The never-ending sales cycle works like this: A lead results from a marketing source. The appointment is set, a sale is closed, and a customer results. This leads to future sales from this customer and resultant referrals. Those turn into leads and the cycle repeats, hopefully ballooning your business in the process.

That’s great news. But it will end abruptly, without warning, dry as a desert rock, shutting off the unending flow of leads, sales, and profits that were yours. All due to leaving one ingredient out of your sales process: Follow up.

Yes, the after the sale stuff that short-sighted salespeople resist like fire ants at a picnic.

Customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal. Without knowing of their satisfaction, exactly how do you propose any assurance they’d ever use you or refer you again?

You must know the way customers feel about you even if it hurts. There’s a quote I happen to like a lot about this very message: “Customers will never care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

There are several ways of going about this. You can set up contacts via customer newsletters, questionnaires, post cards, phone calls, or personal visits.

Without contact, how is anyone supposed to know you care, or help you find the solution to your problems in service or product delivery? You're not your own customer, so their perspective is invaluable to you. Your customers represent many thousands of like-minded solutions to your problems. Each translates to thousands of dollars in sales — or lost sales — in which you should be keenly interested.

The avoidance of bad news, because it represents a problem in your company, is exactly the same as thinking a fire in your home will go out if you pay it no attention.

The key is to let your customers know that you care about them. By the way, if you don’t care, then we suggest you learn to care or suffer major consequences. Let your customers know:

  • You want to do business with them
  • You understand them and have empathy for their needs
  • You’re willing to make it easy, painless — even fun — to do business with them.

Got it? Good. You’re well on your way to seeing something not one in twenty so-called salespeople will ever go to the trouble to know.

Just remember, when you close a sale with your customer, it can lead to one of two outcomes. It can either be the ending of a relationship, or the beginning of a relationship. There is no in-between. Why?

Because delivering the goods, paying the bill, and walking away thinking that this is your customer because they’ve written you a check is what we impolitely refer to as stinkin’ thinkin’. The greatest number of lost customers (71%) is because you showed them no interest.

But if you’re thinking right, you know that the signed contract is not the end of the deal. It’s the beginning of an endless stream, and continuing to make contact — through customer newsletters, holiday cards, postcards, and numerous other ways — is the way to keep that endless stream moving in your direction.

Essentially, your follow up is part of the cycle of good customer retention and fantastic word-of-mouth. You’ll have more mouths spreading the word, lower marketing costs, better up-selling for future sales and a whole lot more referrals than ever before. Not a bad day’s work.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a contractor marketing firm. Hotmail readers can get a free Spring 2007 customer retention newsletter sample by calling 800/489-9099 or faxing the request on letterhead to 334/262-1115. To receive their free bi-weekly contractor marketing newsletter, Sales & Marketing Insider, fax your request to 334/262-1115 or visit www.hudsonink.com for more information.