Divide and Conquer

Strategies for easing customers through an acquisition

Divide and Conquer

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When you purchase another company, your customer base can double overnight. Through careful planning and strategy, you can easily fold these new customers into your current business. But it will take a lot of planning and hand-holding to make it a successful transition. 

It can be a little overwhelming, so I prefer to break the new customers into three groups. This makes the whole project more manageable. Especially when we bought a company that only had paper files. I had boxes and boxes of papers to organize in a short time period.

The first customer group would be the route customers. This includes construction companies and anyone else who gets weekly service. Most customers can understand one missed service, but more than that and they will consider switching to a new company. So you need to quickly and efficiently fold the purchased routes into your existing work. 

In some cases you can easily download the current customer lists and routes from the purchased company, and upload them into your current billing system. In other cases, you will have to do it manually. I have gone the manual route a couple times, and it is a very long and painstaking process. There is also a lot of room for error when you have to manually upload everything. Either way, time is of the essence and you have to fold those customers into yours quickly.

The second group of customers is events. These are short-term rentals, usually over a weekend. I like to break these customers up by month. That way I know when their event previously occurred and I can contact them in advance to explain the changes. 

Within the group of event customers, I take the largest customers and contact them personally. I want to ensure that they are comfortable with the change and understand that service will continue as it has in the past. Maybe even better! 

The third group is the contract work, such as the municipalities, towns and governments. For these customers, you will most likely have to schedule a meeting so they understand the changes and you can reassure them of your level of service. Some municipalities will insist that they have to go out to bid as the contract has changed significantly. Luckily most of the time they don’t want to do that during the season and they are willing to give you a period of time as a trial run.

When in doubt, you want to be as hands-on as possible with new customers. I never change pricing the first year and try my best to fit all of their needs so they are really comfortable using a new vendor. No matter what you do, you will lose some customers. It happens no matter how responsive you are or what your prices are. But if you can retain at least 75 percent of the current customer base, I would consider it a success.

About the author: Alexandra Townsend is co-owner of A Royal Flush, based in Philadelphia.


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