Develop strategies to get the phone ringing again.

Let’s face it, things may be slowing down for you and your company. What’s important now is to develop the ability to make the phone ring. Here’s what I’m teaching my clients to do right now, and it’s paying off for them during these recessionary times:

1. Send a letter to your customers with an intriguing headline.There’s no better audience to speak to than people who already know and like you because you’ve previously served them well. This greatly increases the chances that whatever you write about will get read.

But to get read, your letter needs to start with an intriguing headline. You need to say something that will get customers to stop what they’re doing and pick up the phone. To do that, you must make them experience a moment of “pain” or the promise of a “gain.”

Writing catchy headlines that provoke customers about the problems they’re having or the benefits they’d like to receive are the headlines you need to learn how to write. And if you can’t do it yourself, you’ll need to hire someone who can do it for you.

All direct-mail advertisers know the headline is the most important part of any direct-mail piece. It’s what you need to stand a chance of enticing a customer to act and act now.

Although it’s fine to insert the letter into your normal company envelope, the letter itself should not be on your traditional letterhead. Why? Because most letterhead has your name and company information at the top of the page, and that’s valuable real estate when it comes to a letter that must get read and get action. You’ve got a nanosecond to get their attention. You can’t afford to waste it with repeating boring stuff they already know.

Squeeze in your pertinent company information at the bottom of the page; your big, bold headline goes at the top of the page. A big, bold headline in at least an 18-pt. font - preferably in red - will increase its chances of being read and connecting with your audience.


    “Is your ‘honey-do’ list getting bigger and is the couch getting lumpier?”

    “Want to get your hot water for free?”

    “Let me show you how to cut your heating bills in half!”

    “Be safe and warm all winter while you stuff your piggy bank with money.”

    “Can you really get by another hot summer with your old air conditioner?”
The next most important thing after the headline is to give them a reason to pick up the phone. It’s called a “call to action.” A coupon with a substantial discount works best. Or you could offer a free “peace of mind” inspection. And remember to always include an expiration date on your offer or there’s no compelling reason to act now. You can always choose to accept the coupons after they’ve expired … and I want you to.

Adding a good “P.S.” that quickly restates the offer and/or benefit at the end works well, too.

2. Catch customers’ attention with better use of the Internet and your Web site.You want to make sure prospective customers out there searching the Internet can find you. This requires you to learn how to make them find you - both for free and by using smart ways to pay for traffic. This is usually done best with professional SEO (search engine optimization) people.

You can’t afford to have customers miss you when they’re searching. Find out how they go about searching online and the types of questions or queries they make so your company name pops up in their results list.

A Web site that’s created from the customer’s perspective and gives him or her the information needed to make an informed decision is required, not optional. Showing pretty photos of the company is nice but completely lacking when it comes down to answering a customer’s burning questions.

The trick is to think like a customer, not like an owner. Then visit other sites in your trade and similar trades to see what they do well. You’ll learn a lot.

Also remember that it’s OK to model some of your site from another one, but it’s not OK to copy it. There’s a world of difference. Besides, people need to learn about you, and they can’t if it’s just a misrepresentation.

3. Energize the outbound CSR.This one technique is creating calls for my clients right now, and if you get disciplined, it can do the same for you.

An outbound CSR is one who has been trained to not just wait to answer the phone but call existing customers who have been seen by techs about work that was not performed at the time of the call. The outbound CSR is calling to see if there’s a desire to go ahead and do the work now.

Customers get busy and they forget. This is a way to stay in front of customers and help them make wise buying decisions. If your techs have a selling system that lists the options they presented, the outbound CSR can be much more effective.

He or she is also helpful at calling customers who have been given big-ticket-item proposals from a system engineer (what I call salespeople). Outbound CSRs can, and do, keep the momentum of the sale from stalling out.

4. Offer off-season discounts on major install work.Every year during our slow seasons, my system engineers and I would go through our recent proposals and figure out what a reasonable and fair discount would be to offer all our clients for work not done during our busy season.

I felt comfortable in offering a discount because it’s no different than any retail operation that charges more during the peak season and offers a discount in the off season. Smart customers who waited got a break and it kept the dollars flowing during the normally slow times.

One caution is to explain to the customer why he’s getting the work done cheaper so he doesn’t think you are taking advantage of him. I used to say:

“I’m able to offer a 5 percent discount if you’d like to do the work I proposed because I’m slowing down and my labor is cheaper. But I can only offer this discounted price if you want to do the work in the next 30 days.”

Customers felt like they won and I was happy as well.

5. Send technicians and installers home or to training.If you only have so many calls, you’ll need to make sure your best people are maximizing that opportunity and the rest have to go home.

The only exception for me is when I wanted to accomplish training or cross-training of trades. The slow times were the only times I could bring them in for what I call “Big Block Training” to sharpen their sales, operational and technical skills.

A lot of the training was either split time or volunteer time because it helped them advance their career. But the rules for how to pay for this type of training vary from state to state, so check with your local governing authorities first.