Relationships With Inactive Clients

By: Linda Richardson | 2003-04-11

Most salespeople work hard to find business, identify new prospects, and close the deals that are in the pipeline. As much as salespeople truly want to sell, it is surprising how few keep track of inactive and/or former clients.

It is commonly known that a person who borrows money invariably goes back to the people who lent him or her money, not the ones who said no. There is also the old story of Willie Sutton, notorious bank robber of the 30's, who when asked why he robbed banks said, "That's where the money is." In the same vein, clients who buy from you in most business situations are most likely to buy again from you if they have a need (unless of course it is a truly one-time sale or they were dissatisfied by the service or relationship).

Inactive clients should be contacted on a regular basis (depending on your business at least one time each month or once a quarter) after you have made the sale or have provided the service. The calls can vary from getting feedback on how the product or service is working, to a relationship call ("I was thinking of you when "), to calls to update the client to anything new from your organization such as, "We have a new or updated let you know to post you about " or to gain an update from the client on what or who has changed or the client's business. If you see something that your client would be interested in or that impacts your client, you can send it, make a call, or send an e-mail and enclosure.

Regardless of the reason, contact calls allow you to find out what is going on and keep you on the client's radar screen. It also ensures you are there when an opportunity arises or spending starts if, and it is a big if, you ASK about initiatives.

Your goal in keeping in touch with an inactive client is to "stay front of mind," show interest, maintain the relationship, and proactively identify opportunities. By keeping contact and finding out what is happening with the client, you can identify opportunities and position yourself for the opportunities you identify. Especially with an inactive client, maintain contact with more than one client in the company to create a broader view of what is going on or coming up and to help ensure you stay connected if one contact leaves. Members of your team can also be used to keep in touch with their contacts in the organization to keep the connection going and share information with your team.

One salesperson who almost lost a deal to a competitor hadn't called her contact for four months. Why? She called twice and her contact didn't return her call! Through sheer luck she learned of an opportunity and found out the client she had called twice had been on sabbatical for a few months.

Parenthetically, if your client does not call you back, your job is not done. Persistence is what it is all about in this market. Clients expect and judge you by it. That does not mean being a pest, but it does mean calling very often to reach someone. Call again and again, and again and again. Check it out, and if necessary find someone else in the organization to call. Call at different times, e-mail, try another avenue or contact. Simply checking with a company operator or calling another contact could have given the salesperson the information she needed and given her a perfect reason to uptier to her contact's manager.

Also, maintain contact with clients who change jobs, even the ones who weren't your primary liaison. Follow the client to his or her new company, wish him or her luck in the position, and gain information to determine what opportunities for you may exist.

Track inactive clients. Show interest in the client. Ask questions. If you don't keep contact and know where the clients are and what is happening, they will remain inactive and so will you.

Clients do not feel they have a "relationship" with you if they only see you when there is a deal on the table. Maintaining contact with inactive clients not only makes sure you are there when there is a business opportunity, but it makes the client want to give the business to you. Your sales results are only as good as your relationships.

Spring is here: Call three of your inactive clients you have not spoken to in a month or more. Prepare your message (for voice mail in the event you cannot reach him or her by telephone). Pick up the phone and rekindle the relationship. Maintain rapport, learn something. Follow up the phone call with a quick, concise, high-impact (client-focused) e-mail. Even if a piece of business isn't imminent and you don't find a hot opportunity now, you won't miss the next one!

About the Author: Linda Richardson: President and CEO of Richardson, training consultants to corporations, banks, and investment banks globally. Richardson has 110 professionals, 15 regional offices in the United States, and presence in London, Australia, Singapore, Latin America, and Asia. Clients of Richardson include KPMG, Federal Express, General Mills, Tiffany & Co., Dell Computer, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Citibank, Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, and Kinko's. Visit