How to win back inactive customers for your business

November 2021

Your former customers could be one of your most valuable assets. We look at strategies for how you can win back inactive customers and encourage them to do business with you again.

The probability of successfully selling a product or service to an existing customer is much higher than selling to a new prospect. Why?

Let’s look at a scenario. A customer needs to buy new material for their craft business.  There are two businesses they can purchase from:

  1. A business they’ve bought supplies from before. They know the process to expect, approximate shipping time, level of communication, quality of product and refund policy.

  2. A business they’ve never bought from before.

It’s natural to go with option a). Customers are more likely to buy from businesses that they know, and trust will deliver.

Re-engaging former customers is an easy way to increase growth. But connecting with someone who hasn’t interacted with your business for a while can be challenging.

Here are a couple of customer reactivation strategies that will help you win back inactive customers. 

Identify former customers

Before you attempt to re-engage customers, you need to identify who to target. Use your email software or customer relationship management (CRM) system to highlight customers who haven’t interacted with your business for a certain period of time.

Be careful to not automatically assume a customer as former though. Some customers might be big spenders but not purchase often, so won’t be suitable for a reactivation campaign. On the other hand, a customer who used to make small purchases every few days might be suitable for getting back in touch with. 

Knowing when a contact has gone dormant is key to running a successful customer reactivation campaign.

Set up an email campaign

To maximise the chances of winning back inactive customers, a series of emails is a good tactic. Most email marketing software has features that allow you to set up automated email campaigns.

Here’s an example of an email series you could use to engage former customers:

  1. Remind people about your business. A short and simple ‘hello’ message will encourage some former customers to start interacting with you again

  2. Offer an incentive. This is a good way to tempt people to do business with you again. Include a list of similar or related products or services they’ve bought before

  3. Ask for feedback. Many people like sharing their views, especially if they’re incentivised with an offer to something else. Even if they don’t make a purchase or sign up to your service, you’ll get valuable information to improve your future marketing

  4. Let them know it’s the last chance to stay in touch. Tell customers that they will be unsubscribed unless they reply to your email

  5. Unsubscribe. Remove the customer from mailing lists but remind them how they can re-subscribe if they decide to

You should always be considerate of your customer's marketing preferences to align to GDPR requirements.

Let’s now look at some of these emails in more detail, as well as other ideas for winning back inactive customers. 

Personalise your email

Sending the same message isn’t the most effective way to win back inactive customers.

Think about how you can divide customers. For example:

  • Location

  • Preferences

  • Buying history

  • The last time they visited your website or opened an email

Segmenting customers by how much they’ve spent is a good idea too. If you’ve got some big spenders who have left, they might be worth focusing on. 

If you use a CRM system, you should be able to segment customer data easily. 

You can then send a specific message to each group. This can help to establish a strong connection with the customer and make them more likely to respond.

If your business has a range of products, you could personalise the email by recommending similar or related products to ones they’ve bought before. Alternatively, if it’s a product that can be used again or topped up (for example, food or shaving products) ask if the customer needs more. 

If you’re a service-based business, you could use the message to check in on how things have gone since they used your service and whether they need to use it again. 

Ask what went wrong

It’s useful to know why a customer has stopped interacting with your business, so ask. It’s possible their habits have changed, or they’ve simply forgotten about your business. Send an email to remind them that you exist. 

Here’s how you can structure it.

Use a short subject line

It’s common for companies to use short and direct subject lines such as “we miss you”, “long time no see” or “have we done something wrong?” to re-engage old customers. Let them know that you’ve noticed that they’ve left.  

Include a survey

Include a short survey and give them options to tell you why they’ve stopped doing business with you. For example, they might have had a poor customer service experience or believe the product quality isn’t up to scratch.

Asking for their feedback will help to make old customers feel valued. You can also use what they tell you to inform your campaign strategy to win the customers back.

Nudge them to update email preferences

You might want to encourage inactive customers to update their preferences on your email list. Give them the opportunity to sign up to a more relevant topic or adjust the frequency of when they receive messages. 

Send something useful

Rather than only sending sales-focused messages, use your email to provide something useful. Content that’s entertaining, informative or insightful can help to win back inactive customers.

If you’re running a gym for example, send some health and fitness tips that people can do at home. Or if you own a food-related company, recipes would be useful. 

These kinds of messages can also resonate well at various times of the year. You could tie them to New Year’s resolutions, current affairs, or topical events.  

Use social media retargeting

Another way to win back inactive customers is by using retargeting campaigns via online advertising services. 

Pixel tracking targets users who have visited your website, followed your brand on social media or engaged with you in another way.

You can then reach them with advertising on third party websites, which show relevant products and content based on what they’ve previously looked at or engaged with. 

For example, imagine a user clicks on a link to your website from one of your reactivation emails. You can then use retargeting to display messages from your brand when they visit another site like Facebook.

Remember, you should always be considerate of your customer's marketing preferences to align to GDPR requirements. Make sure you gain customer’s cookie preferences and consent before considering retargeting campaigns.

Consider direct mail

We all spend most of our time online and using digital services these days, but don’t rule out print marketing. Standing out through the mail could be a tactic that works for your business. 

If you have online brochures or catalogue, send print versions to key former customers. You could also surprise certain inactive customers with an out-of-the-blue gift or free sample.

Measure what works

During your customer reactivation campaign, you should be monitoring and measuring what works and what doesn’t. 

Be aware of which emails and other activities perform the best and apply that to future campaigns. If a series of emails isn’t converting to sales, tweak it and try something else. 

How to win back inactive customers for your business

You shouldn’t ignore your former customers; they can be some of your most valuable assets. Here’s how to win them back. 

Identify former customers

Use your email software or CRM system to highlight customers who haven’t interacted with your business, based on characteristics like:

  • preferences

  • location

  • last time they visited your website

  • last time they opened an email

Send an email campaign

To maximise the chances of winning back former customers, a series of emails is a good tactic. Here’s a checklist to help you structure an email campaign:

  • Remind people about your business with a short and simple “hello” message

  • Ask for feedback

  • Give the customer one last chance to stay in touch. Let them know they will be unsubscribed if they don’t respond

Other ideas:

Inform, entertain or help: Send relevant, non-sales focused content that will resonate with your customers.

Consider direct mail: We don’t get much post these days so this could be a way for your brand to stand out.
Use retargeting: Pixel tracking via online advertising can serve relevant adverts to people who’ve engaged with your website or social media accounts and gave you their consent to collect and use cookie data for this type of campaign.



This article was written and originally published by The Productivity Group (trading as Be the Business). Be the Business is an independent, not for profit organisation set up to help business owners and leaders improve the performance of their business. © Copyright 2021 The Productivity Group.  All rights reserved.

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