You might remember from the last article about the frightening statistic that 70% of acquisitions fail to reach their budgeted goals. Unfortunately, the truth can be painful. Your company can be part of the 30% that succeed by following the tried and true strategies for communicating after a merger or acquisition. Read on for a glimpse into what works best to ensure your merger communications are successful.

Six Steps to Merger Communication Success

1. Define your objectives – The overriding objective of any merger communication is to build trust with your new customers, and put their minds at ease. You should also identify specific goals that you can measure, such as the acquisition rate of new service plan customers or service agreement retention rate.

2. Don’t forget about your existing customers
– This is a great opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your current customers. Explain what they have to gain from the merger, whether it’s new plumbing services, home energy audits or a doubling of the size of your service technician team. Show them they have a lot to gain from your merger and you’ll strengthen your business significantly.

3. Remember the Three L’s: the List, the List and the List – All of your other efforts will be lost if your purchased customer list hasn’t been maintained. Make sure your list:

• is formatted properly for ease of use. This will allow you the greatest ability to segment your list – and craft a specific message or offer – based on any number of important criteria, such as zip codes, new construction developments, customers with home comfort systems under warranty, etc.
• includes as many email addresses as possible. An entire segment of your customers will prefer communication via email, so you’ll be ahead if you have email addresses.
• is properly protected. You need to ensure the list is secure, and that access to it is limited.
• is “owned” by a member of your team to maintain its integrity. Make sure it’s regularly updated with new information, such as change of address and new cell phone numbers.

It might take time to get your list in good shape, but I assure you, it’s worth the investment.

4. Treat each “touch” as a piece of the puzzle – Research suggests that it takes at least four “touches” after a merger to maximize customer retention. For the best results, each new “touch” needs to build on the last one, as you build your story about the benefits of the merger.

You don’t have to cram every bit of information into the first communication piece. You might want to consider sending a first communication that announces the merger with a note about more details to follow. The second piece may provide more detail about what will change and what won’t. A third piece might include an FAQ and a fourth might be an email communication. Make sure to build your story every step of the way.

5. Prepare your team for the merger – You can expect phone calls when you announce the merger, so your team will need to know the proper answers to tell your customers. Practice the “best” answers to the top five, anticipated questions, such as these:

• Will prices go up?
• What happened to the former owner?
• Is my warranty still good?

Explain the merger to your team and work with them to develop consistent answers so it becomes easy to handle customers’ inquiries. Also, spend time with your team so they don’t give “deadly” answers like these:

• The company wasn’t doing very well before.
• We just took them over.

Make sure they’re up to speed on the benefits that customers will now receive from the merger, not just the changes that will occur because of it.

6. Have a written plan and stick to it – Your merger communications are too important to leave to chance. It’s not enough to have a plan “in your head.” Develop a calendar of activities. Identify the types of “touches” you want to schedule, and stick to your plan. It’s also a good idea to conduct a post-plan review 90 days after settlement in case any course corrections are necessary and to identify any unanticipated customer concerns. If you visit www.warmthoughts.com/mergers.aspx, you’ll be able to view examples of successful merger communications and get a sense of what is possible and what your communications could and should look like.

Handle your merger communications well and you’ll be rewarded with high customer retention and the maximum value for the business you just purchased. Next issue, I’ll turn my attention to lead-generation and how to use your customer newsletter to retain customers and sell more to them.

Blaine Fox, Vice President of Warm Thoughts Communications, is a recognized expert on the residential mechanical services industry. He is currently working with some of the nation’s leading HVAC contractors to improve their marketing, fine-tune their operations and grow bottom-line profits. Previously, Blaine was general manager of ServiceMark, a $32 million HVAC contractor with more than 25,000 service agreement customers. Blaine oversaw 160 field employees, 30 install crews, 12 sales people and a call center that handled 140,000 calls per year. Blaine is a sought-after speaker, and will be presenting at Comfortech 2009. He is also a frequent contributor to HVAC industry trade publications. He can be reached at bfox@warmthoughts.com