How to Turn Old Contacts into New Clients
You know that your old clients and contacts are your best sources of new business and referrals.
You've even got a pretty good “little black book” of names – people who already know, like and trust you. People who could be good sources of referrals or even new work with their companies.
But there's a problem.
You're hesitating. You haven't been in touch for over a year. You don't want to seem like you're “begging” for work. You don't want to risk them seeing you as “too salesy”.
And wouldn't they be knocking on your door if they needed your help or had a referral for you?
You are not alone
Most of us find ourselves in this situation at some point. Work pressures and long hours mean we lose touch with old clients and contacts. A few months without communication can easily turn into a year. And then it becomes too embarrassing to call to re-establish contact.
Yet if you need to win new clients fast, then one of the key criteria for someone to be able to buy from you quickly is that they already have a high degree of trust in you and believe in your capabilities.
By and large, that means people who you've worked with before and done great work for. Or people you used to work alongside. Or people you established a great relationship with but for one reason or another you never quite finalised the deal.
Unfortunately, if you've dropped out of touch with those people they're going to struggle to remember you let alone call you. No matter how great a job you did: their minds will be filled with their own priorities.
So if you want to get back in touch – you're going to have to take the first step.
How to re-establish contact without embarrassment
Many of us are concerned that a call or email “out of the blue” will come across as desperate, or too pushy, or too “salesy”.
It won't – if you do it right.
Put yourself in the shoes of your old contact for a moment. Would you really mind if someone you worked with a while ago got back in touch?
Most likely no. Particularly if they did a great job for you and you got on well together.
Think of the times old contacts have got back in touch with you via Linkedin for example.
Did you mind? Did you think “hmm, we haven't spoken in ages, what are they after?”.
Probably not. And certainly not if you had a good relationship.
But what if they started asking for business or a referral straight away? Wouldn't that feel a bit awkward? A bit like the only reason they got back in touch was for their benefit?
There's more than a grain of truth in that.
Most people would feel a bit uncomfortable if a service provider ignored them for years and only got back in contact when they needed something from them.
So the first thing to do is to “dig your well before you drink from it”.
Rather than waiting until the very last minute when you need a favour urgently, start reconnecting now before you get desperate. Invest time in building your relationship back up so that when you do need a favour, you've made plenty of deposits in the relationship bank you can draw on.
But what if you don't have time? What if you need to get back in touch with a view to talking to them about working together or getting a referral?
Here's the key: you need to turn the situation around.
Rather than thinking about what you can get from them, you need to think about how you can be helpful to them first (and fast).
If you're able to add value to them quickly when you reconnect it changes everything.
Rather than them getting your call or email and thinking “oh, what's he after?”, they think “oh. We haven’t spoken for a while but he's not just asking for a favour, he's offering me something useful. Fair enough”.
That puts a whole new dynamic on the situation. Instead of thinking “they're only in it to get something from me” they're thinking “that was really thoughtful”. And the relationship can develop in a much more productive direction after that.
But for that perception to happen – it has to be true. You really do have to think about them first and how you can help them.
Of course, every professional could argue that everything they do is helpful and valuable to their clients. That's the nature of their business.
But you need to go further.
When you're re-establishing contact you need to have extra value to offer over and above your normal services. Something specific and timely. Something of high value to them right now.
First: Decide Where to Invest Your Time and Money
If you're going to create something of true value, it's going to take time and potentially money. For most of us, that means we're going to need to be pretty ruthlessly focused.
I advise my clients to categorise their potential clients into three levels:
- Your Perfect 10: A small number of very high potential clients who you're going create personalised marketing campaigns for and invest in nurturing personally.
- Your Dream 100: A longer list of great potential clients you'll target with standard campaigns, tweaked a bit to the individual client where you can.
- A Wider Audience: Who'll you'll aim to reach more reactively via your website, general social media campaigns and any other general marketing you do they might see.
So when it comes to re-connecting, the first thing to look at is which level this potential client is at.
If they fit into your Perfect 10 then it's worth investing in creating something bespoke for them that you think they'll find incredibly valuable.
If you're a strategist, perhaps create a short report on the key strategic shifts in their industry and the impacts on their business. If you're a leadership coach it could be an analysis of leadership trends affecting them.
If they fit into your Dream 100 then you'll use something more standardised as your source of value for them – more of that in a second.
And if they fit in your Wider Audience, the truth is it's just not economically viable to try to personally reconnect with them. Keep going with your marketing and let them come to you when they're ready.
Reconnect with Your Dream 100 with Client Value Campaigns
When it comes to reconnecting with potential clients who fit into your Dream 100 you can't afford to invest in creating something completely unique for each one. But what you can do is create a valuable but standardised campaign that will work for many of them.
Look through your list of Dream 100 prospects you want to get back in touch with. Then look for a common factor between them.
Are they largely in the same industry or sector? Or the same business function? Or perhaps they share a common business challenge like growth without major investment, managing talent, or dealing with redundancies. The key is that the people you want to connect with would recognise themselves as sharing that factor.
They won't all have a common factor, but you should be able to find something that a majority share, which means you can run a campaign for them.
Based on that common factor, create or repackage an “easy to digest” offer specifically for those clients.
It could be something like a free report (e.g. “the 5 key employment challenges faced by small manufacturers”) or a short “health-check assessment” (e.g. a 2-hour “leadership inventory” for HR directors). Or it could be an entry-level low-cost service or workshop that would be paid for.
Once you have this, you have a valid business reason for reconnecting:
“Hi John – long time no speak – it was probably back on that project we did in Italy at your Modena plant.
The reason I'm calling you is that we've just put together a report on how biotech companies can enhance the value of the deals they do with Big Pharma – and I thought you might find it useful. Do you want me to send you a copy?”
So from John's perspective – primarily subconsciously – you've “proven” you're interested and focused on helping him rather than on just thinking about what's in it for yourself.
The communication channels have been opened on a positive note and you can begin to catch up with no embarrassment.
And after John has read the report you can follow up:
“John, the reason we pulled together the report was that we're looking to do more business with biotech companies to help them with deal values. If you were me, how would you go about establishing connections with the major biotech firms?”
And from there, John (if he so chooses) can give you his advice, offer referrals or contact names, and perhaps even say that he'd be interested in getting your help himself.
The offer has done two things. It's got the conversation started on a positive note, and it's re-established your credibility and perceived expertise which may have become dimmed since you were last in contact.
Or it might build your credibility in a new and different area to the one he remembers you for.
By the way – asking for advice like this is a great technique in itself. It's flattering and it's non-threatening.
Next time you'd like a referral, for example, don't ask “can you give me the names of …” but say “I'm looking to connect with … – if you were me, how would you go about it?”
Now you need to Act
If you lead with value it becomes easy and embarrassment-free to re-establish your connection with valuable ex-clients and other contacts. Because you're starting off by giving tremendous value to them – you can be confident that rejection will be minimum.
But you need to make it happen.
There are four simple steps:
- Create your list of “people I want to get back in contact with” and categorise them into Perfect 10, and Dream 100.
- For the Dream 100 contacts, identify a common factor you can build your value round.
- Create your valuable free or low-cost offer.
- Get back in touch and make the offer. The phone is usually best if you knew them well. But email will do and may even be better if you haven't spoken for a long while. Or a Linkedin message or connection request can do the trick/
What you've just read is an example of Value-Based Marketing: an approach to marketing centred around giving value to your potential clients at every step of your marketing process.
You can get an in-depth guide to Value-Based Marketing by clicking here or the download box below.