Marketing to commercial customers is just as important as marketing to residential customers, and I think it's easier.

You know where commercial customers are during the day and you don't have the restrictive telemarketing rules that apply to consumers. Also, you can often find information about their companies on the Internet so you can do your homework before you send a marketing piece or call potential customers.

However, there are negatives. Commercial prospects have a tendency to hide behind voice mail and the sales often take longer. This simply means that you must be a little more creative when you approach commercial customers.

    Here are some quick things that you can implement immediately for your commercial customers. (With a few changes, most of these ideas can also be used for residential customers.)

  • Use "drip" marketing. Drip marketing is sending a short, attention-getting message once per month. I like using e-mail for drip marketing. Email has no expense other than getting the e-mail addresses and creating the messages. Make sure that the message is short and contains something that will benefit your potential commercial customer. They should look forward to getting them.

  • Get to know the industry's trade publications. When you send press releases for jobs that you have completed, editors will know who you are and are more likely to respond. The press should be contacted by e-mail. Most prefer e-mail releases with digital photos.

  • Take pictures of every job and send the releases to your customers' competitors. Let them know about your company. When prospective customers are thinking about using your company for a job, they want to see that you have done similar jobs for other companies. Pictures tell the story.

  • Apothecary jars. I've written about this one about before. I repeat it because I still get stories about how well this works! Give apothecary jars to your commercial service contract customers (and other good customers). These are glass jars that you put candy in. Have them printed with your company name and telephone number. Fill them once per month with candy. This gives you an opportunity to visit regularly.

    You'll be surprised how many additional service calls, discussions about jobs, etc. that you'll get simply by walking in their door once per month. And, by the way, once you start this process, your customers will look forward to the candy each month, so you can't stop it!

  • Make sure that your Web site is up to date. Potential commercial customers are very likely to check out your company's Web site before awarding a job to you or asking you to bid on a job. Put bios of your project managers, service department managers and personnel on the Web site. Also have a list of current and past jobs with contact names and telephone numbers (assuming that your customers will give you permission to use their names).

    Commercial marketing doesn't have to be expensive. A little creativity in the use of the Internet goes a long way. It does take time. However, by making the time to do these activities you'll build a strong potential customer base that will lead to a strong customer base.

    (Copyright 2003, Ruth King. All rights reserved. Ruth King's American Contractor Exchange. 1650 Oakbrook Drive, Suite 405, Norcross, GA 3009. Phone: (800) 511-6844; fax: (770) 729-8028.)