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It's true: a good marriage requires a certain measure of give and take. But it also thrives on healthy doses of partner appreciation.

That's true of business relationships, too. In fact, fostering loyalty is critical with customers who have nothing to lose by jumping ship. After all, 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. You want to do all you can to keep that 20% happy. So how do you retain customers and keep them happy? What kinds of loyalty programs are most effective?

Already appreciative of customers in your professional life? Maybe, instead, you have a problem child in the form of a project or employee. Get advice from 100,000 "MarketingProfs Today" readers who have been there . Submit your dilemma and receive a complimentary copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

This Week's Dilemma

What loyalty programs keep a marriage happy?

I know the importance of telling customers how important they are to a company. Our company has gotten to the point where we have been in business for a while and have enough customers to implement a loyalty program. What loyalty programs are effective, especially ones that can address local and international customers?

—Karen, Sales Manager

Previous Dilemma

Help, we're underexposed!

We've used a lot of online marketing tactics to promote our business and we're running out of ideas. Besides search engine optimization, affiliate programs, newsletters, testimonials and link exchanges, what other marketing methods can a company use to increase exposure and gain market share?

— Delaney, Marketing Rep

Summary of Advice Received

When you do something for a long time, ideas become stale and new ones don't come. Readers who haven't been in your environment offer fresh ideas, which include the following:

  1. Offer something for free.
  2. Ask for customer feedback.
  3. Brainstorm your organization's differences.
  4. Start a blog.
  5. Dig into the database treasure chest.

1. Offer Something for Free

Draw people by offering something for free. Steve McNamara, creative director at McNamara/AdCracker, suggests using downloads and multimedia:

Create new offers. If you want to run everything through your Web site, you can create an optimized page offering free PDF downloads such as a white paper or "how to" info.

Send digital video on a CD, blend it into a multimedia presentation, and serve it on your Web site. We recently created a not-too-expensive digital video that our client mailed to 20 high-value prospects. He converted 15 percent, which was about 15 percent higher than he expected.

Many Web sites and newsletter publishers offer something for free in exchange for signing up for a newsletter or a mailing list. Just make sure it's something useful to the prospect.

2. Ask for Customer Feedback

Asking the customers is the most direct way to find out what they want. Carol-Mart Palm, vice-president and general manager of Progressive Impressions International, explains:

Use the "Golden Marketing Rule"(60 percent of your business is generated by 40 percent of your current customers) and perform an online customer satisfaction survey once a year with your current customers. By doing this, you indirectly communicate to your customers that you respect them and want to get their input about your performance and services.

Use the feedback efficiently and effectively. This grows the relationship with your current customers, and can generate more orders. Your customers are also willing to spread the word to other prospects.

Steve McNamara offers another way to get feedback from customers:

Conduct strategic interviews by getting on the phone and asking your customers what they like, what needs to be improved and what problems they have that you might help them solve. It's usually best to hire an independent consultant to conduct the interviews to get the most candid responses.

3. Brainstorm Your Organization's Differences

Knowing your organization's unique selling proposition (USP) always helps in every situation. Samantha Stanley, account executive at 4WARD intellect, gives an example:

Focus specifically on the differences in an organization's business environment and its people. If you know your customers are dog lovers, invite them to a dog's picnic and provide marketing materials with your signage on it, of course.

This is much like companies' sponsoring sporting events, but on a much smaller scale. If you're not sure of your USP or what to do, try formal brainstorming as Steve McNamara advises:

In the agency biz, where I live, fresh new ideas are the lifeblood of the company. We have processes and games that produce results. You can find several of these at AdCracker.com.

4. Start a Blog

Blogging isn't just for personal stuff anymore. It has matured enough that businesses, the media, celebrities and politicians use it as another means to communicate. A reader proposes looking into a blog:

A professional business blog allows the opportunity to talk with potential or existing customers about industry news, updates or generally how your service or product can be used in specific situations to increase revenue/sales and decrease costs/problems. And, if done correctly, blogs can increase the chances that search engines will spider on a regular basis. They also help with page rank because they've been submitted to all the blogging directories.

While that is true of blogs, it is not the answer for everyone—just as having an email newsletter or a TV marketing campaign is not the answer for all companies. Do an evaluation to determine whether blogging is good for your business .

5. Dig Into the Database Treasure Chest

The database remains a vital marketing weapon. Maybe it's time to shake it up based on thoughts from Anne Barcelos, marketing director at OpenBOX Technologies:

One of the easiest and cost-effective marketing methods is to start with your existing database and do a series of e-mail campaigns. They don't call a company's database a gold mine for nothing. There could be some leads and existing companies in there that need a boost in order to act and buy from you.

It also cleans up your database so you can eliminate dead leads and contacts taking up space. I did this at my previous company and we got a major, multimillion-dollar order from a lead that hadn't been contacted in a year!

Shake Things Up and Explore Fresh Ideas By Searching the Web or Checking Out books on Marketing and Creativity.

Keep your business and relationships with customers strong by asking for suggestions from MarketingProfs readers. Relationships take work, and our readers provide ideas and solutions so yours will continue to thrive. Let them help you .

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.