I can’t remember his name

Several times a month I will meet with a customer who tells me that she had painting done within the past 2 years. “He did a good job,” she will say, “but I can’t remember his name.” In other words, even though the customer was happy with his work, he won’t be getting another call from her.

It’s too bad that he didn’t use one of the easiest forms of marketing—customer retention. Well, too bad for him, but good for me.

Retention marketing means marketing to past customers. Such marketing can be as elaborate as a newsletter, or as simple as a letter. The goal is to stay in front of your customers and remind them that you want their business. The goal is to not let them forget your name.

You should be contacting past customers at least 4 times a year. You may think that they will remember you, and they might. But why take that chance?

Marketing is not a passive activity. It requires specific actions aimed at specific results. If you want your past customers to remember you, and call you again, you must continue to market to them.

Since I began doing a newsletter 10 years ago I have had many, many customer call me after 4 or 5 years had passed. They frequently cite my newsletter as the reason. Regular contact with these customers keeps my name in front of them. When they need work done, they will likely call me.

It’s not enough to just do good work. If your customers don’t remember your name, they can’t call you. And if you remind them, they likely won’t forget your name.

Marketing your new painting business

A frequent question from those starting a new painting business is how to obtain work. With few, if any references, no market presence, and often little money for advertising, the new business owner is in a quandry.

While I would recommend developing a business plan (including a marketing plan) prior to launching a new business, this does little good for someone who has already opened the doors.

Perhaps the easiest and least expensive method is door hangers. When I started my business 22 years ago I distributed thousands of door hangers. When I didn’t have a job to do, my job was handing out door hangers. It wasn’t fun (particularly in Houston’s very hot summers) but it worked.

The following can serve as a crude marketing plan:

Select a small area to target (1,000 to 2,500 homes). Get the door hangers out as quickly as possible. When a job is sold, get a sign in the yard immediately and leave it there as long as possible. At the same time, market to the neighbors with more door hangers or direct mail. This provides consistent and regular exposure in a small area and increases the effectiveness of each piece. Rinse and repeat.

As money permits add the following to your marketing plan: vehicle signage, customer retention, and newspaper ads or inserts. Again, keep your marketing focused on a small area to maximize exposures.

No marketing plan is perfect. Nor will the results be immediate. But persistence and consistency will produce results in time.

When the customer won’t call back

If you spend much time on any contractor discussion board, you will quickly come across someone asking how to handle a customer who won’t respond to emails or phone calls. “Should I just blow them off?” the poster typically asks. Often the poster concludes that the customer is a “tire kicker”.

I must admit that I find such an attitude rather puzzling. I think that there are two problems with it.

First, the fact the customer does not respond to a phone call or email doesn’t tell us much. There are myriad reasons this could happen, and to jump to conclusions is both fallacious and potentially harmful. The customer could be out of town or has more pressing issues at the moment. As an example, in late June I met with a customer and submitted an estimate. We did follow up phone calls throughout July, but the customer never responded. In late August he contacted us, ready to move forward with the project—he had been busy with a family emergency and then getting his daughter to college. Our repeated phone calls let him know that we wanted his business, and when he was ready to move ahead with the project, we got the call. Had we concluded that he was a “tire kicker” because he didn’t respond to the first phone call might have resulted in a much different outcome.

The second problem I have with this is that it sounds as if the contractor has very few estimates in the pipeline. If a contractor is fretting over one particular estimate, it doesn’t sound like he has much else going on. Certainly there may be particular jobs that we desire more than others, but if we have enough leads, this issue simply does not exist.

Of course, to have enough leads, we must be marketing consistently. Generating a steady stream of leads makes many aspect of running a contracting business much easier and less stressful. No particular customer or job becomes overly important. While we need jobs, we don’t need any one particular job.

However, when we don’t have enough leads, each one takes on added importance. Each job becomes more precious. And with that can come all types of bad decisions, from cutting prices to taking on work that we shouldn’t. We can easily start doing things that make no business sense, and then try to justify our actions because we need work. Or we can spend time worrying about why a customer won’t return our phone calls. The fact is, if you have a lot of leads you will be spending your time looking at jobs instead of wondering why one person isn’t calling you back.

Our business is an integrated whole. We might be the best craftsman in the world, but if we fall short in other areas, the success of our business is threatened. And it all starts with leads.

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