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May 13, 2011

How to Build Repeat Business with Neglected Clients

Have you been having a good year selling? Maybe you’ve had a good couple of years, landing new accounts faster than your office buddies can parrot, “Whazzzzuppppp!” Great. How healthy is your repeat sales pipeline? You know, the sales where existing clients come to you for more of your stuff (goods or services), where the cost of the sale is much lower because rapport and trust were already established, the easy sales. You’re hesitating. Do you mean to tell me that your repeat sales pipeline isn’t full? How embarrassing for you.

Don’t feel so bad. Sometimes we all get so busy prospecting and closing new deals that we neglect current accounts or even lose once solid business because we haven’t paid that customer a visit in a while. This business need not be lost forever. Here are a few quick tips to get your foot back in the door of lost accounts and open the floodgates to your repeat sales pipeline.

Get familiar with what’s going on currently at the company that you haven’t seen in a while. Maybe they’ve doubled in size or just received a substantial contract. Maybe they have cut their workforce. Research their order history with your company or you to see what they have previously purchased and when they purchased it. This information arms you with a degree of intelligence that this prostomer (midway between a prospect and a customer, in this case, a customer who has regressed into a qualified prospect) will appreciate.

Even more important, find out if the people who were your main contacts in this company way back when are still around, and are they in good standing. The last thing you want is to throw Mr. Hammerstein’s name around as your primary advocate, receive a polite but nervous “He no longer is employed with ABC Company,” and find out later that Hammerstein was let go for dropping his trousers at the company picnic and cuckooing like a dime store clock—or worse. No wonder you couldn’t get past the gatekeeper on the telephone. If your main contact isn’t there any longer, use a secondary contact (you do have secondary contacts at your client businesses, don’t you?).

Ask for a Face to Face
Once you’re assured that you have the right information (including the right contact), call the company to arrange an appointment, getting past the gatekeeper by referencing the gobs of business that you have done with the client and how you added value to the company. When you get your quarry on the phone, make it clear that you have no intention of closing on any sales unless she asks you to. I use a phrase like this:

“Ms. Prostomer, I realize that you haven’t seen or heard much from our company in recent months. Day to day business has left me neglecting you as a valued customer, and I apologize for that. It’s my intention to continue to partner with you well into the future, but I’m afraid that my knowledge of your company situation isn’t current. I need to get about thirty minutes (or less) of your time to bring me up to speed so that I can serve you better. Does next Tuesday at 3pm fit into your schedule?”

You have about a 90% chance of getting the appointment using that approach, even if you don’t agree on next Tuesday. You may receive some verbal hits about how lax your firm has been with client service. Don’t take it personal, shut up, and take the shots. It’s their way of venting and simultaneously testing your attitude. If Ms. Prostemer slams the receiver in your ear, move on to pick some lower lying fruit with other companies in your database.

Confirm and Impress
Here’s one that many successful salespeople do before new appointments, and that’s how you should consider a re-appointment with a long lost customer. Call the contact the day before to confirm your appointment for the following day, saying how much you look forward to visiting with her. It’s OK to leave a voicemail message—you’re just reminding them not to cancel.

Here comes the impress part. I got this one from listening to one of Jeffrey Gitomer’s on-hold recordings years ago. Reference in your message that you’re sending the contact something of value, either by FAX, email, or snail mail, timed so she gets it right before your appointment. Make sure whatever you send is pertinent to that company and doesn’t include a pitch or coupons for your stuff. It could be an industry article of interest to her, some late-breaking news, or even a message of congratulations on the company achieving a recent milestone (yes, making someone feel important does add value). By the way, making the newly re-contacted customer laugh with good-natured and professional humor is a big plus.

Rapport Re-Build
Use your professional judgment as to how much rapport you’ve lost over time. If this contact is brand new to you, start over on rapport building. The best way I know of to do this is to get the person talking about herself, how she came to her current level of success, how the company is doing, that sort of thing. Asking for a facility tour is a terrific way to show an interest in partnering with that prostemer. Most of the time you’ll get it and your appointment will go way beyond the originally scheduled time without complaint from the prostemer (plan on this and don’t schedule another appointment too closely following this one, because then you won’t ask for the tour and you’ll miss the opportunity). Find common interests on a personal level if you feel (after the tour) that the contact is receptive. You’re building relationships, remember?

Once you get through appropriate rapport re-build, be considerate of the prostemer’s time. You may already be running late. Do your Selling Solutions questioning to diagnose this real and perceived pain. For those of you reading who don’t know what Selling Solutions questions are, email me at with “Sales Questions” in the subject line and I’ll send you back a fact sheet or post to this article. Find out all the facts and feelings. Don’t be too quick to offer solutions yet. Figure out where your products or services will have the biggest impact and offer at a later date to meet again to offer a solution to those problems using your well written and thought out profit improvement proposal.

Set the Stage
After this one appointment, you should be back in the good graces of the once and future client. Take the initiative and schedule a follow-up to get into specifics about how you can help the company and present your profit improvement proposal. This should be easier to get than the initial meeting if you’ve been effective. When you go back the second time, pick up the ball and run with it using your personal selling style for your industry that has proven effective.

Sometimes you have to eat a little crow to get back in the good graces of a client who has left or you have neglected. Once you’ve done what it takes to get back in the door, the sales come easier as the relationship grows stronger. Proceed as normal with the Selling Solutions techniques that you know and love, and you’ll find that your repeat sales pipeline is flowing freely, as it should be.

Is your repeat business 75% or higher? Learn more about Selling Solutions skills to kick-start repeat business. More small business strategies for growth can be found at the Smart Blog. Smart Company Growth is a small business growth strategies firm founded by Karl Walinskas that helps companies grow sales and contain costs.