Back From the Dead

Think of former customers as qualified leads and take these five steps to revive your business relationship

For many years, one of restroom contractor Mike’s best customers was a large commercial builder. He loved the company as a client and thought they were happy with his work.

Then, work orders began to slip. The customer didn’t call quite as often as they once had. Mike still got work orders, but they weren't as frequent or as large. He noticed, but didn’t react. He didn’t ask what was going on, or why the situation had changed. No one complained about quality or price, so Mike assumed the situation would turn around.

One day he woke up realizing it had been a very long time since he talked to anyone from that company. A queasy feeling gripped him as he counted backwards and realized how many months had gone by without any new work from them. His blinders fell away. For the first time, Mike recognized this customer was dead. Worse yet, he had probably killed them with neglect and indifference.

This story has a happy ending. Mike worked hard and resurrected his dead client. He continued to do business with the builder for the next decade.

Everyone has dead customers and resurrecting them can be the shortest route to new business. Dead customers represent qualified leads. You already know they buy what you sell. Often enough, they will buy it from you a second time if you go out and re-sell them.

Learn from Mike’s mistake. Follow this easy five-step plan and bring dead customers back to life.


Make a list of dead accounts and jot down notes on what you know. Why did the account die? Was there a problem with quality, pricing or personnel? Was neglect the cause?

For the moment, don’t expend any energy worrying about the probability of a successful resurrection. Just make the list, read it once, and then put it aside for 24 hours. Let your subconscious mind take over and work on the problem.


A couple of days later, get out the list, and make calls. Talk to receptionists. Tell him or her you’re updating files — which is the truth — and you want to make sure information is current. Get the name of the buyer and their title. Confirm phone numbers and e-mail addresses are correct. Be friendly. Be upbeat. Be positive.

Often, you discover the old buyer is gone. The slate has been wiped clean and you’re selling to someone new.


Whether you know the buyer or not, write a letter consisting of three paragraphs.

• Paragraph 1 explains why you’re contacting the buyer.

• Paragraph 2 explains how you can help.

• Paragraph 3 thanks the reader for their consideration, and tells them when to expect a follow-up call. Include your business card.

Here’s why a letter is better than e-mail or a phone call for initial contact: Customers get lots of phone calls and e-mails. They don’t get a lot of letters. Everyone knows it takes effort to write and mail a letter; more effort than it takes to dial the phone or send an e-mail. People respect effort and they appreciate it when it’s directed at them. For these reasons, letters stand out.


Figure out when the letter will land on the ex-customer’s desk. Call within 48 hours of the anticipated arrival time. If your target picks up the phone, great! Talk to them. Treat them as you would any new prospect, and try to get an appointment.

If you get voicemail, leave a message. Briefly repeat what you said in the letter. Keep calling. After you have called seven or eight times, tell them if they would like you to stop calling all they have to do is pick up the phone and let you know they’re not interested.


If they agree to see you, do what you normally do during a sales call with a new prospect. Tell them about your company. Explain how you can help them.

At the end of the call, smile and say, “We have worked with you in the past, and would love to work with you again. How can we make that happen?” See what they say.

This plan gets results. It’s worth the effort to resurrect dead customers because plenty of them are perfectly willing to come back to life with a little nudging from you. Often, reviving them is quicker and easier than expected.

An experienced sales person named Chris followed the plan. He put together a long list of dead customers and made calls to update his contacts. At one old account, the busy receptionist mistakenly connected him directly to the buyer. The buyer was happy to hear from Chris and immediately agreed to see him.

Chris learned a lesson that day. Some dead customers aren’t even dead. They’re just hibernating and one phone call is all it takes to waken them.


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