Want to increase your probability of sales success?  “Lost” customers may be the key!  What do you do with your former customers?  Many salespeople hit the ‘delete’ key and focus on new prospects. Big mistake!  These former customers can make great future customers.  Another tip to recession proof your sales – earn business again from customers you’ve “lost” over the years.

How valuable can this be?  A study done by Marketing Metrics shows that we have a 20-40% chance of re-engaging a former customer vs. a 5-20% chance of turning a new prospect into a customer!

Why is now a good time to focus on former customers?  The consolidations, bankruptcy filings, and workforce reductions leave HUGE opportunities for those who are ready to capture more business in this economy.

What can you do?  First,        look BACK!

  1. Review your past three years of sales data. Make a list of customers who have not bought/worked with you in that time.  Then for each organization note:
    • When was your last contact with them?
    • Do you know what/whom they are now working with?
    • On a scale of 1-10, how likely is it they would welcome contact from you again?  If the score is a 5 or higher, they are a good prospect!
    • What do you know about them that you can use to reconnect? History, experiences, challenges they had, people they work with, hobbies or any shared stories?
  2. Research your primary contact at each identified organization.  Use the Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, bizjojrnals.com search tools.  Find out what he or she has been up to!  Are they still with that company?  In the same position?
  3. Review past business you did with this organization.  What product/service did they use?  What was their experience – favorable, neutral, bad? Why did they stop working with you?  Do you know? Identify whether this was a valuable customer to you/your company.  Sometimes customers can be more work than the value they brought. No sense in recontacting a customer who drained you 🙂

Second, use this background information to prepare to move FORWARD.

  1. Are the reasons they stopped being a customer relevant any longer?
  2. What value might you provide them today?
  3. What experiences have you had since you last spoke that would help them?
  4. What information would help them Right now?
  5. What questions should you ask them?

Third, make CONTACT!

“Hi Gary, it has been a long time. We continue to help companies such as yours increase xyz or decrease abc.  When we worked together, we provided you with the product you needed at exceptional cost and delivery time.  With all the market changes we’ve still been able to help companies with increasing xyz.  And I didn’t forget about you!”

Then turn the focus to THEM!  Be prepared to listen…maybe there is information you don’t know about whey they are no longer a customer.  This should be addressed first.  Then you can move into a series of open-ended questions that will allow you to see if there is an opportunity to work together again.  Some examples:

  • “What are you currently working on”
  • “How is this economy affecting your business?”
  • “What is most important to you these days?”
  • “How happy are you with your current supplier?”

This works!  In the past month we’ve reconnected with former customers. And we found that some of them have done NOTHING since we worked with them.  They haven’t left us at all. And yet we haven’t done business with them in a while.  Now that we made the effort to open the discussion again, we are moving through the sales process to see how we can help them again in 2009.

This tip does take work – but the upside of the effort is HUGE!  You never know what hidden gems of business you might FIND in your lost customers.