Let’s begin by looking at the marketing type that maximizes the hopeful result of branding.

Extremely smart marketing types call this “information segmentation and mass individualization based on experiential results.” They use words like this to validate their fees — just as I will if you’re thinking about buying something from us — but for this column, let’s call it what it really is: customer retention marketing.

Oh, sorry. You wanted something more glamorous? You want to talk about getting more leads for fewer dollars or how to guarantee differentiation in your market? You’d rather learn how to turn one sale into many? You feel our time would be better spent discussing the nuances of phone-melting headlines?

If you’ll practice the rare art of active customer retention, all those can happen. This is already known by a small, well-rewarded group of contractors who’ve held a tight lid on this weapon as long as they could.

In fact — after over a decade of preaching to what I thought were empty pews — we’re seeing massive change on this subject. In the past when I asked seminar crowds or interviewed contractors, only about 6% of them did any customer retention. We estimate it to now be around 11% and growing. So, why has this number nearly doubled?

Well, before disclosing how every contractor reading this can capitalize on this former secret, I owe those in the 11% a tip or two on jumping ahead. Fair is fair.

Experienced retention marketers may see their previous advantage to have eroded slightly, but since they’re proactive, here are some suggestions and observations to move forward:

  • Increase aggression for maintenance agreements. This is a version of forced retention and is a natural ascension from your normal customer group. Use your clout to push for it. Negative option renewal highly recommended.

  • Push for greater differentiation through initiatives which — due to a high-tech nature and health slant — elevate your marketing position considerably.

  • Stealth pursuit of web-based lead generation and others allow for customized, flexible lead flow — largely under the befuddled noses of competitors. Those who get in early tend to maintain the advantage. Inexpensive, fast and worth a try.

Consider tying in your web presence with your direct-mail retention pieces. This will allow those Generation Y-ers to access more information about your business by going online.


The true magic

To recent retention marketers who are now using newsletters, or are relatively new to maintenance agreements, the real warning is to not quit. We see too many of you get the instant differentiation benefit and positive comments from customers, followed by a tendency to jump to the “next thing.” Sporadic efforts lose the momentum and bring confusion to your staff. Retention is a program, not an event.

Also realize that retention marketing’s effect is like compounded interest. The true magic requires patient and continued pursuit. It builds on itself, multiplying the results, allowing low-cost marketing advantages for earned loyalty, shorter sales cycle, easier upsells, more referrals and greater response rate.

For the group who is still “thinking about” doing customer retention: You can read my list of things to do and what you’ll get by doing them. Sometimes that’s all the spark anyone needs. Yet, for true change, something else must happen.

As most successful coaches will tell you, it’s not about checking off items on a list. It’s about changing your mindset. And since it’s my job to be your personal tour guide for guilt trips, check this mind-shift:

  • The “normal” contractor gets a customer in order to make a sale.

  • The “marketing” contractor gets a sale in order to make a customer.

Admittedly, that sounds odd, and the scarcity of those who get the above is almost the point. (Regular readers of this column know why.) But this should make it clear …

The contractor who is wisely counter-intuitive in marketing wins the marketing. Period. Those who think, act and do like everyone else get results like everyone else. I’ve also noticed their complaints are like everyone else’s, too.

So, by really understanding and applying the marketing contractor mindset, you’re automatically in the small segment, differentiated from the pack.

Most contractors seek to get the sale — a noble goal I fully understand. So their marketing follows that pursuit to the fullest. Those who do it well get there with hard-hitting direct response. Those who do it poorly struggle with mediocre and frustrating results from a variety of sources too lengthy and painful to cover here.

Getting the sale instead of the customer, although alluring on the surface, is limited by meager expectations. It is finite. Yet, relationship thinking allows you to access the infinite.

Imagine your business just a couple short years from now. Instead of a sort-of satisfied group of customers (so labeled merely because they bought something), you see a huge crowd of raving fans. It’s twice the size it is today; each is a direct supporter or salesperson for you. Nearly half of them have a maintenance agreement and they’re encouraging the other half to join them! All feel they know you to a degree, and vice versa, because you’ve built a relationship not based purely on the sale.

Loyalty is nearly unshakeable. Why? Because it’s easy to quit using “just a contractor,” but very hard to quit a relationship.


Readers can get a free Customer Retention Kit by emailing their polite request to freePMstuff@hudsonink.com or by calling 800/489-9099. Readers also will receive a complimentary subscription to the Sales & Marketing Insider with their request.


This article was originally titled “The X factor in your marketing” in the August 2016 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.