Jack couldn't understand why several of his past customers were not using him for their new concrete work. Quite by accident Jack ran into one of his past customers, Grant Hill, while attending his daughter's soccer game. When Jack asked Grant why his company had not won the concrete project at a new retail strip mall Grant simply responded that he hadn't heard from Jack in over a year and just assumed he was too busy and didn't really need or want the work.
Does this sound familiar? Hopefully not, but the fact is that many contractors do very little to keep customers. Keeping your customers in your "back pocket" isn't meant that we should assume any customer's loyalty but more that we work hard to keep them close to where it counts the most…the wallet!
So, how can you keep customers in your back pocket? Let's look at a few tips and techniques that you might employ. We'll take the perspective of customers whom you have at least completed one project.
- Pre-Plan Four Customer Contacts per Year
At the very least you should be making some form of contact quarterly after the completion of a project. The contact might be a card of thanks, an e-mail message, a new advertisement of services you are offering, a seasonal or holiday "best wishes" card, etc. It is important for you to keep your name in front of the customer's eyes several times a year; especially those clients who do regular work.
- Execute Collected Facts about Clients
You need to begin collecting facts about each of your customers from the first moment that you begin a relationship. What is their work history? Do they have kids? How old? Birthdays? What are their hobbies and interests? Who is their favorite ball team, player, etc.? You can never get enough facts. However, just collecting facts isn't enough. You must execute efforts that reflect your willingness to maintain a relationship. Sending birthday greetings to a client sends the signal that you wish to maintain some form of a relationship. Congratulating a client on their child's graduation reinforces your effort to stay in contact with clients. They know what you're doing by staying in touch but they also recognize that most contractors DON'T work hard to stay in touch!
- Update Clients on New Work, Services, & Clients
This is the best excuse to send a mini-newsletter out on a quarterly basis. First, it reinforces that you're still in business. Second, it communicates that you're also developing and interested in improvements, quality, and growth. Whether we want to admit it, many past customers are often impressed or persuaded by who you begin to perform work for. It reinforces their belief in you by seeing other individuals or companies who have embraced your company.
- Conduct Open-Houses and "Lunch & Learn" Sessions
Open-houses might be done around holiday times. I've attended contractors holding a mid-summer barbeque where all of their clients were invited to enjoy good food, some games and just time to "press the flesh." Lunch & Learns are still one of my favorites to see conducted and they offer even more on the new business development side of things. Secure a hotel banquet room and invite past clients and new prospects over for a lunch. While they are eating lunch have a speaker, other than someone from your own company, who might be presenting a topic of interest for those in attendance. It might be a topic on your own industry, financial investing, public relations, etc. Find a topic that you think might be just right for your clients, but start holding two to three Lunch & Learns a year. They may start off small but they will grow over time. This time also allows your past clients to mingle with your new prospects. Trust me, your past clients always speak well of you, your company and your services.
- Schedule a Client Business Update Meeting
This should actually fall out of your sales effort from the last project you completed with a client. The meeting should address what future plans they have for expansion, including what needs they have that you can assist them completing. Many times a customer will discuss, during a project, their plans on adding another room or wing to their building or how they want to add another parking area in the upcoming budget year. Such conversations should not fall on deaf ears. In fact, many customers will be pleased that you remembered and are actually holding them accountable to doing what they had planned to complete.
- It's Never to Late to Get Referrals
Again, while this effort should be done during the natural sales relationship with every customer, don't ever pass up an opportunity to ask past customers about other individuals or companies that they might refer you to. First of all, this keeps your customer recognizing that you are growing your own company. Past happy customers normally are very glad to pass on good news and experiences. Secondly, it is also not uncommon for a customer who in giving you the names of other potential clients suddenly realizes that they too have more work that they would like you to complete. Once again, don't ever pass up the chance to get more referral business…it's the most profitable work you can land without having to spend a lot of money to develop!
Use the five points presented above. Often you will need to execute two or more of the efforts to keep a fuller picture of what the customer needs and how that can open the door for your firm to complete the work. The tips and techniques are, in themselves, are not difficult to perform. However, what is difficult to do is to remember to perform them.
As you continue to find new methods to grow your business don't forget about those past customers who can still provide a wealth of work for you. Renew your own confidence and commitment to work hard to earn the respect and business of your customers. Then, you will find that you may keep them in your back pocket...rather than them spending more time in some other contractor's back pocket.
Brad Humphrey is President of Pinnacle Development Group and Co-Founder of GangBox, Inc. Brad has been involved with the construction industry as an employee, an owner, and now consults with contractors of different sizes across the United States, Canada, and Australia. For more information about Brad's firm please go to www.pinnacledg.com or for CD info go to www.gangboxinc.com.