When it’s super hot outside, the thermometer is doing your marketing for you and you’re saving a bundle in marketing costs. Isn’t that how it goes? Not so fast!

If you’re not doing much marketing, and your competition’s not doing any, I guess this means all those phone calls pouring in to all the HVAC dealers in town are each company’s very own personal customer list, right? Not on your life.

Of the calls you’re getting, 60 to 65% had better be from your customers. Since service calls dominate the incoming leads during peak season (July 21 is the average U.S. highest summer traffic day), your sales leads will probably be more from breakdown than from current marketing. So far, so good.

However, that leaves 35 to 40% who are out there in the market, looking for someone to come fix or replace their system. Who are these people?

Well, about 55% of this group’s “lookers” are from other contractors. Yes, those losers who let customers just walk off and leave! About 16% of the lookers did actually see an ad of yours somewhere and have landed on your phone number, even though they have used another contractor in the past. Bingo! You’re getting all these leads from the other dummies in your town who don’t watch their customers!

So if you’re getting 35 to 40% of your calls from “lookers,” don’t you think that the same percentages apply to other contractors in town? Oops. Yes, now I’m talking about you and your customers who are out calling these other contractors . . . instead of you.

This is where letting the thermometer do your marketing isn’t such a great idea. You assume you don’t have to stay in front of your customers. You assume that this is the time you’re saving and making all that money. But if you’re not contacting your customer base or otherwise staying in their face, you’re losing customers just like everyone else.

Now you know why you can stay busy all summer and assume (there’s that word again) your customer files must be overflowing. But when you re-contact some of your “old” customers, they’re gone — them, their business, and their referrals forever — just because you acted like you didn’t care.

The key is retention marketing. Stay in touch with your customers. A postcard or “non-sales” phone call is O.K.; a newsletter is best. Any newsletter can work as long as it’s professional and a worthy reflection of your company.

Did I just hear you say, “Ha! I don’t have a retention program and I don’t need one!” Here’s my response: This attitude means you don’t care too much about customer relationships. Your customer translates feelings toward the relationship into loyalty, or the lack thereof. No relationship equals no loyalty.

Bottom line: Get a customer retention program or you may as well send them your competition’s business card. This is the single biggest oversight in HVAC marketing right now. It costs very little and pays handsomely.

If you’re going to lose a customer it’s when he’s in the market. Don’t let it happen. Adopt a retention marketing program and keep your name out there!

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Readers can get a free marketing newsletter by faxing their letterhead with the request to 334-262-1115. Call 1-800-489-9099 for a sample of the Spring customer retention newsletter or visit www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports.