Rescuing The Orphans

It’s happened to all of us. It’s just part of doing business. No matter how hard you try, somewhere along the way you lose a customer. There are a number of reasons why this happens, attrition being one of them. In terms of attrition, there is not much you can do about that. A customer disappears for one good reason or another – maybe they go out of business, or they are bought by another company, or they decide to go offshore. For whatever reason beyond your control, you lose their business. This kind of customer loss is not what I want to talk about.

What I do want to address are those customers that you have lost over the years due to circumstances that were in your control, such as poor performance, a quality issue, a technology issue, their needs exceeding your capabilities, pricing issues, or maybe you just drifted apart due to lack of attention. These lost customers are what my friend Bruce appropriately dubbed “the orphans.” And when you are trying to grow your business the best place to start is with these orphans. Focus on what you can do to bring them back home to your company.

When you launch a customer acquisition initiative the first place to start is with these orphans. They know who you are, they have already done business with you, which means you are in their system so going after these orphans could be the fastest way to start increasing your business. They are even used to changing vendors already as they changed away from you! They are literally what we call low hanging fruit.

Here are five things you can do to rescue your orphans:

  1. Define who they are and create a backstory of everything that happened and why they are no longer a customer.  Get a complete understanding of what happened, when it happened and who was involved. You need to get the complete picture of what happened 
  2. Decide from everything you learned if this account can be brought home again. Obviously, you can’t win them all. If there was a nasty lawsuit for example, cross them off the list. But if it was simply a matter of them outgrowing you in terms of their technology needs, they are worth revisiting, especially if you have upgraded your technology since the last time you did business.
  3. Develop a good tactical plan to get them back. This should include the history of your former relationship. How long did you work together? How many products did you successfully deliver over the years? If you have performance records in your archives, take a look at those. It could be that you worked with this customer for over five years, delivered thousands of boards over that time, and just hit a bad stretch that caused the separation. Or maybe  they just got a new quality manager who had it in for you, and now that person is no longer with them. Whatever the problem was, chances are you are in a better position today. So develop a plan of action including your “story” if you will, to convince them to give you another chance.
  4. Make them “an offer they can’t refuse”. This is key to your strategy to get them to come home to your company. They already know you; they did business with you in the past, and now your job is to show them you deserve another try, another opportunity. And the best way to do this is to offer them something they can’t refuse. Offer them a free trial. Something that will entice them to give you another chance.
  5. Get your act together and hit the road. Set up a meeting with their key people and come in and talk to them about how you used to do business with them, remind them of the good old days by showing them how long you did business together. How good it was…until it wasn’t and yes, touch on what went wrong. And then update them about your company, what you have done to improve things and how it would be a great idea for your two companies to do business together again.

And one more under promise and over deliver.

  1. If you can convince them to give you another chance, and if you follow these guidelines you, will get another chance. Then blow them away with your service, over service them, show them how much you have improved since you worked together the in the past.

I have worked this plan with many companies, many times, and it works. You won’t rescue all of your orphans, but you will be able to succeed in bring the majority of them home. It’s only common sense.

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