Make new customers, but keep the old


January 22, 2021



Did you ever hear the nursery rhyme “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver; the other is gold”? Last month, Pest Management Professional asked its columnists and editorial advisory board members to share their New Year’s business resolutions. For me, the answer was easy: To continue to place more of a focus on our existing customer base.

It’s so easy to focus on gaining new customers, and it is so exciting to make new sales. But it’s also easy to become so fixated on making sales that you begin to lose your focus on existing customers.

In the worst case, you may even reschedule or skip an existing customer to make room for a new customer. This is a short-sighted approach. Existing customers are gold to our businesses. We need to hold them in the highest regard, and handle their needs in a way that makes them so happy that when the next company or salesperson approaches them, they won’t even listen.


We all lose customers, but if you are tracking it, you will find that “returning customers” also are a big source of new business. That is great, because it means they left for a time and have come back.

After being in business for 31 years, my number of lost customers is much larger than my number of current customers. Whenever we focus on a “win-back” campaign, though, it always pays dividends. It is an excellent investment to have someone who is talented in sales get on the phone to call former customers, and then pay him or her a commission for winning customers back. After all, it costs loads of money, time and effort to find new customers. If you can do better at keeping them, your business will grow faster.

We have an inside sales force to take calls from potential customers and set them up on service visits. Our team is quite skilled at turning inquiries into sales. We went this direction a few years back because, when we dug into the number of sales our customer service representatives (CSRs) were making and began tracking how many opportunities they missed, it was a ton. CSRs are critical to our business, but rarely are they motivated to make sales.



Thus, with an inside sales force that is paid on commission and not hourly, we have a much higher closure rate. Every call is important to them, and we track their closure rates. We even pay a higher percentage commission for a higher closure rate. They are not able to sell every type of service visit,
of course, and they must give certain types of sales over to inspectors who visit homes, but they sell a
ton of business.

With all that in mind, this year we’re expanding the number of inside salespeople we have, and we’re also bringing all cancellation calls to these talented folks. We will pay them a sales commission that is equal to the amount we pay for selling to new customers. In other words, we want to make canceling customers just as important as potential new customers.

If you really count how much you spend for a new lead, you will find you have money to pay a sales commission — or should I say, a “save” commission — and still come out way ahead of the cost of the leads you generate. Properly incentivized salespeople will give their very best efforts to keep customers from leaving us. At least that is the plan, and I am counting on it working.

It’s like Dad always said: “You’ve got to dance with the ones that brought you.”

JENKINS is president of ABC Home & Commercial Services, Dallas, Texas. He can be reached at

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