Reviving Dead Clients


Most consultants I've talked to don't spend any time trying to recover inactive clients and it's a big mistake. We tend to magnify the problem we had or just want to move on, but sometimes a simple apology and offering to make things right will bring you back a client worth thousands of dollars in billing.

Clients can quit contacting you for a number of reasons:

They had a bad experience.

They no longer need your product or service.

As their needs evolved, they believed your company no longer could offer what they need.

They just got busy and forgot about you.

You can see how important it is to have a communication process to stay in contact with clients as some quit calling for the sole reason of "out of sight, out of mind." Think about all the vendors that you've stopped buying from for no real reason. It happens to everyone.

There are clients that you have consciously let go because they are bad clients. I recommend consistently "firing" the bottom 5-10 percent of your client base as a regular practice. But most consultants have an attrition rate higher than that.

Make a Target List

Go through your database making a careful list of clients you have done business with in the past but are no longer buying from you. Cross out those relationships that you have no interest in reviving. Next, categorize the remaining list using the following parameters:

Don't know why they're inactive

Was a problem but you thought you resolved it

Was a problem but you didn't resolve and would like to win them back

Determine how much the client spent with you.

Date of last purchase. You'll want to focus on more recent clients first and work through to a point of diminishing return.

The first thing you need to do is get excited. With a little diligence you can revive 25-50 percent of these clients and dramatically increase your revenue base. The key is humility, sincerity and resolve.

The Disgruntled Client:

Understanding What They Want

Before you contact the inactive client it's important to spend some time focused on the outcome. You need to be prepared and anticipate their reaction to your call. Disgruntled clients have certain needs that have to be met before they become active again. Below is a checklist to review before you make each call:

They want to be regarded and respected

They want you to make things right

They want to be listened to and heard (two different things)

They want to insure that the problem doesn't happen again

They want you to understand the problem and why they would be upset

Don't defend yourself or make excuses. Acknowledge that it shouldn't have happened. You should be prepared to make an offer to resolve the problem and communicate your willingness to go great lengths to win them back.

Making Contact

The next step is to simply pick up the phone. Call them and ask to meet face to face. Assure them that they are a valuable client and that you'd like to know if there is anything that is keeping them from doing business with you. You must communicate your absolute sincerity and concern.

If the client had a bad experience, regardless if it was your fault, try to make it right. Offer to refund their money, correct the problem and give them a discount against future services or whatever would be appropriate in your particular situation.

Apologize no matter whose fault it is. The client is always right. They write the checks and in an economy that is driven by customer satisfaction, you have to go the extra mile to stand above your competitors.

Be prepared for the fact that you will not resolve every situation. You may get screamed at or abused. Stay the course, be calm and reiterate your sincere apologies. In some cases there will be no possibility of reactivating them or getting a rational response to your call. If you are professional and earnest, the worst that can happen is they will feel better about the situation and won't complain to their associates about your company, which can be damaging. Send the people a sincere letter thanking them for assisting you in identifying problem areas with your company.

You're in the Spotlight, So You Better Shine

If they do agree to accept your effort to resolve the issue, whether it's in the form of redoing the work or free products and services, then you must be exemplary in the execution of the promise. Get a clear understanding of your commitment and the timeframe for its completion. You must go the extra mile here.

Communicate when you've fulfilled your obligation, thanking them for the opportunity to clear up the problem. Send a sincere letter reiterating your appreciation for working with you to resolve the misunderstanding. Depending on the type of work you do, simply maintain regular contact to inquire if everything is working, and if there is anything you can do to be of service.

Getting in Touch with Old Friends

Often you'll find that former clients are having financial or other difficulties that have prevented them from continuing business with your company. Express your genuine and personal response to their problems and find out if there is anything you can do to help. People remember who was around when they were down. A small gesture here goes miles in referrals or when they get back on their feet.

There are also the clients that have grown, or changed technologies, and now feel that they need to work with a bigger organization. In a lot of cases it's really just a perception problem. Tell the client that you've grown too and that you're ready to meet their needs.

If you truly can't serve them, let them know how much you've appreciated their business and invite them to contact you if there is anything you can do for them in the future. If they were satisfied with your services, don't hesitate to ask for referrals. Be sure and follow-up with a letter.

Finally, there are the old clients that simply forgot about you. In some consulting businesses, it might be appropriate to systematically send out a letter to clients to stay in touch and acknowledge that you haven't heard from them. Come up with several that are appropriate for your particular consulting business and send them out at specific times relative to the last purchase.

You need different letters because the reasons for a lack of buying vary from client to client. Track each mailing so that you can refine the process based on which letters garner the most responses.

If it's appropriate for your business, send clients a coupon for a free hour of services. The perceived value is high and they will be inclined to use it to initiate future work.

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