After nearly 45 years in the contract cleaning business, one question I get asked most is, “How can I secure the good customers?” This is a universal problem with emerging companies attempting to compete in the market against the larger, many times better-known, companies. To complicate the issue, most of the time, business owners are attempting to compete with a very limited or sometimes non-existent budget.

Keeping budget and time constraints in mind, there are two ways in which you can make a major impact and secure your share of the marketplace: hit-list mailings and industry-update luncheons.

Marketing through the mail
Hit-list mailings are upscale mailings done at pre-determined scheduled times throughout the year aimed at your major prospects — the 10, 20 or 30 potential customers in your market area that you have determined are the ones that best fit your service. These key prospects are not necessarily the biggest companies in the area, but rather the best ones for you.

Timing is also critical to these mailings because often they are not just letters, but rather actual, mostly usable items that have a lasting effect so the customer always knows who provided them. Mailing close to a special event or holiday is a good place to start. For example, around the Fourth of July send an American flag suitable for mounting along with an appropriate patriotic message. Include your business card and a business reply card. Call a week after the mailing to ask for a 20-minute appointment to meet the prospect to discuss your company and the prospect’s needs. This gives you the opportunity to make sure they got the mailer and if you have piqued their interest enough they will at least give you some time from their schedule — something they wouldn’t have done in the past with a regular direct-mail piece or letter.

It’s safe to budget about $8 to $12 per item for each mailing. So, somewhere between $100 and $250 will produce a very effective mailer that gets to the buyer. If these mailers are done well they will go directly to the people you want to do business with and not into the trash as will many letters or direct-mail pieces.

Out to lunch
The second effective way to make an impact with prospects and get the appointment you want is through industry-update luncheons. Again, determine a list of key client prospects to target and invite them to have a lunch with several current and major customers that will give your company a good reference if asked by the prospect.

Reserve a meeting room at a nice restaurant and provide a true update of our industry. This is not a lunch to pound a commercial at them for an hour, but rather a time to socialize and truly bring them a speaker with a topic of interest in the industry. The last thing you want to do is make anyone feel pressured.

Topics could be anything from green cleaning to day cleaning to bundling of services. Topics should be of interest to the buyers you have in the room, including your customers, and should be presented in a professional, educational way. The entire lunch is a subtle infomercial for your progressive, forward-thinking cleaning company, but you don’t need to be constantly extolling your company’s virtues. Giving them a packet of your company information as they leave will more than suffice for sales and marketing pressure brought to bear.

Print formal invitations and mail them about three weeks prior to the date. Invite twice as many prospects as customers. The prospects do not yet feel a sense of loyalty to you and will be more apt to cancel at the last minute so you want to be ready if they do. Call several days before the luncheon to confirm attendance and to encourage those who have not responded that you would really like to have them attend. It is important that you remind them that this is not going to be a sales pitch for your company. Finally, determine the seating arrangements ahead of time. Seat existing customers next to potential prospects. You will find your good customers will do the selling for you.

Here again, the budget doesn’t break the bank. You will have the cost of the meal and the meeting room if they charge for it. If you bring in an outside speaker you will have those costs, but if you sign one prospect the investment was well worth it.

Both of these methods are effective ways to get in front of the buyers you want to talk to and you are able to do it with a minimal amount of investment. If you can turn one prospect into a customer as a result of a hit-list mailing or industry-update luncheon, then you will have succeeded in your endeavor.

Dick Ollek, CBSE, has been in the building service contracting industry for nearly 45 years, 34 of them owning and managing his own company. He currently serves as owner and senior consulting partner for Consultants In Cleaning LLC, Camdenton, Mo. He can be reached at 602-684-8877, or e-mail.