Let’s face it: things may be slowing down for you and your company. What’s important now is to develop the ability to make the phone ring.

Let’s face it: things may be slowing down for you and your company. What’s important now is to develop the ability to make the phone ring.

Here’s what I’m teaching my clients to do right now and it’s paying off for them during these recessionary times:

1. Send a letter to your customers with an intriguing headline. There’s no better audience to speak to than people who already know you and like you because you’ve already served them well. This greatly increases the chances that whatever you write about will get read.

But to get read, your letter needs to start with an intriguing headline. You need to say something that will get a customer to stop what they’re doing and pick up the phone. To do that, you must make them experience a moment of “pain” or the promise of a “gain.”

Writing catchy headlines that provoke them about the problems they’re having or the benefits they’d like to receive are the headlines you need to learn how to write. And if you can’t do it yourself you’ll need to hire someone who can do it for you.

All direct-mail advertisers know that the headline is the most important part of any direct-mail piece and it’s what you need to stand a chance of inducing a customer to act and act now.

Although it’s fine to insert the letter into your normal company envelope, the letter itself should not be on your traditional letterhead. Why? Because most letterhead has your name and company information at the top of the page and that’s way too valuable real estate when it comes to a letter that must get read and get action. You squeeze in your pertinent company information at the bottom of the page.

Your big, bold headline goes at the top of the page.

Remember, they know who you are when they open the envelope. More importantly, you’ve got a nanosecond to get their attention. You can’t afford to waste it with repeating boring stuff they already know. It’s time to hit them with something that will get them to put down the remote and pick up the phone.

Here are some examples:

• “Want to make your next roof your last roof?”

• “Let me show you how to cut your roof maintenance in half!”

• “Be dry and warm all winter while you stuff your piggy bank with money”

• “Can you really get by another rainy season with your old roof?”

A big, bold headline in at least a size 18 font and preferably in red will increase its chances of being read and connecting with your audience.

The next most important thing after the headline is to give them a reason to pick up the phone now. It’s called a “call to action.” In these times, a coupon with a substantial discount works best. Frankly, I know its always worked well. You could offer a free peace of mind inspection. And remember to always include an expiration date on your offer or there’s no compelling reason to act now. You can always choose to accept the coupons after they’ve expired - and I want you to.

A good P.S. that quickly restates the offer and/or benefit also works well.

2. Use the Internet and your Web site to catch their attention. You want to make sure the prospective customer who is out there searching the Internet can find you. This requires that you learn how to make them find you both for free and by using smart ways to pay for traffic. This is usually done best with professional search engine optimization (SEO) people.

You can’t afford to have them miss you when they’re searching. So, find out how they go about searching online and the types of questions or queries they make so your company name pops up.

A Web site that’s created from the customer’s perspective and gives them the information they need to make an informed decision is required, not optional. Showing pretty photos of the company is nice but completely lacking when it comes down to answering their burning questions. The trick is to think like a customer and not the owner. Then, sit down and start to visit other sites in your trade and similar trades and see what they do well. You’ll learn a lot. Remember, it’s OK to model some of it, but it’s not OK to copy it. There’s a world of difference. Besides, people need to learn about you, and they can’t if it’s just a misrepresentation.

3. Energize the outbound CSR. This one technique is creating calls for my clients right now and if you get disciplined it can do the same for you.

An Outbound CSR is a customer service representative who has been trained to not just wait to answer the phone but call existing customers who have been contacted about work that was not performed at the time of a previous visit. The outbound CSR is calling to see if there’s a desire to go ahead and do the work now. Customers get busy and they forget. This is a way to stay in front of customers and help them make wise buying decisions. If you have a selling system that lists the options they were presented, the outbound CSR can be much more effective.

The outbound CSR is also helpful at calling customers who have been given bigger ticket item proposals from a System Engineer (what I call salespeople). They can and do keep the momentum of the sale from stalling out.

4. Offer discounts on major installation work done out of season. Every year during our slow seasons, my System Engineers and I would go through our recent proposals and figure out what a reasonable and fair discount would be to offer all our clients for work not done during our busy season. I felt comfortable in offering a discount because it’s no different than any retail operation that charges more during the peak season and offers a discount in the off season. Smart customers who waited got a break, and it kept the dollars flowing during the normally slow times.

One caution is to explain to the customer why they’re getting it cheaper so they don’t think you were trying to take advantage of them. I used to say, “I’m able to offer a 5 percent discount if you’d like to do the work I proposed because I’m slowing down and my labor is cheaper. But I can only offer this discounted price if you want to do the work in the next 30 days.”

They felt like they won and I was happy with it as well.

5. Make money with the sales you do have today and send techs and installers home or to training. If you only have so many calls, you’ll need to make sure your best people are maximizing that opportunity and the rest have to go home.

The only exception for me is when I wanted to accomplish training or cross-training of trades. The slow times were the only times I could bring them in for what I call “Big Block Training” and sharpen their sales, operational and technical skills. A lot of the training was either split time or volunteer time because it helped them advance their career. But the rules for how to pay for this type of training vary from state to state, so check with the local governing authorities first.