Reach Out to Customers to Build New Marketing Ideas

Posted by Kristin Arnold on October 16, 2008

Are you a small business owner trying to pull together new business ideas for the year, but drawing a blank?

It’s tough enough coming up with marketing ideas by yourself — and much more fun when you bring in others to help!  Here’s a fun way to thank your best customers for their business as well as come up with those new marketing ideas you are looking for.

Invite Your Top 10.  Go through your customer list.  By name, identify your top clients — the 20 percent that brings in 80 percent of your revenues.  Send them a clever invitation to dinner at a nice restaurant that has a private room for your “party.”  If you’re really ambitious, ask your top clients to bring one potential client.  This adds a wonderful networking touch to the party, as well as a great way for you to introduce great prospects to your business!

Plan and Prepare.  Make this a memorable party from the moment they walk in.  How will they know they are in the right place?  How will you greet them?  What are you going to do to thank them for their business?  What are you going to do to show them what else your company is capable of?  Think through the agenda.

Listen.  As you mingle, listen to what they are saying about you and your business.  Ask great questions to draw out information or probe deeper.

Start Strong.  After a short social and fabulous dinner, personally thank them for their business.  Ask people to introduce themselves and to share one reason why they do business with your company.

Ask for Help.  Share what you are trying to do (grow your business, replicate these great customers, become world famous, etc.).  Give them a two-minute summary of your business and the benefits you provide.

Ask for Feedback.  In your own words ask, “What do you like about doing business with me and my company?”  (You will need this positive feedback to balance out the next question!)  Just listen to what they have to say.  Don’t interrupt and don’t justify why you did what you did.  You may, however, ask questions to clarify what they are saying.

Take a Deep Breath.  When done with the “likes” ask, “If you were me, what would you do to improve our products/services?”  “What should we start doing, stop doing, or do differently?”  “What would you do to market/get the word out about our company?”  and specific questions that will help you gain a better insight.  Again, just listen.  Listening is really hard to do at this point because you want to let them know why.  But don’t!  Be gracious and keep your mouth shut, unless asking a question to clarify.  Hint:  You may want to use a neutral third-party facilitator because they may not tell you “the bad” directly.

Thank Them.  At the end, thank them for their comments.  Summarize the key points and highlight some of the key things you learned.

Follow Up.  A week or so later, follow up with a personal letter highlighting what you learned from the event and what you are committing to do as a result of their input.  This would also be a good time to provide amplifying information that you wanted to share during the feedback session.

Keep in Touch.  Throughout the year, as you accomplish key activities they suggested, follow up with a phone call or letter thanking them for their great idea.

Question:  Have you had a client “party” recently and what great ideas did you receive?

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