by Joe Large

"Yes Joe, I already KNOW I need to go back to my existing client list."

I hear that from contractors all the time. They've been in business for several years, have personally dealt with a couple of hundred people and have them listed somewhere-on cards in a box, in an old rolodex or in their accounting software.

They suspect they are a good source for additional work and they know deep down that they are at fault for not contacting them. One contractor proudly exclaimed to me, "They don't want me to contact them Joe, I've already taken all their money!"

In the sales and marketing world we now live, that philosophy is short-sighted if you want to do business on a regular basis. Clients have to give you permission to contact them. From "do not call" lists to spam filter software and delete buttons, all the traditional methods of getting in touch with prospects has changed. The prospect now has the power to decide whether or not he will communicate with you.

That's why a list of people that have already done business with you is so important now, more than at any other time. It is at least 600 percent more expensive to find a new client than to do additional work from existing clients. Six times more expensive! It is the ideal time to go back to people that know you, spent money with you, that know what you do and how well you do it.

Most contractors already know this; however they usually won't approach the subject until their business slows down. They wait until the situation is desperate enough to contemplate a new advertising program or a new brochure.

Also existing clients are the only source to obtain referrals.  Most referrals happen by accident, not from a pre-determined contact system with past clients? Why all the hesitation for such an obvious choice that can help our business both short- and long-term? Most of the hesitation comes from the actual execution of the plan. How do I contact these people and what am I going to say?

When trying to help contractors with the "How and what" of contacting your client database, I suggest the "5 C" strategy of maintaining, managing and marketing to your client database. Follow these principles to acquire a group of happy, referral-giving clients.

Commitment-This is not a one day project. This task needs commitment from the owner over a long time, (ideally as long as you're in business) as well as all members of his staff (including field staff). Do not over-delegate. Be engaged and follow the plan yourself and stay involved with the process. Remember, you lead people and manage processes. Show you are committed to the plan by actively participating. Your employees will see sincerity in your actions. Your clients will be delighted with your attention and consideration.

Communicate-Start with your most recent contacts first-people you have done business with in the last month, last three months, etc. I suggest phone calls and e-mails, with repeat contact if no response. Send postcards/letters for clients that you haven't contacted for a couple of years. Tell your clients the truth. You're trying to reconnect with them to help them and yourself. Sponsor a contest, newsletter or something that is interesting and engaging to them.  Stress the exclusivity of them being your clients. Ask if you may contact them in the near future and confirm their contact information.

Collate-Input this information in a contact software system like Act, Goldmine, and/or set up an e-mail newsletter like Constant Contact, Vertical Response, etc. The key is to enter this new information in a system that can be accessed and manipulated. As my dad used to tell me, "You don't know what you can do until you know what you have." We need to determine how many clients are still around. Did they move or die? What's changed and how's business?

Confide-What do you say? Involve your clients in your world. Start with the questions you are most often asked by your clients. Ask and answer them in your initial newsletters and ask for topics for the future. Start a referral program for as much as you can afford. Make it a luxury trip or weekend, but make it a big deal. Have an open house at your place or at a restaurant or hotel. Get some help from your subs/suppliers. (This is a great way to network with them.) You'll need door prizes and favors...make the open house a "happening," not just a gathering. You want your past clients talking about you in a good, exciting way.

Consistency-The process takes time and needs a consistent message. The message is to objectively help your past clients with information adding humor without being too promotional and self-centered about your own business. Keeping in contact with your clients not only builds business now and in the future, but the ongoing communication makes you a better contractor today. You learn what you did wrong as well as how you are unique and why they spent their money with you.

Boring? Going over ground already plowed?  No NEW advertising/marketing brochures and no new signs? Is it really that simple?  Sounds simple, but follow-up and ongoing communication is hard work. You'll soon discover that connecting with your past clients changes into visiting old friends. It is an experience that becomes enlightening and enjoyable. If you'll just follow the "5 C" plan, you will discover treasure in an overlooked asset and re-discover old friends-all anyone could ask for in this life.


Construction Business Owner, May 2008