Dave Gleason
During the past 10 years that I have been teaching sales workshops, there has always been one or two common questions in every class. One question always asked is what I consider to be the most productive type of promotion to get prospects. My answer is always the same: use your satisfied customer list to get new prospects.

I tell the story of Ray, a fellow I knew who had a business that was into its third generation and the fourth was working in the shop. I had known the owner for many years; in fact, I knew his dad as well. Ray ran ads in the local newspapers, had a shop on Main Street with a tin man outside and knowing Ray and his dad, they had never disappointed a customer. Every year, Ray and I would sit and talk about his promotion budget how he was going to spend it during the coming year. Newspapers, the Yellow Pages, billboards and the local Little League baseball team were all ways Ray spent his co-op and non-co-op dollars.

After we had finished our annual promotions discussion, I asked Ray what was inside all the cardboard boxes in the next room. He said they were the job folders of all the company's customers. The 12-ft. x 12-ft. room with an 8-ft. ceiling was filled from top to bottom with these temporary file boxes. After looking in one box, we decided that there were more than 15,000 homes that had been serviced or had a new installation completed by this hvac company during the past 75 years.

Ray and his dad were spending money every year looking for prospects who may not have heard of their company and didn't know its reputation. Yet right here in front of us was a source of new business. We decided to make some changes in the company's advertising and promotion for the coming year. Ray had a daughter in college and was trying to find her a summer job. The whole thing was put together in a matter of minutes.

We decided to send out a direct mailing piece to all of the company's past customers. It was a short letter, simple and to the point.

During the past 75 years we have been in business, my grandfather, my dad and I have installed and serviced many homes in this area. According to our records, we have either serviced or installed the heating and/or air conditioning in the home you live in now. You may not know us because quality installation and service doesn't attract much attention for the owner.

According to our records your house had: (A listing of the equipment installed or serviced.) We would very much like to reintroduce ourselves to you and offer you a once in a lifetime opportunity.

A. Either call our office or stop by and say hello.

B. Tell the person in our office that you are an "old" customer and want the "old customer special."

The "old customer special" is being offered to the occupant of the address on this letter. It will give you a cleaning and spring start up for $35. (This same service costs $100 without this letter).

Why are we making this offer? We spend a lot of money on advertising to get customers to use our services, but we have never asked our list of satisfied customers. This year we want to say thank you for your past business and ask if there isn't something else that you would like us to do.

Ray's daughter spent all her free time working on the boxes, putting together a database that has to be the envy of every hvac contractor in the area. The database resulted in more than 10,000 potential customers. After his first mailing, Ray received enough work to add two more installation crews and he has stopped most of the normal advertising he had done in the past.

(Dave Gleason has more than 40 years of experience in contracting, engineering and wholesaling. He has put these experiences into a comprehensive consultation and training company called Systematic Selling Inc., which offers customized sales seminars and workshops. Contact him at 1165 Antioch Campground Road, Gainesville, GA 30506; phone 800-447-7355; fax 717-698-6555.)