. It gives them must-know, relevant information while promoting your brand and your products. For example, if you are selling baby clothes on your site, you could send out a newsletter that educates your customers about everything from pregnancy to childrearing.

As a part of this newsletter, you can highlight your newest offering. Of course, the products that are featured in your newsletter should also be featured on your site to make them easy to find and purchase when customers come looking for them.

Sometimes, coming up with new information on a regular basis can be challenging. Or, you might think designing a newsletter is out of your league. Internet Marketing Press can provide these services, if you need assistance.

Choose Your Mode of Communication

Once you’ve determined your reason for contact, now you must decide how you’ll touch base. This decision is based on a number of variables including the importance and frequency of your message and your budget. For instance, if you plan to send out weekly newsletters, you’ll likely do it via email to avoid printing and mailing costs. But if you’re running a one-time, “biggest sale of the year,” you might want to invest in a direct mail piece and send it via US mail.


E-mail is one of the fastest, cheapest and most effective marketing tools. As a result, it has become the marketing approach of choice for most companies. That said, you should use it for immediate follow-ups during order processing, and occasional sales promotions. You may also choose to use it for your newsletters, but be careful – today’s spam filtering services are ensuring that promotional emails get sent to the users’ junk folders. Here are a few companies which can help; iContact.com, Benchmarkemail.com, ConstantContact.com and GetResponse.com

Email is useful throughout the post-sale process for order confirmation, shipping notification and general thank you messages. Although your primary purpose for communication may be informative, don’t miss the opportunity to promote related products.

Direct Mail

You may have noticed that your mailbox is getting more traffic lately. That’s because many companies are choosing to forgo the inbox in lieu of the mailbox. Direct mail is one of the most commonly used marketing tactics and comes in a number of different forms – catalogs, self-mailers, and post cards, just to name a few.

Direct mail is a great way to reach out to your current customers; however, there are costs involved.  Sometimes, these costs can be substantial depending upon the direct mail piece and the number of people you are trying to reach. Before you send out a sweeping direct mail campaign, you must first evaluate if it’s worth the expense. To maximize your marketing dollar, do a test run and gauge effectiveness. Then, consider your sales objectives within the context of your planned spending to determine potential cost per customer figures. Sound confusing? It can be if you aren’t fluent in direct mail principles.

Product Fulfillment

As we’ve established, the sale doesn’t stop when you ship the product. One of the best ways you can encourage customers to return is by including incentives inside the packaging. This may include a flyer or postcard that offers:

  • Free shipping on the next order
  • Discount coupon for the next order – 15% off your next purchase, etc.
  • Free product or sample with purchase

One low-cost direct mail tactic is to include your product catalog with every order you mail out. Many times, consumers keep product catalogs to browse at a later time, such as around the holidays. This will ensure that your business stays around the house for future buying opportunities.

Overall, product fulfillment is a valuable opportunity to make a memorable impression. Use creative packaging. Surprise your customers with a freebie inside the box – one that stays around the home for future reference.

Transform Your Customers Into Brand Advocates

Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to get new customers to come to your site.  If your existing customers tell their friends and family about your site, then you’ve won half the battle!  There are a variety of ways that you can encourage your customers to spread the word about your business.

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth, also known as “viral marketing” in the advertising world, is one technique that you can use to capitalize on pre-existing social networks to drive traffic to your site.  Think of this process like the spread of an epidemic. The message is often delivered word-of-mouth and then enhanced online.  Here’s an example of a viral marketing tactic:  You send out an email to your current customers offering 25% off their next purchase if they forward the email to five friends.  If they take the bait, five more people will be informed about your site.

Viral marketing doesn’t always need to occur via email. You can send coupons or gift certificates in your packaging for your customers to pass out to their friends. These types of referrals are valuable because they’re coming from a trustworthy source.

Social Marketing

The fastest growing viral marketing technique it social marketing. Facebook.com and Twitter.com, as well as the numerous other websites out there, have changed the landscape of viral marketing.

Shopping Cart Features

You can encourage customers to recommend your site to friends with enhanced shopping cart functionality. Incorporate features like “Email a Friend,” “Gift Registry,” and “Wish Lists” to the structure of your site. This way, if customers see something they like, they can add it to a list or registry for friends and family to purchase. Or, if they see a product that’s perfect for a friend, they can quickly and easily send the friend an email with a link to the product page.

This additional functionality is a win/win situation for both you and your customers. You use it as a way to draw new people to your site, but your customers perceive it as a convenience that has been added for their benefit.

In Summary

Your current customers are like gold to your business. Once you have an established customer database, you definitely want to spend the greater portion of your marketing budget trying to retain their business. Be careful not to harass your customers with frequent sales messages; they’ll quickly tune you out. Instead, make sure each contact is meaningful and carries your brand. Teach them something. Reward them with value. Incentivize them to tell friends and family. Only when you engage this audience will you be successful in getting them to return.

IMPress Action Checklist

Below is a list of the steps that will help you as you market to current customers. Check off each step as you complete it to keep track of your progress.

  1. Upsell. Upsell. Upsell.
  2. Develop an approach to CRM and select software that can help you make the most of your database.
  3. Evaluate your reasons for contact
    1. Sales/Promotion
    2. Education/Newsletter
  4. Determine the best mode of communication
    1. Email
    2. Direct Mail
    3. Product Fulfillment
  5. Personalize your contact
  6. Incentivize customers to spread the word about your site
    1. Viral marketing
    2. Social marketing
    3. Enhanced shopping cart features

Written by

In 1999, Lisa Rae created her first online small business eCommerce website. She successfully achieved a client base of over 15,000 active customers by implementing customer creation and retention projects. Her execution of online advertising campaigns, as well as print media campaigns that lead to annual revenue of over a million dollars annually. After six years of leadership, Lisa Rae sold the company and began offering marketing consultant and website services on short and long term contracts for businesses of various sizes. She meets her clients’ objectives through customized marketing plans using a wide range of marketing tools including WordPress website creation, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social Media Marketing, print collateral, email marketing, and more.

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