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Customer Alumni Critical to Strategic Relationships

Customer alumni are underdeveloped by most revenue professionals, their teams, and organizations. It's time to rethink your GTM strategy.

Customer alumni are unknown, undeveloped, underdeveloped, or undercapitalized by most market-facing professionals, their teams, and organizations.

“We should’ve NEVER lost that deal!” exclaimed the frustrated CFO, as evidenced by his visceral reaction. “What do you mean?” asked the perplexed CRO in a leadership Quarterly Business Review (QBR). “That buyer was in my wedding!” uttered the CFO in response.

The silence in the room was deafening. Without assigning blame, how could this have happened to a team of intelligent, hustling professionals who diligently worked this deal for over six months?

It's not every day that a $5 million opportunity slips through your fingers, only for you to discover the deal-breaker was as close as an old photo album on your shelf – or in this case, in the CFO’s Facebook postings. Imagine sitting in a QBR, sifting through the what-could-have-beens of a deal that should have been a sure win.

These could-haves vs. should-have losses in every organization are all too common with Chief Revenue Officers I’ve spoken with recently. The challenges underscore a lesson that goes far beyond the leadership team or the boardroom: the hidden value of relationships we often overlook. In every organization, there exist connections beneath the surface, brimming with incredible potential, yet they remain unknown, undeveloped, underdeveloped, or uncapitalized — like buried treasure waiting to be discovered by the X on the map, where the X is the relationship you need!

This moment of clarity brought me back to a concept I've long championed but seen many overlook: customer alumni.

These individuals, at some point central to our business stories, have drifted into the background as both our paths and their needs evolved. However, the value they hold—both in terms of potential business and the richness of shared experiences—remains as strong as ever over time.

Here’s how you can tap into the often-unseen goldmine of maintaining and reviving connections with customer alumni.

Understanding the Value of Customer Alumni

"Every person who has ever been a part of your business journey carries with them a piece of your brand's story." 

This realization hit me one evening as I was going through some old project files. Each name brought back memories of challenges faced, successes celebrated, and lessons learned. It became clear that these relationships, even if they seem to belong to the past, hold an immense value that remains strong.

Before I dive into the how-tos and strategic relationship development best practices, let's quickly address the quantifiable opportunity customer alumni often represent.

The Extended Network Effect

One of the most convincing reasons to re-engage your customer alumni is the potential to tap into their extended networks. It's really fascinating how a single introduction from a trusted former client can open doors that would otherwise remain closed.

According to a Nielsen study, "92% of consumers are more likely to buy when referred by a friend." Now, imagine the impact when that friend is a satisfied former client who recalls your commitment to solving their complex challenges, helping to tap into new opportunities, and your efforts to create an exceptional experience in working with them.

A Wealth of Feedforward

I've always found that feedforward (insightful to use as you look ahead vs. feedback that may only focus on the past) from those who have direct and highly relevant experiences in working with you is priceless. These are the folks who have seen your business evolve and are often willing to provide candid and actionable insights that customers might hesitate to share. This feedforward is diamonds — a direct line to improve, enhance, elevate, or otherwise amplify your unique value propositions.

The NXT Potential

The next opportunity to work together is another sizable aspect of reconnecting with your customer alumni. Life moves in a constant state of changes and shifts – from our needs to available options, viable alternatives, new innovative approaches to solving critical challenges, and new opportunities yet to be thought of by the masses, hence creating a first-mover advantage. When you reconnect and re-engage, you open new windows to old familiar dwellings. You get and share updates on the evolution of your respective lives and discuss new challenges, opportunities, and approaches to complex problem-solving.

As Steve Jobs once said, "People don’t know what they want until you show it to them." Sometimes, they just need a reminder of your new adventures, evolving alongside them.

Advocacy and Reputation Capital

Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth and its contribution to your long-term Reputation Capital, a concept I shared in Relationship Economics (Wiley, 2008; 3rd edition 2013). Satisfied customer alumni are evidence of your material impact. Their evidence of the success your product or service created in their organizations is social proof of your credibility; they enhance your repute and often attract new opportunities. It's this organic advocacy that can boost your reputation amongst their industry peers (all of whom know each other) far more effectively than any marketing campaign ever could.

Gleaning Industry Insights

Lastly, the different paths taken by customer alumni can be a rich source of industry insights and trends. These individuals often cross sectors, roles, and industries, gathering a wealth of knowledge along the way. Reconnecting can provide you with a broader view of the market landscape, which offers inspiration and guiding innovation.

How to Invest In Strong Business Relationships with Past Clients

Moving forward from the foundational understanding of the value customer alumni bring, let's shift our focus to actionable strategies and strategic relationship development best practices for re-engaging this unique audience. Important to highlight here that I believe every relationship to be an investment. As such, you can’t make these investments haphazardly.

The First Important Investment—Personalized Outreach

The initial outreach to customer alumni must be highly personalized and contextually relevant. This first investment is all about refreshing their memory of the value-based partnership you shared.

I often start with a simple email or a LinkedIn message outreach that references a specific project we worked on or a particular success we shared. This approach shows that the outreach is thoughtful and tailored to them, not just a blanket marketing campaign.

Keep in mind that the fastest way to kill any potential relationship is careless automation. “Set it and forget it” email campaigns become “block and move to junk” behaviors by your recipients! And no relationship ever wants to be put in a sequence! As a bonus piece of advice here, don’t forget to retain your voice. The outreach must sound like you and not some automated robot! From the subject line to the body of the outreach, keep it simple and straightforward. This is not the place for flowery language or pontification; get to the point, as we’re all bandwidth-challenged.

Next Investment: Creating Value Based on a Hypothesis

The next investment is to offer something of value. Here lies a fundamental challenge: most people do this blindly or carelessly. They believe tossing anything over the wall will do. Although it may get you a reply, it certainly doesn’t put your best foot forward. Instead, I want you to think like a scientist – you can’t prescribe until you diagnose!  Invest the time and effort to read about their recent roles, the realm of responsibilities, and potential team, company, or industry challenges, and form a hypothesis. Then look for one or two areas where you or your potential solution could be of interest or value.

This could be an educational blog post, an exclusive webinar invitation, or early bird access to a new product or service we're launching. Don’t sell – try to help solve a perceived challenge or an undiscovered new opportunity. The idea is to make every interaction beneficial for them, reinforcing the notion that our relationship is mutually advantageous. The best way I know how to do this is to ask thoughtful questions, i.e., “I read this about your company and am wondering how you’re planning to address it?” Even if your hypothesis is completely off base, it does send a clear message that you cared enough to do your due diligence.

Another Potential Investment: Hosting Exclusive Events

Building on the notion of investing in unique value-creation efforts, organizing exclusive events for customer alumni takes this concept a step further. I’ve long believed that people fundamentally gather for two reasons: content and community. Whether it's an intimate roundtable discussion, a workshop on the latest industry trends, or a casual meet-and-greet evening, these events are designed to provide valuable insights and rekindle the sense of community that you both once shared.

Additionally, they serve as an excellent platform for alumni to reconnect not just with us but also with their peers, facilitating an environment where new ideas can flourish and old bonds can be strengthened. It’s about creating an experience that reminds them why they chose to work with us in the first place.

A Praiseworthy Investment: Facilitating Peer-to-Peer Introductions

An important yet often overlooked opportunity to re-engage customer alumni is facilitating introductions among equal-stature peers. This strategy extends beyond offering value directly from your business to empowering your alumni network to support each other.

Whenever I come across information that two or more of my customer alumni might find mutually beneficial, I take the initiative to introduce them to each other. This could be based on shared interests, potential business opportunities, or even common challenges they might be facing. The idea here is to position yourself as a valuable resource and create a community where your alumni can find value in each other.

This approach has the dual benefit of strengthening your relationship with alumni by demonstrating your commitment to their success beyond your previous or immediate business with them. It shows that you view them as valued members of your professional ecosystem, not just past clients.

Using Technology to Strengthen Individual Connections

After laying the groundwork with personalized outreach and creating mutual value, the next step is integrating the right type and mix of technology into our strategy to maintain and improve these high-value connections.

At Avnir, we're on the cusp of restructuring how business relationships are managed through our Gen AI platform—a revolutionary intelligent relationship development ecosystem.

Scheduled for release in early 2024, our platform embodies the principle that "your network is your net worth." By leveraging AI, we aim to harness decades of Relationship Economics® insights, assisting professionals in organizing, activating, and monetizing both known and hidden relationships.

If you’ve always wanted an Iron Man “Jarvis-like” assistant that helps you keep track of past and present connections and highlights opportunities for re-engagement and collaboration, this is exactly what our Gen AI platform is designed to deliver with an unparalleled level of actionable insight.

With our intelligent relationship development platform, it’s all about making the invisible visible, turning those forgotten handshakes into meaningful engagements that could lead to your next big break or partnership.

Looking Ahead

As we gear up for the launch of our Gen AI platform, we invite professionals who are keen on maximizing their network's value to join our Beta Release Program. It's an opportunity to be at the forefront of a shift in how professional relationships are managed and leveraged for success.

At Avnir, we're excited to help you find the full potential of your most valuable relationships. After all, in a landscape where opportunities come from who you know as much as what you know, ensuring your network is working for you is more important than ever.

We're here to make that task not just easier but more effective. Welcome to the future of relationship management with Avnir.

About David Nour

David Nour is the author of 12 books translated into eight languages, including best-sellers Relationship Economics®, Co-Create, and Curve Benders. He regularly speaks at corporate meetings, industry association conferences, and academic forums on the intentional, quantifiable, and strategic value of business relationships.

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