Even A Dead Fish Can Float Down Stream

My favorite burgers of all time come from Red Robin. That guacamole bacon burger is just flat-out delicious.

But here’s the funny thing. I only eat at Red Robin about once every month or two, and almost never at lunchtime. Instead, I’ll occasionally take my wife there. So what gives?

Sadly, Red Robin never bothers to invite me back for more. Instead, they arrogantly assume that their great burger’s going to lure me back all by itself. Not that I’m pouting. And not that I’m upset. But I am busy, and I do have other things to think about. So when the topic of food comes up, I usually do something easier or faster or cheaper. Red Robin only comes in the rotation every so often, and as such, they’ve blown their chance to get a raving fan like me back over and over.

Retail stores of all kinds are notorious one-shot sellers. Car washes, dry cleaners, restaurants, hair salons, health food stores, video rentals, you name it; they all use the cross-their-fingers-and-pray-they’ll-come-back-for-more method. Again, it’s not that customers WON’T come back; it’s that retail stores generally don’t make a proactive effort to get them back.

Ever heard the saying, “Even a dead fish can float down stream” before? Many businesses just lazily float down the river gathering whatever business happens to come their way. People need food, so a certain number are going to show up in a given restaurant each day from sheer momentum. It’s not calculated; it’s inevitable.

Here’s a better strategy: swim like crazy! Go out and get the business!

Here’s an easy formula for getting repeat business that can be implemented by any kind of business—not just retail. First, capture the names and addresses of all of your customers.  Second, contact all of your customers and ask them for more business. And third, make them a special offer or offer them a gift when you ask for more business. I know it sounds simple—and it is. But the truth is very few businesses execute it.

Let me show you how this works. Let’s say you own a new and relatively unknown municipal golf course in your town. You’re just a few miles away from the more established, more well-known golf course, and they seem to be getting a lot of the business.  How could you make this formula work for you? For this example, I don’t want to concentrate on getting new customers out to golf for the first time. Right now I want to concentrate on how to get the customers you do get to come back for more golf.

Most businesses, if they put any thought at all into getting repeat sales, would implement a lame mailing campaign with some kind of static, non-compelling brochure or postcard that wouldn’t even get the prospect into beta mode, let alone coax him into a return visit. But let’s review our formula. First, capture the names and addresses of all of your customers. Second, contact all of your customers and ask them for more business. And third, make them a special offer or offer them a gift when you ask for more business.

Here’s what you would need to do. First, print up some professional-looking cards with a space for each customer to write his name, address, telephone number, and email address. The top of the card should read “Grand Prize Eligibility Card” or something similar. After each golfer has paid, but not yet left the clubhouse for the course, have the cashier hand each person one of the cards to fill out. Don’t have a stack of them sitting out so it looks like any schlep can fill it out as many times as they want. Have the cashier pull it out from behind the counter.

The cashier would then tell the golfers that your golf course is giving away a complete round of golf for four—including free range balls, cart rental, unlimited 19th hole drinks, and snacks. The cashier should tell the golfers that they have one drawing per week, and that there is an average of 100 to 200 cards per week, so the chances of winning are actually pretty good. Maybe even a photo collage of the previous winners would be a nice touch. Have the cashier limit registrations to one card per person in the golfing party. The cashier would then tell them that the winner would be notified by email.

Assuming you can get most of the golfers to fill out the card, you now have nice customer list to work with. Don’t underestimate how powerful this can be, and how far ahead of the game you already are compared to most businesses. So now it’s time to execute the systematic contacting of the customers and ask them for more business, and to do so by making them a special offer or offering a gift.

First, pick a winning card every week and email the winner to inform them of their good fortune.

That’s the obvious part. But the strategy does not end there. In fact, it’s only just begun. Send an email to everyone else who entered that week with a subject line that says:

Congratulations! You’ve Won The Weekly Drawing From River Bend Golf Course

Immediately, this subject line will interrupt and engage. You might think that this email might get lost in the shuffle of bogus spam emails that say that the person has won a prize. Give your brain more credit than that. The reticular activator will immediately pick the words River Bend Golf Course and Weekly Drawing as familiar, and instantly recall having filled out the card. Now here’s what the email should say:

Dear Larry,  

My name is Bob Jones, owner of the River Bend Golf Course. I’d like to thank you for entering our drawing for a complete round of golf for four with all the goodies that go with it. Jack Stevens of Smithville won the prize, and as you can imagine, he’s pretty excited. I’m sorry you didn’t win the first prize.

But here’s the good news. You’ve won a valuable second prize. If you will print out this email and bring it the next time you come, I will present you with two large buckets of range balls and your cart rental will be free for you and your guest.

Congratulations on your prize. We hope to see you soon.

Bob Jones, Owner

P.S. Your prize is good any time in the next month. You don’t need to call ahead, but please remember to bring a copy of this email with you. Thanks again.

So how do you think this will work? What if you collected 500 entries in a month, and you sent out 500 emails with second prize offers. If only 10% of the people respond, that’s 50 people who are coming to the golf course for the second time.

Since they have to bring in a copy of the email to claim their prize, the cashier can greet them by name and congratulate them. The range balls and free cart rental cost you basically nothing, and a certain percentage of these repeat customers will become regular customers. And since you now have a complete customer list, you can now contact any or all of your customers at any time for any reason.

You’ll probably want to get contact management software like Act or Goldmine to help you keep track of your customers and remind you of who you’ve made offers to and who’s taken you up on them. The computer software can also help to actually send out the emails.

Now here’s the problem with this scenario: most people won’t do it. It’s too much hassle and too much problem. It’s too hard to administer, and too hard to take the time to manage it via the software program. But if you feel like that, I have a very serious question for you: Why in heck did you get into business in the first place? The amount of time it takes to cultivate perpetual sales compared to the return on investment is ridiculous. It’s a no-brainer cash cow. There is really no excuse for not putting this kind of system into place.

I told you that we were going to discuss how to get first time or infrequent customers to become repeat customers using this strategy, and that in this section we weren’t going to focus on new customer acquisition. But let me show you how easy it is to use this same strategy to get new customers. Sorry, I couldn’t resist!

All you really have to do is alter the formula a little bit. Instead of gathering the names of your current customers, buy or rent a list of prospective customers from a list brokerage company. Once you have your list, use the same formula: send a letter that asks for their business and offers a reward. Here’s a way to start: get a list of certain types of people or professions.  Let’s say you decide to get accountants out to your golf course. You can rent a list of CPA’s in your area for just a few cents per name. There should be anywhere from a couple hundred to a few thousand—and there’s a good chance that many of them play golf.  Write them a letter that goes something like this:

Dear David,

I’m writing you this letter because you’re a CPA.

My name is Bob Jones, owner of the River Bend Golf Course here in Silver Springs. Every day for the rest of this month, I’m going to give two large buckets of range balls and free cart rental to every CPA and their guest that play golf at my golf course.

My reason for being nice to CPA is actually pretty weird; ask me about it when you come in. Make sure you bring this letter with you.

I hope to see you soon!


Bob Jones, Owner

It’s not the classical marketing letter, but it does interrupt and engage. It has a specific call to action, and you know what, it works. Your reason for being so nice to CPA’s could be anything. Your accountant saved you a lot of money last year, your best friend from college is a CPA. It could be anything. Who cares about the reason, just get them in there! After all the CPA’s have taken you up on your offer, write the same letter to lawyers or executives or sales managers or anyone you can think of that you can get a list of that might play golf.

You must proactively seek to recruit your customers back using Perpetual Selling Strategies. Most businesses let their customers dictate what their buying habits will be—how often they’ll come back, how much they’ll spend when they do buy, etc. Most businesses are reactive when it comes to re-selling their customers. If you already have sunk the cost of generating and nurturing a customer once, for heaven’s sake, get them to perpetually come back for more!

Otherwise you’ll end up like that dead fish… floating down the stream relying on sheer momentum to carry you to an unknown destination.

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