Time to Upgrade

When is the right time to tap your existing client base for a systems upgrade? Do it too soon and they will think you are taking advantage of them. Wait too long and they may not want to bother.
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Existing clients are your most reliable source of business. Youve established rapport and you know that they appreciate quality (they did hire you, after all). But, when is the right time to tap your existing client base for a systems upgrade? Do it too soon and they will think you are taking advantage of them. Wait too long and they may not want to bother.

John Mossop, owner of Audio Centre in Ottawa, Canada, a hybrid A/V retail and custom install firm, believes that his existing service base is a highly valuable asset, and considers relations with patrons unending. "We do many things for our customers," Mossop stated. "We want our relationships to continue." Mossop supports his dictum with action; recently he did a major mailing to clients in his database. "We just did a big mail-out for an upcoming spring clearance event. Its very successful for us. Its a good way to bring clients in and show them what new stuff is out. The manufaturers join in too; I ask them to bring one specific product to show. Its great."

For Mossop, keeping clients in the loop isnt only about upgrading systems. Because "big boxes" (Best Buy, Tweeter, et al) encroach on new turf every nanosecond, customer loyalty may become a sales x-factor for mid-size companies like Audio Centre. "Its bloody expensive to advertise, and the big boxes just throw money at print and other media, and its hard to compete with that. Its essential for me to focus on existing clients."

Besides perennial shows and social events, Mossop and his crew dig into the database when they learn about new discounts, or to enlighten clients on noteworthy technology.

The availability of important products should motivate dealers to revisit existing clients, suggests Mark Glazier, vice president of corporate marketing with Kaleidescape. He asserts that his companys DVD Server, with its robust features, is worth mentioning to clients after the completion of a project. Kaleidescape is encouraging its dealer channel to select prospects they previously serviced who will be receptive to this new concept and additional sale. Because the Kaleidescape System allows homeowners to store thousands of movies on hard disks (with access any movie from any viewing zone), it might suit those clients with DVD collections that could fill Fort Knox.

"Your best customers know and expect quality," Glazier stated. "They will be amazed by this new experience."

Breaking ground as a new category helps Kaleidescape distinguish itself. Rather than selling incremental differences, "this is a new category, and one preferred clients will appreciate knowing about," Glazier affirmed.

Additionally, dealers who pick up a brand new category that they didnt previously carry, for example, home theater seating, have yet another reason to attend to existing customers.

"How could there be any negatives to continuing contact with a customer?" asked Charles Bock, owner of Stereo Barn in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, and strong advocate for maintaining patron relationships. "They [your customers] have gone through shopping process, theyve made the decision to do business with you, theyve entrusted you with their money. That is 90 percent of battle right there."

Its folly to consider it a free-for-all, however. "Be selective when approaching existing clients," Bock cautioned. A pitfall of returning to clients is the perception that what you originally gave them is obsolete. After six months of use, that could be quite a blow to a customer.

A simple antidote for this is to establish a system in which salespeople keep fastidious records on customers purchases, needs, likes and dislikes, as well as their residence information. Bock points out that effective salespeople make it a habit to keep files on clients.

Remembering customers systemsnuances of their homes, original technology interests, etc.could help secure additional sales down the road. For example, for a client who desired a surround system years ago, but made a minimal investment due to poor room acoustics, will want to know when a new surround array is launched that would work better in the room. What was perhaps a compromise at the time can be upgraded; deliver now the performance clients initially wanted, but had to wait for because of circumstance.

"If there is an opportunity to satisfy an unmet need of a client, by all means give them a call immediately," Bock said. The customer will respect your attention to detail; you will bank the additional sale.

But never offer older patrons superfluous products, as clients might feel exploited. "Its essential to strike a good balance of re-investing time in the client but not taking advantage of the client. It is up to a good sales person to really understand the needs and pysche of the customer: what is enough and when is it too much."

Its also important to remember that customers have different thresholds. "We have one customer who wants to be notified when new technology comes up," Bock stated. "He actually came into our store when 12 months elapsed and he didnt hear from us."

Staying aware of clients personalities and quirks guarantees that when relevant products become available, you can call upon them with the confidence that its advantageous for you both. Introduce existing customers to technology that will improve performance, fit an esoteric design, or add further cohesion to their system.

Margot Douaihy is managing editor of Residential Systems magazine.