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Reviving Dead Clients

How to convert 25-50% of your old clients into new business

Most contract professionals Iíve talked to donít spend any time trying to recover inactive clients. Itís a big mistake. Particularly when the relationship with a client sours, we tend to magnify the problem, but sometimes a simple apology or offer to make things right will bring back a client worth thousands of dollars in billings.

There are a number of reasons why a client may break off communications:

Itís absolutely crucial to have a communication process in place that keeps you in contact with clients. Many of them will stop calling for the sole reason of "out of sight, out of mind." Think about all the vendors from whom youíve stopped buying for no particular 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 to 10 percent of your client base as a regular practice, though most contractors have an even higher attrition rate.

Make a Target List

Go through your database and make a careful list of clients with whom you have done business in the past but who are no longer hiring you for contract work. Cross out those relationships that you have no interest in reviving. Next, categorize the remaining list using the following parameters:

Youíll also want to prepare the following information:

The first thing you need to do is get excited. With a little diligence you can revive 25 to 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, itís important to be prepared. 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:

Donít defend yourself or make excuses, but do acknowledge that the point of contention shouldnít 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 youíd like to know if there is anything that is preventing them from doing business with you. You must communicate your absolute sincerity and concern.

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 even 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 wonít complain about you to their associates, which can be especially damaging. Send the client a sincere letter thanking them for assisting you in identifying problem areas with your services.

Youíre in the Spotlight, So You Had Better Shine

If they do agree to accept your effort to resolve the issue, whether itís in the form of redoing the work or services, 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.

Thank the client for the opportunity to clear up the problem once youíve fulfilled your obligations. Send a sincere letter reiterating your appreciation for their willingness in working with you to resolve the misunderstanding. Depending on the type of work you do, maintain regular contact to ensure that everything is working, and to inquire if there is anything you can do to be of service.

Getting in Touch with Old Friends

Youíll often find that former clients are having financial or other difficulties that have prevented them from continuing business with you. 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 both in referrals and in future employment 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 itís really just a perception problem. Tell the client that youíve grown too and that youíre ready to meet their needs. If you truly canít serve them, let them know how much youíve 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, donít hesitate to ask for referrals. Be sure to follow-up with a letter.

Finally, there are those old clients that simply forgot about you. In some IT consulting businesses, it might be appropriate to systematically send out a letter to clients to stay in touch and acknowledge that you havenít heard from them. Come up with several that are appropriate for your particular business and send them out at specific times relative to the last project.

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

-Bryan Brandenburg
Bryan Brandenburg is the author of Million Dollar Computer Consulting, released in December 2002

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