The secret to expanding your customer base is actually no secret at all. It comes from tried-and-true methods that never get old and never grow stale. Follow this path to success to get new customers, keep the customers you have, and get your customers to give you more referrals.

  • Customer acquisition - Start an acquisition campaign that uses low-cost direct response ads and techniques. And don't forget the magic words: "for a limited time only." An offer without a deadline goes nowhere. Give them a reason to respond and a need to respond quickly.

  • Customer retention - Never burn bridges with current customers to build bridges with new ones. Keep in touch and let them know you care. The more you treat them as your friends, the more likely they are to continue as your customers and to refer you to their friends.

  • Customer referrals - Referrals are a quick, free, self-perpetuating lead source with a high closing ratio. But you can't get them by wishing and hoping. Start a referral campaign with customers who want to negotiate to earn price deductions. How's $25 a piece sound? Run the numbers and you'll find that's a lot cheaper than the $325 you usually spend to gain a new customer! Tell your customers you won't call their friends, but will mail them a nice note and give them a free newsletter, as well as offer them the best service around.

    Media Watch

    The point during February is to gather more names for your hottest list. All calls - prospects, demand service, and quotes - should be on your list to mail for customer retention push coming up next month.

    Newspaper: Continue running top-of-mind awareness ads with occasional image and all-purpose ads. Direct response offers for either end of season, in warmer climates, or last year's price, in any climate, can be powerful, depending on applicability.

    Direct mail letters: As seasonal replacement calls drop somewhat, urge your highest probability groups to take advantage of your trade-in offer or use a sister promotion to your newspaper ad for end of season, or last year's price offers for equipment.

    Postcards: Service postcards should be in larger areas to attract fence-sitting service users.

    Radio: This media drops off considerably after Christmas shopping time. Trim back here.

    On-hold messages: Continue with maintenance agreement in-formation, free newsletter offers, and other service benefits.

    Yellow Pages: Fax us for your free ad critique; change your results with a real Yellow Pages ad designed to pull leads.

    For next month, your newsletter list must be brimming with active customers to receive your newsletter. Call for a free sample of our spring newsletter. Prepare for preseason tuneup and preventive maintenance offers by the end of March. Make end of season offers for states where appropriate. IAQ providers should prepare for allergy season offers.

    Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink. He can be reached at 800-489-9099, 334-262-1115 (fax), or

    Publication date: 02/09/2004