How to Nurture Customer Relationships And Increase Repeat Buyers

 In the promotional products business, we sell stuff. Customers come to us when they have a specific need, we provide them the items they ask for, and we may never hear from them again—especially if someone else has a lower price.

At least, that’s the way many folks in our space operate; it’s a transactional relationship that is only activated when the customer calls. It’s easy to fall into the pattern of waiting for the phone to ring and becoming an order taker. But as promotional products professionals, we’re much more creative than that. With a bit of strategy, you can transform from just another vendor into a valuable partner your clients rely on to help them—and increase your repeat purchases along the way.

The following series of marketing touchpoints has not only kept my customers engaged after the sale, but helped increase my average order size and number of repeat buyers. The strategies below don’t require a huge marketing budget or tons of free time, but the results are unmatched.

Use Technology To Manage Client Relationships
The first thing every company needs to effectively nurture clients is a Customer Relationship Management tool, or CRM. If you are part of the 40 percent of salespeople who still use informal means such as Microsoft or Outlook to store your data, you are missing out on valuable opportunities to increase your customer engagement—and your revenue.

CRMs are software tools that help companies keep track of their prospects and customers. The best ones even add some customer data automatically, leaving sales reps free to do what they do best: sell. The most important feature of your company’s CRM should be that it connects to the rest of your sales and marketing initiatives.

Looking back over the past couple of years, I know there is no way my company could have increased its promotional products sales without a robust CRM. The information available at our fingertips and the alignment with our sales and marketing cycle are invaluable for helping us nurture our customers through repeated sales cycles. When used successfully, CRMs help you create a personalized customer experience that resonates with your individual buyers.

CRMs are only as powerful as the information they contain. At my company, we use the HubSpot CRM because it automatically records which pages of our website our customers have looked at, and which of our emails they’ve opened or clicked. I also use the CRM to record my own interactions with customers, so that I always have a record of our interactions. When was the last time I spoke to this person? What events do they have coming up? All that information is available to me at a glance so I can tailor my outreaches appropriately instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach.

The key to getting the most out of your CRM is to gather as much information from your customers as possible. Then, you can use the data to prioritize customers and jobs based on project date or other factors. Use the notes in your CRM to look for triggers that you should follow up with specific customers at the right time.

For example, maybe the last time you called on Client A they didn’t need to order anything at the time, but mentioned that they had an employee recognition event in a couple of months. You can set up your CRM to automatically remind you when the event gets closer that you need to follow up with Client A. By using this technology, you can transform your sales approach from inactive to proactive. Plus, the more a client engages with your follow-ups after the sale, the higher priority you can give them in the future. You won’t get that kind of insight without a good CRM.

Stay Top Of Mind With Email Marketing
It’s imperative that your company stay top of mind with your current clients. If you’re not in front of them frequently, they’ll almost certainly go to someone else. Email is the ideal way to remain in touch even after the sale. But gone are the days when an “email blast”
is an effective tool for driving customer engagement.

Do you open emails that you know are just spam, or do you click them right in the trash? Today, companies need to use a more targeted approach to their email marketing to stay relevant to their customers.

Craft an email marketing campaign that adds value to your clients’ days, rather than simply wasting their time. What are the best kinds of emails for capturing your customers’ interests? Below are some examples you can try out.

Remember, these emails may sound like personal messages specifically for one person but, using an email marketing platform, you can pre-schedule and send in batches to targeted lists of customers so that your net is cast even wider.

The “Thinking of You” Email
Hi Name, Next week I’m headed to the largest promotional products trade show in the country. Anything I should keep in mind as I browse the new products at the show? Let me know so that I can bring back some creative ideas that are perfect for your specific needs.

The Curated Email
Hi Name: Remember that great tech product you ordered for your company? Here is a collection of even more unique technology promo products we think you’ll love. [Link to a curated collection on your website.]

The Product Email
Some customers are interested in keeping up to date with the latest products and trends. If you don’t have the time or means to create your own product newsletter, many suppliers provide fun, flyer-like email newsletters you can rebrand and send on your company’s behalf. 

One common question is, how often should we send email marketing messages to customers? At our company, we have found a frequency of between two to four times per month to be most effective. Using HubSpot marketing automation software, we set up and schedule our email messages in advance so that the process is easy.

Another important factor in increasing your email marketing response rates is to make sure your emails are always sent from a specific person, not from your company in general. (For example, john@, rather than

Delight Customers With The Unexpected
The final marketing touchpoint that helps to continue engagement after the sale is
the act of delighting customers. Delight comes from doing something unexpected, above and beyond, or simply pleasant to let your customers know that you value them even after they’ve received their order. Here are three ‘delight’ strategies we use at my company to strengthen our customer relationships:

Personalized Thank-You Card
When was the last time you received a handwritten card in the mail? It’s rare! When it happens, it becomes a delightful surprise. We prepare a stock of handwritten thank-you cards in advance, then fill in client names, add a business card, and drop them in the mail. The message may say something such as: Name, it was a pleasure working with you on your promotional product order. I hope you love the [product name]! If I can help with ideas for your next event, please reach out to me at any time.

Welcome Kit
For larger customers with bigger orders—the ones we’d really like to see again—we send Welcome Kits. This package is a collection of some of our most popular company swag, along with a personalized note thanking them for becoming a customer. The items we select ship flat and are easy to mail, so that the cost is minimal for us while still being a high-value surprise for our customers. As a bonus, the Welcome Kits are more like sample kits in disguise.

Personalized Gifts
We seek out items with high perceived value that allow one-offs and have no setup charge. Then we order an item with our clients’ logos and gift it to them with the notion that “we saw this and thought of your company right away.” This is a great strategy for re-engaging with customers who may have stopped communicating, but with whom you’d like to forward your relationship.

Putting It All Together
What does the entire series of touchpoints look like when executed properly? Here is an example of a workflow to spark your inspiration:

1. When you acquire a new customer, add their information to your CRM right away.

2. Send a personalized “thank you” for becoming a new customer, whether it’s a handwritten card for smaller orders or a welcome gift for larger customers.

3. Add the customer to your email marketing lists so they start receiving regular communication from you.

4. Use your CRM to keep track of their engagement with your company, and set up triggering notifications that tell you when to follow up by phone or email.

5. Practice ‘delighting’ your customers with unexpected, valuable and personalized gestures when you want to reinvigorate your relationship.

Customers are more likely to order from you again if they are actively engaged with your brand. By creating a system of post-sale touches, you can drive customer engagement, nurture your existing relationships and increase the number of repeat buyers. Keep your outreach genuine and helpful to transform you from an order taker to a valuable partner. 


Cathy Houston is vice president of distributor Delta Marketing Group in South Burlington, Vermont. She started her career in promotional products 18 years ago, and through her blog and Twitter following has become an authority in the online world of promotional marketing. Contact her at, at and @CathyHouston.