Contest & Sweepstakes 101: The How-To Of Building Successful (and Long Lasting) Customer Relationships

Woman in sunhat at cash register in store making a purchase.

Building and maintaining customer relationships is no simple task. Though we set out with the best intentions, we as marketers often overlook the key aspects that drive both customer acquisition and customer loyalty.

We’re great with the first three stages, (awareness, consideration, and conversion, closing the sale) but we often give little attention to what happens to our customers after the sale has closed. How we interact with and engage our current customers is just as important as connecting with all the potential new ones.

Let’s take a deep dive into the decision-making process, how to engage customers at each stage of it as well as the importance of fostering good customer relationships through your contests and sweepstakes.


  • Don’t skip any steps in the customer acquisition process. You’ll need to guide potential customers through this in order to create long-lasting relationships.
  • Building an audience through your promotions and sweepstakes is one of the best ways to find and engage customers, especially the loyal customers that are in it for the long game.
  • Your employees and vendors are on your side. Treat them well and they’ll be lifelong advocates of your business, spreading your message to current and prospective customers for years to come.

The Decision Making Process: Stages of Engagement

Just like putting the cart before the horse or asking someone to marry you after the first date is never a good idea, it’s important to remember that when acquiring customers or in many cases, leads, there are steps to be taken in order to be successful.

When it comes to contests and promotions, the same rules apply and are absolutely necessary steps that you need to follow to ensure the success of your next campaign.

1. Awareness:

At this stage of the process, it’s really about peaking a user’s interests by providing knowledge and information. This is where you find content like a blog or a downloadable PDF. Your aim at this point is to position yourself as a thought leader so that you can gain a new lead, a “like” or “follow”, but most importantly, a potential new customer.

2. Consideration:

At this stage of the engagement funnel, you’re really trying to show your intent to the potential customer and provide them with additional resources to assist further in their decision making. You want them to begin to think of you as a frontrunner in the sea of potential businesses to partner with.

These users already have a pretty good idea of what they want. They are choosing to engage through more in-depth research and are deciding which of your products or services is the right one for them.

3. Conversion “The Sale”:

The conversion stage can often be the most difficult. If you’ve followed the first two steps and have created a relationship with a now engaged user, asking them for the sale is not only crucial but is the next logical step. Too often marketers forget this step or don’t make their intentions clear enough. Similar to our first date scenario, if you wait too long to ask that burning question, the lead can sometimes lose interest or choose another product and/or service provider.

4. Loyalty:

You’d think that after the sale that your job is done, right? Wrong {insert buzzer sound}. The old “ABC” sales method that’s been drilled into our heads may have led you to believe that the sale is the most important step in the engagement process. Customer loyalty and repeat business are in fact just as important as the sale. Repeat business is an opportunity to upsell your customers and it is available only when you take care of each and every customer as if they were your only one. Don’t fall into the trap of getting busy and taking your customer relationships for granted. Instead, remember where they started and treat them like gold because as we know, it’s much more cost effective to sell to current customers than it is to try and acquire new ones. So, don’t make it harder on yourself.

5. Advocacy:

The last step in the decision-making process is having happy customers that whenever possible, make the decision to refer you to their network bolstering your opportunity for future business. This only happens if you’ve held up your end of the deal plus, you also need to remember to ask for referrals. Asking for referrals is a great way to receive feedback from your customers as well as work with other people who share similar values and business practices as your current customers. One last thing, don’t forget to say “Thank you.”

5 people holding large shopping bags of all different colors

Run The Right Promotion and Your Customers Will Find You

ICYMI, here’s a bit of a recap from the first installment of our Contests & Sweepstakes 101 post “Building an Audience in the Digital Age”. This should help you to better understand some of the key objectives you can achieve by running promotions for your business:

  1. You Need to Mobilize Your Audience: Empower consumers to market your products and services through social media. The idea behind is that your satisfied customers will share their great experience they’ve had with your company with two friends, who tell two friends, who tell two friends and so on and so forth.
  2. Data Acquisition: This is simply the collection of customer and/or product/service feedback. Asking for feedback is the most direct way to find out exactly how your business is performing and know precisely how to meet – and even exceed – the needs of your customers. It’s important to not only gather but also review your data regularly so that you can learn and adjust your future campaigns accordingly.
  3. Publicity: This is a proven method of maximizing brand exposure for your products and/or services. We’ve all heard the saying, “any publicity is good publicity”, right? That’s not entirely true when it comes to customers. The publicity gained from your promotion or sweepstakes should be used to position your company in the most positive light.
  4. Connect with hard to reach audiences: Unlike traditional media whereby your message attracts an audience; it’s all about the PRIZE! People that wouldn’t typically engage with your content will often lend an ear when there is something of value to be won. Use this to your advantage.
  5. Cut through the advertising clutter: Yankelovich1, a market research firm, estimates that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day, compared with up to 5,000 today. About half the 4,110 people surveyed last spring by Yankelovich said they thought marketing and advertising today was out of control. Translation: your message is likely to get tuned out if it doesn’t hit home quickly. Leave out the fluff and deliver your message in a clear and direct manner.
  6. Foster Social Media Engagement:  As the name would suggest, social media should be about interacting with an audience and building a community of people who are seeking to better understand how they can help each other. Likes and follow counts mean nothing unless both parties are working to build long-lasting relationships.
  7. Legal Compliance with privacy laws:  Privacy laws have changed the way we can communicate with customers; contests and sweepstakes offer an important and increasingly rare opportunity to acquire and effectively build legally compliant communications. One of the reasons compliancy matters is to keep our customers both engaged and happy. When you bend the rules, you risk creating a potential future assassin.
woman picking up a box of water in a supermarket with a shopping basket on her arm

The Unsung Heroes: Brand Ambassadors (Your Best Advocates)

Now that you’ve gone through the stages of customer acquisition, you can further market to this very defined audience for future promotions. It’s imperative that you don’t overlook these key players.

Long before you reach out to your intended audience, there are several key players who are often overlooked in our quest to build business opportunities; each offering unique perspectives on how to build and reinforce corporate directives:

Employee (productivity/safety/reliability):
Your employees know the ins and outs as well as the successes and “learning opportunities” of your business. They are a part of your tribe and speak for you (or about you) and represent your brand long after they leave the office. Treat them right and they will advocate for you 24/7, 365.

Wholesaler & Retailer (knowledge/stock/volume):
The wholesaler and the retailer play distinct and crucial roles in helping companies evolve in the marketplace – in many ways becoming your “eyes” and “ears” with formulating strategic direction and achieving final sales. Taking the time to cultivate incentive programs (i.e.: contests/reward programs) that reward and recognize efforts; reinforce product knowledge, campaign goals and ultimately drive sales will go a long way in keeping your products/services ahead of your competition!

The Social Media Influencer:
These potential partners are the outspoken, proactive supporters of your brand. Their reach often exceeds the reach of your brand and more times than not has a completely different audience. Though they share your interests and company’s goals, the way they go about their marketing and community engagement is in many cases a welcomed change and presents you with a new outlook and angle to market your products and services.

Putting It All Together

At the end of it all, if you can remember that your customers are the driving force of your business and keep true to this understanding then no marketing tactic will ever come before them. In order for your social campaign, contest or even business to work well, you need to treat each and every lead and customer (present company included) as if they were your only one. You have the skill, now you possess the knowledge, so, get out there and start making some good and lasting impressions.


1New York Times (