Follow-up marketing relies on the business concept that it’s cheaper to maintain a customer than it is to find a new one. For example, the cost to acquire a new agent to refer business to you is significant. The cost to maintain a relationship is less, but there still is a cost. Many home inspectors fail to see this and, as a result, relationships fail.
Hard to Fill a Leaky Bucket
Agents drift away often from sheer neglect. Many inspectors spend no time nurturing the relationship. Nurturing may be as simple as saying, “Thank you for the referral.”
It may be helpful to look at business relationships in this way: If you are adding new relationships into the top of the bucket, while neglected relationships are leaking out the bottom, you are working hard to maintain a half-full bucket. As we’ve stated, it takes more money and time to develop a new relationship than it does to maintain an existing one, so doesn’t it make sense to spend some time maintaining relationships?
Many inspectors proudly point out the 10 new relationships they’ve recently developed, but they fail to notice the 15 agents who have stopped referring to them. This is no way to grow a business. And that’s why follow-up marketing is so important.
Follow-Up Letters to Agents
One follow-up strategy is to write a letter to the agent. The inspector collects the agent’s business card at the beginning of the inspection. If the inspector has not met the agent before, the inspector sends a quick letter to the agent after the inspection. You might develop some postcards for this purpose. It takes the inspector about a minute at the end of the inspection to fill out and mail a postcard to the agent. The postcard may say something like, “It was a pleasure to meet you at 123 Any Street yesterday. Please call me to help your next clients (or, I look forward to working with you again soon). Sincerely, Inspector.” This strategy is cheap and quick, and it makes an impact.
Follow-Up Calls to Agents
You can also follow up by phone. Follow-up calls to agents fall into two categories:
• agents who refer business to you
• agents who used to refer business to you, but no longer do
Let’s look at each type of case.
Agents Who Refer Business to You
Call the agent periodically to find out if your services continue to be satisfactory. You don’t have to call them after every inspection, just periodically. You can start by saying, “Thanks very much for referring Mr. Jones to me.” Then you can ask the following questions:
• Are you happy with the home inspection service?
• Are you happy with my answering service?
• What kind of feedback did you get from your clients about the home inspection?
If you are brave, you can ask what you could do to serve them better, although you always risk having to deal with an unreasonable request. You can make this decision on a case-by-case basis.
Initiative is as important as content.
Most inspectors don’t like to phone agents for fear that the agent might say something negative about how the inspector handled the inspection. This fear is understandable because we often have to take a stand on unpopular issues. The fear may be wellfounded, but the logic is not. You should phone regardless of how you think the agent will respond because the gesture is at least as important as the content of the call. The agent will recognize that you made an effort.
To put your fears to rest, think of it this way. There are only two possibilities:
• The agent has good things to say and your call reinforces your relationship.
• The agent has negative things to say and you now have an opportunity to mend the relationship. If you are unsuccessful, you will be no further behind.
So, it’s a win-win decision. And even if you can’t salvage the relationship, you can learn something from the experience that can be applied in future situations.
Agents Who Used to Refer Business to You
At Carson Dunlop, we keep track of agents by using a database. The database tells us who refers business to us and who does not.
Answers are a phone call away.What do we do with this information? We identify agents who send us fewer referrals than they used to. This allows us to follow up with them. If you are an independent inspector, you may not have the benefit of a database. How else can you find out this information? There is a great low-tech way to gather information: Make a phone call to the agent.
We call agents who have stopped sending us business and ask them why they’ve stopped. Most of you are now thinking, “That’s not a call I want to make.” None of us likes making that call. But we suggest that you do it anyway. Why? Because there is no downside. You can’t get any worse than an agent not sending you any business. You should look at this call as an opportunity. You can start the call by saying, “I’m calling because I haven’t heard from you lately, and I was concerned. Are you all right? (Here’s where you may find out that they, in fact, have had to step away from their business for some reason.) If they say they are alright, you can say, “I hope I’ve not done anything to make you lose confidence in me.” This gives them an opportunity to explain why they haven’t referred as many clients to you. You might learn that they have been concentrating on getting listings, for example. If this is the case, you might be able to offer pre-listing inspection services for them.
If they have had a problem with your service, it is helpful to find out about it so you can clear it up or fix the problem. We’ve found that often the reason might be something as simple as their feeling that another home inspector seemed to value their relationship more than we did. The agent felt neglected and unappreciated. Or perhaps the agent feels that you might have caused a client to back away from a deal unnecessarily. No matter what the reason that is given, this is your chance to understand and set things right.
What’s the lesson here? No matter how many scenarios you invent for the dreaded call, there is only one that includes the agent never wanting to do business with you again. There are many more possibilities that could result in a relationship that becomes even stronger than it was before.
Following Up with Clients
You may want to follow up with clients as well as agents. You might wonder, if I’ve already done the inspection, why should I stay in touch with previous clients? There are at least three reasons:
1. To capture repeat business when the homeowner buys another house in five years
2. To remind the homeowner to tell their friends to hire you when they buy a house
3. To keep you in the forefront of the client’s mind so that they are more receptive when you call to offer follow-up services, such as a one-year inspection (that is, an inspection of the home one year after moving in to verify that things have been improved or repaired properly)
Put Follow-Up Marketing on Your To-Do List
It may seem like these calls could take a lot of work and time, but we believe that they provide great value. These calls actually should not take too much of your time, and the opportunity “cost” is minimal compared with how difficult it is to acquire a new referring agent or a whole new set of clients. It’s a competitive market out there. You need to keep your referral base intact. Follow-up marketing—a strategy you should apply to your business!