Swinging for the Fences: Turning Singles Into Home Runs With Retention Marketing

Even if you are not a fan of professional baseball, you cannot help but stop and watch the highlight of the long home run that gets people talking.

Home run hitters are rare

The same is true of marketing. You may not care about Widgets R Us. However, when tweets and blog posts begin to appear about a steep upward trend in sales since the release of their latest widget and then rumors begin to surface that Google, Inc is in talks to acquire them…well, you sit up and take notice.

You cannot help but pay attention. They’ve hit a marketing home-run, having found the the keys to converting prospects into buyers and turning those buyers into repeat buyers and raving fans.

Crack! You’ve hit the ball…made the sale, but now what?

Having the vision to see beyond making the sale is paramount to hitting a marketing home run. It is moving past the idea of “customer service” and really “serving your customer,” because Retention Marketing is all about creating and maintaining customer loyalty, continuing to build and maintain the relationship you have established during the sales process.

Rounding the Bases

Here are the 5 steps you must master to become a marketing home-run hitter and Retention Marketing all-star.

Step 1: Affirmation

Image source - http://media.photobucket.com/image/rounding%20first%20baseball/kdog1142/shanev.jpg

In bygone days, when people frequented their neighborhood grocery, butcher or baker, they were called by their name. They knew if there was a problem, all they had to do was call or stop by and Sam, the butcher, would make it right. They knew, without doubt, that Joe, the baker, would always throw in that extra cookie to make the “baker’s dozen.” It was about neighbors doing good for their neighbors. That relationship was affirmed in the natural flow of daily life and business.

Whether you are selling widgets, watches or wisdom, a relationship was established prior to the purchase. The importance of affirming that relationship cannot be overstated. We all like to know where we stand in a relationship, don’t we? So, that affirmation must be delivered with immediacy, clarity and consistency.

Ever heard of Aweber, Constant Contact, Infusionsoft or MailChimp? These are just a few examples of the tools available to make immediate, automated follow-up possible for businesses of any size. Similar to lead-nurture, timing is a concern to be addressed with retention follow-up.

For example, Jim Smith just purchased a widget from widgets-r-us.com. After completing the purchase, an immediate order confirmation was sent, thanking Jim for his patronage. A few hours later, Jim receives a “personal note” from Barbara, welcoming him to the Widgets-R-Us family, providing her personal contact information if he should have any questions or concerns. This note included a commitment to follow-up when she received confirmation that his widget was delivered. Upon delivery confirmation, Jim receives another note from Barbara. This note includes links to an instructional video for widget use, links to FAQ and another invitation to follow-up by phone if he had questions or concerns, and by the way, Jim, we would like to keep you updated, would you like to receive our monthly widget news…and so on. (This was all automated).

More than an order confirmation, your customers need you to restate your commitments to them. Your initial follow-up with your new customer should always clearly state your desire for them to be more than satisfied, including guarantees of quality and performance that are not filled with legalese and loopholes. Your commitment and loyalty to them should never be left in question. In the example above, Jim has heard clearly that he is valued as a member of the Widgets-R-Us family.

Your customer may not always be right, but they should always be number one. That should be communicated with consistency throughout any follow-up. Double-opt-in e-mail campaigns are not just a good idea for legal reasons. They also create a sense of security in the mind of your customer in this age of spam and the perceived threat to their personal information on-line. The metrics available to us have become so sophisticated we can deliver targeted content that will give our customer the sense that we are anticipating their needs.

Step 2: Follow-Through

Image source - http://www.flickr.com/photos/19424398@N08/2351561279/

I recently had a dispute with a client who had hired me to do some freelance work through a well-known freelance web site. I had delivered work-product that satisfied him, but he had decided to move in a different direction. Our dispute was over whether I owed him a refund or not. To make a long story short, the site has failed us both in the promised role they were supposed to play in coming to an amicable resolution to our dispute. As a customer, I feel slighted and deceived. I believe they have failed to follow through on commitments they made to me when I signed up.

Everyone despises a hypocrite. Customers who perceive they are being neglected, mistreated or deceived will not become the repeat customers you want, nor will they become the raving fan evangelists that you need. Do not make commitments you cannot keep…or do not plan on keeping.

The litigious society in which we live seems to demand escape clauses and loopholes. I believe we must return to the “say what you mean and mean what you say” days of business. Companies that have taken that step are succeeding and thriving, where others may be failing. A commitment to Second-Mile Service has led Chik-Fil-A to become one of the fastest growing quick-serve restaurants in the USA. Personally, I believe more businesses can benefit from that lesson.

Step 3: Thanks-Giving

Image source - http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Sport/Story/STIStory_689117.html

The common thread of every Retention Marketing strategy or innovation must be thankfulness. I know, it probably sounds a little naive or corny, but it will carry the relationship you are attempting to maintain across home-plate over and over again. What better way to say, “Thank You!” than with a gift of some kind. A token of appreciation makes an impression.

I recently had a short FREE phone conversation with someone, providing a reference for an associate. I was glad to spend some time helping this individual see the value of what my friend was offering her, in the short and long-term. A few hours later, I received an e-gift card to Starbucks for $5 from this lady. She wanted to express her gratitude for giving of my valuable time to answer her questions. That made an impression on me.

Everyone loves to receive gifts, especially when they are unexpected. Giving the gift of a discount for participating in a survey is a great way to increase participation. Offering a gift card for a referral is actually a high ROI method for increasing your customer base. An unexpected bonus thrown in the box with a product being shipped to a customer will make a lasting impression, especially if that item is useful or related to the item being shipped. Direct marketers are masters at the bonus item. It is often a low-cost way to increase conversions, repeat buyers and referrals.

Step 4: Encourage

Image source - http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/SQH7Y9Fohp6/Chicago+White+Sox+v+Cleveland+Indians/Ze28jKaHmUO/Jason+Donald

Never lose sight of the fact that this “loyalty program” we call Retention Marketing is about a reciprocal relationship. As you affirm the relationship, follow-through on your commitments and give, you are gaining trust and reserving permission to ask your customer to reciprocate. In fact, most customers EXPECT and even WANT to be asked.

Years ago, Seth Godin said that content must be EXPECTED, VALUABLE and RELEVANT. If you have done your job well, your customer is neither offended or surprised when you ask them to purchase or promote. To this point, you have made every effort to build loyalty, rather than buy it. You have provided added value and relevant information in all of your communication. You have fulfilled the customers expectations.

It’s time to close the deal again. Ask them to buy. Ask them for referrals. ENCOURAGE them to participate in this continued relationship.

Step 5: Results – Repeat Buyers and Referrals

Image source - http://www.stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/article_393b5c14-0f31-53d0-8977-b108de3b3298.html

Every plan, every strategy, every innovation…every breath in business requires results. The result of a well-executed retention marketing plan is repeaters and referrals. Then, as is the case with every good system, you repeat the process and continue to realize the benefits.

Ultimately, Retention Marketing is about leveraging your position and serving your customers in such a way that makes it easy for them to choose you over and over again. That is the secret of the marketing home-run hitter. That is the key to Widgets-R-Us runaway success that is receiving so much attention. They have built upon an established trust relationship and are reaping the reward.

Now, go and do likewise.

— James St John

About James St John
James St. John is founder of St. John Marketing Solutions, offering 100% accountable, high ROI, and targeted marketing solutions to any sized business. Visit us at http://www.stjohnmarketingsolutions.com.
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  1. Yomar Lopez

    Great stuff here, James! I particularly like how you mentioned the way the business world used to be before the large corporations took over. That “papa and mama shop” approach is something I hope we can all maintain, no matter how much we grow. It’s almost like the Cheers bar, where everyone knows your name. It makes you feel like you matter, like you belong. Sure, it takes time to really build those sorts of relationships but it is well worth it!

  2. James St. John

    Thanks for the kind words, Yomar.
    Corporations, large and small, are waking up to the idea of the necessity of this kind of relationship. That is one of the major reasons marketing through social networks has become so prevalent. It creates another touch-point for this relationship to be nurtured.

  3. Laurinda Shaver

    What baffles my mind is how bad retention marketing is. In fact how bad sales relationships are. So much so, that I’m finding that I’m surprised when someone actually cares and puts effort into connecting to me.

    I just signed up to Freshbooks. Free account. And I was shocked.. not only at all their after sign up support. But I got a letter from them. Snail Mail letter. That said.. if you want your clients to get a paper copy of your invoice.. this is what it would look like. I have not paid anything. But am I now likely to? Hell yes.

    Huge opportunity here. Business must take advantage!

    Thanx James for a really great post!

    • James St. John


      Like you, it amazes me how many business owners in general do not have a clue about being proactive in follow-up…even when statistics show how profitable customer retention can be and how much easier it is to sell to a current customer as opposed to winning a new customer.
      Particularly with the tools and metrics available to us today, there is little excuse for not even making an effort.
      I, too, am impressed with Freshbooks. As they continue to improve in other areas, they are batting a thousand when it comes to follow-up.

  4. Beth Gore

    As a small business owner, Marketing baffles me. I know my subject area but not a clue on how to go about telling people and KEEPING people coming back. I LOVED the baseball analogy for a newbie like me to “get” the steps involved. I also appreciated relating it to things I do in my real life, like stopping at the bakery.

    Your article has given me the confidence to not just get my toes wet but to dive head first into this world. And armed with the tools you’ve clearly outlined here, I can do it.

    Thanks, Beth

    • James St. John

      The majority of business owners know their business inside and out. Their business is their baby and they love to nurture and feed it, tweaking and improving. However, most business owners are “clueless” when it comes to effective marketing. That gives me the opportunity to come alongside and lay out a plan to marketing success, which is my passion.
      Thanks for the kind words. I am glad you found the article helpful.

  5. Karen

    The baseball theme i thought maybe a “who’s on first” routine. James you hit a home run on importance of retention marketing. It cost more to get a new customer than retain an existing, which brings the question why more attention isn’t payed to it.

    • James St. John


      I am afraid a “who’s on first” routine would have probably taken me well beyond the limit of most people’s patience :).
      As for the importance of retention marketing, I think it is especially important in our current economic times. There are two things happening with many businesses, right now.
      1. They are losing customers who are cutting their expenses to the bone and wanting to pay the absolute lowest price. These customers are following promised discounts or often sacrificing quality product and service just to save a few bucks.
      2. Businesses are not seeing repeat buyers because they are doing a poor job adding value, rewarding loyalty, etc.
      A well planned and implemented retention marketing strategy can prevent both of these situations. These lean economic times mean most businesses are also cutting costs. Unfortunately, the tendency is to sacrifice customer service and retention on the altar of expediency, which may not be the best idea.
      Thanks for the kind words.

  6. Dennis Cline

    As I look at many businesses today, it is still interesting to me how many do not build or maintain a data base of their existing customers. This would be step #1 in nurturing that continued relationship. Example: how many of us have received any type of thank you or offer from one of our favorite restaurants? We don’t… because they have no data base of their existing customers. A simple card placed on your table saying your first beverage is free when you fill out your contact info would get the job done (and the waiter/waitress reminding every guest). Then simply enter those names into a simple contact data base like those you mention above James. Then simply sending out offers & thank you’s. This could be taken further but the basics are that simple. Their existing customers would visit more frequently if given reasons… especially if they felt appreciated. Which brings me to another “rant”! Many times if I do receive a contact from a company I’ve purchased from, it’s so impersonal… so corporate. I feel like a number (as Bob Seger would put it). I don’t know about all of you but I sort my mail over the trash can (email too…). An offer or contact I receive needs to hit me at a personal level. Or, give me an offer that I say “Wow… I’d be crazy not to do this!” As you mentioned James, in today’s economy, those that take the time to implement these crucial strategies will increase there likely hood of survival ten fold. Seriously though, has anyone else ever had one of your favorite local restaurants keep in contact with you? Enough ranting… for now-

    • James St. John

      More often than not, we are thinking e-commerce when we discuss building a database. Your restaurant example is a good reminder that building a customer database reaches beyond the internet. There are numerous opportunities for brick-and-mortar businesses to do the same and profit greatly from the effort.
      Of course, building a database is just the foundation. Segmenting and targeting has become less complex with the technologies and tools we have available to us, giving us a greater ability to target our “best customers” with offers that will elicit a profitable response.
      I recently read about a sports franchise who was able to segment and target a group of season ticket holders to upgrade their packages, yielding $700,000 in additional revenue against 2000 fans. That is certainly a marketing home run!
      Thanks for the great contribution to this conversation. I believe most consumers, like you, despise being treated like a number or just part of the “herd”.

  7. Kristi Hines

    Love the baseball analogy on this one! It’s so much easier to turn one-time clients into loyal ones as opposed to always being in search of new ones. It’s amazing how some really cater to their clients and cement themselves as the go to business in their clients minds vs. the ones that act like they don’t need their clients at all which is completely the wrong way to go. Not only do you lose that person, but you lose their positive word of mouth marketing as well.

    • James St. John

      Just a quick question, because I am interested in your insight. Where do you draw the line between catering to a client and protecting your time?
      Glad you enjoyed the baseball analogy.

      • Kristi Hines

        Good point James. I think there’s definitely a fine line to that, and you just have to maybe say “Here’s where I can keep explaining this to you, or I can take the same amount of time to implement it and make it work for you.” :)

  8. Matthew Law

    Good stuff here. Thanks for sharing James.

  9. Dean Hawkins

    James— Very good article. Thanks for sharing the information

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