In business, every relationship ends. At some point, customers move on. It’s inevitable. That’s why sales and marketing professionals are so focused on customer retention — the longer your customers stick around the better.
You can have the best retention strategy in the world, but you’ll still experience a certain amount of churn.
Just because it’s common, that doesn’t mean it’s ideal. Returning customers spend 67% more than new ones, and it’s much cheaper to maintain relationships with customers than to build new ones. Minimizing your churn rate is one way to leverage this, however it’s not the whole story.
The question then becomes how do you win back lost customers? Here, networking skills are your best friend.
Today we’ll look at some networking strategies you can use to get lost business back.
How to Identify Reasons for Customer Churn
The first step to winning back a lost client is figuring out what went wrong. Naturally, this informs your next steps so you can decide which lost customers are actually worth trying to win back.
For instance, if a B2B client is facing major issues in their business, there’s not much you can do about that. On the other hand, if you’ve made a major screw up, like leaking your client’s data to a competitor, your chances of winning them back are slim.
With that in mind, let’s look at the main churn factors that networking skills can overcome.
1. The customer journey reached its natural end.
Some customer relationships have a natural expiration date. This is especially applicable to certain industries and business models. For example, if you’re a web designer once you’ve completed a design project that’s pretty much it.
If you’ve done your job right, the same client isn’t going to need your service again for a while.
Think of this as natural churn — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The end of a single project doesn’t have to be the end of your client relationship. Instead, this kind of churn creates great opportunities to put your networking skills to use.
2. The customer’s needs have changed.
This scenario is a bit trickier. Sometimes what you offer and what your customers need can diverge over time. This is a particularly big issue for certain kinds of businesses, such as single-service agencies with a retainer payment model.
Let’s continue with the design agency example. If a client suddenly needs design plus SEO and database management, there’s a good chance they’ll start looking elsewhere because you don’t offer that service.
3. You’ve lost out to a competitor.
There isn’t much to say about this — it’s a pretty straightforward scenario. Sometimes another company can do what you do better or for less money, or is more successful at convincing the customer that they are the best option. It’s only natural that customers go for what’s best for their bottom line, and that can mean going with another provider.
4. The customer no longer sees value.
Often churn is a result of customers not seeing the ROI they expected. While this can happen because they feel your offer isn’t providing value to them, it’s equally likely that the customer didn’t know how to make the most of your offering.
Now that we know the key problems which cause you to lose customers, let’s consider how we can use networking skills to overcome these.
How Can Networking Skills Win Back Lost Customers?
Essentially, when you use your networking skills to win back lost customers, you have two levers to pull. They are:
Your direct relationship with the customer.
Secondhand connections through your wider network.
In other words, you can either leverage your existing relationship with the customer to bring them back to the fold, or you can use outside relationships to connect with them. To see how this works in practice, let’s examine four concrete networking strategies to address each of the churn factors we identified earlier.
Networking Strategies to Win Back Customers
Depending on the reason you lost a client, there will be different approaches to winning them back. In this next section, we’ll look at some of these strategies and how you can apply them to your business.
1. Maintain Contact
Say a project has finished. You and the client are both happy, and it’s time to go your separate ways. Maintaining a good relationship is the best way to get repeat business out of this scenario.
But many people don’t know how to go about this in a systematic way.
There are thousands of articles out there saying you should do obvious things like sharing their content on LinkedIn. This advice is fine, but it’s barely scratching the surface.
The key to this is understanding that while your relationship as buyer and seller has ended, you can still offer mutual value. If you do this on an ongoing basis, you’ll increase your chances of winning back the client when they need your services again.
In practical terms, here’s the networking framework I suggest you use after a deal closes:
Case study — About a month after the end of a project, reach out to create a case study. This is as much about showing off the client’s business as it is about the project itself. You can then get in touch again at regular intervals to get up to date data.
Quarterly check-ins — These should be focused around ensuring the project is still delivering the results they expected. It’s also a good chance to get some face time.
Ongoing introductions and incidental value — Look out for little ways to add value for former clients. A big part of this is taking opportunities to make introductions to people they might benefit from knowing. Similarly, linking to a former client’s content on an ongoing basis is a great way to stay in their good books.
2. Partner with Other Agencies
Recall our next churn factor was customers’ needs changing. In reality, there are two varieties of this. First, the situation might change so that they no longer need your service. Second, they might still need your service in addition to others.
You can use your networking skills to overcome the latter.
In fact, this is a pretty common strategy among freelancers and agencies with a narrow focus. The key is to build relationships with other professionals who have overlapping markets but don’t directly compete with you.
For example, a copywriter and a graphic designer might have an ongoing partnership for projects where both skills are necessary. You can create this kind of partnership in response to losing a client because they need additional services that you can’t provide.
Let’s say you run a content writing service, but one of your big clients has suddenly decided they want to move into podcasting too. This leads them to jump ship and give their business to a bigger agency because they’d rather have everything under one roof.
To win back this client, you can partner with a relevant agency and formulate a business proposal together. Your outreach to the former client then needs to emphasize what you can offer that the big competitor can’t - ie lower costs and a personal touch.
Even better, once it’s in place, this partnership will stop you from losing clients in the first place. You’ll also start finding new business opportunities.
3. Create a Personalized Offering
When you’ve lost a customer to a competitor, it’s nothing personal. The customer has determined that someone else can offer the same or greater value often for less money.
Generally this leads them to go to a larger competitor who can offer lower prices, which is the reality of economies of scale. Luckily, you can use your networking skills to overcome this.
If you can’t compete on price, you likely can compete on personalization. Keep in mind, you have already had a relationship with this client. You know them. Some impersonal super agency can’t compete with the relationship building you’ve already put in.
You can leverage this by coming up with a personalized offering based on your insights into the client’s needs.
Nobody can work this out for you, but here are some common examples of hooks you can use:
Local insights — If you’ve lost a customer who’s based in the same locality as you to a competitor, it’s easy to leverage local connections and market insights to convince them of your extra value.
Niche specificity — The same principle applies if you only work with clients in a single niche.
Specific knowledge about the customer’s business — Since you’ve already worked with this business in the past, it should be easy for you to come up with a tailored offer which better suits their needs. For example, you might offer flexible payment options that are better suited to their cash flows.
The key is using your networking skills to identify where you can add value that your competitor can’t.
4. Leverage Contacts to Project Value
Finally, if you’ve lost a customer because they can no longer see the value in your service, you have a few good options to leverage your existing network. Recall that earlier we touched on the idea of creating case studies to provide mutual value to former clients. It turns out that this has other benefits too.
Enter Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO).
Say you’ve been using your network of happy clients to create a bunch of killer case studies, which show off the great ROI you provide. It’s one thing for you to try and convince lost customers that you can offer value, it’s quite another when they see a trusted peer doing it.
CleverTap uses this to great effect in their win-back emails.
When the target clicks through the bottom link, they’re met with a number of testimonials and case studies which demonstrate the value on offer.
Here you can see how ongoing networking can really pay off in unexpected ways. Essentially, putting in the work with your networking skills will put you in a position that you have all sorts of positive press that you can leverage to win back clients.
Losing a segment of your customers is inevitable. However, this doesn’t mean you should let them go without a fight. Once you understand the reasons behind customer churn, it’s easy to put in place measures to prevent it.
A massive part of this is using your networking skills. You can leverage your relationship with the client themself, as well as your wider network to win back customers you’ve lost.
Once you’ve put in place the right framework, not only will you find it easier to win back lost clients, you’ll also find your churn reducing as you find new ways to offer value to your clients before it’s too late.
Originally published Jul 21, 2020 2:00:00 PM, updated July 21 2020