Here's a question I hear often: “Why should I market to my customers during the summer when the weather is keeping me as busy as I can be?”

Before I answer, here are a few preliminary questions to consider:

Your customers are the ones that you spent your hard-earned marketing dollars to gain, right? Your top-quality service calls were meant to impress and retain them, right? You think of them as your customers, right? O.K., here's my last question: Do they think of you as their heating and cooling company?

If you answered “yes” to the first two questions, but kinda-sorta-maybe weren’t exactly sure on that last one, you probably have a customer retention problem . . . and your competition would love to keep it that way.

That’s the thing about customer retention: you don’t know when, who, or how many customers are staying or leaving. If you’re not staying in touch with customers, but merely assuming they’ll stay, you can be virtually assured that unless they have unparalleled loyalty and a faultless long-term memory, they’re leaving.

Your customers will have the same needs this summer as the rest of the people calling you. They want to be comfortable in their homes, so they’re desperate if they have a repair need on a hot day. They’re concerned if their utility bills are sky-high, and they would love to save some of that money with higher efficiency.

So, do you want your customers to bring these needs to you, or to another HVAC company? If you’re not giving them a reason to remember you, I’ve got bad news for you: they’re not going to quit using the air conditioning, but they may quit using you.

If you’re one of the contractors relying on the weather to do your marketing, you could be allowing your competitors to snatch your customers right into their aggressively marketed clutches. Your mission this summer is to keep that from happening.

There’s no question that summer can mean lots of business for your company. However, you’ve got to play your cards right. If you miss out on the “spending” season and allow customers to leave, you not only lose those customers, you'll also lose all their future sales and referrals — without ever even knowing about it.

So make an effort by getting out in front of customers through a professional customer retention weapon. Not only will you retain your customers, you'll also end up winning some of the customers your competition is neglecting.

Your best bet: a high quality postcard with a well-placed retention message (not a hard-driving “sales” message) that gains credibility, sales, referrals, and is great for creating TOMA — Top Of Mind Awareness.

Plus, postcards require no envelope, can be metered, and are very inexpensive to print. They can be out to your entire database or a good mailing list almost immediately.

So, what message will you send? Remember that the primary purposes are image and awareness. You don’t have to hard-sell, since peak season already makes people receptive. But you can make an enticing offer. Options include service and replacement offers with a deadlined discount, plus a Free Energy Survey touting energy savings.

Just remember that the summer sales season can make or break your business. Don’t wait on the weather or simply hope your customers remember you. Make sure it happens by driving your name further into the market to get more leads, sales, and profits.

Your customers are waiting to hear from you. Don’t let them hear from the competition first!

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Call 1-800-489-9099 to ask for a free 12-page report on converting every service call to a Maintenance Agreement. For a free marketing newsletter, contractors can fax their letterhead with the request to 334-262-1115 or check out www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports.