I am going to let you in on a little secret. Yellow page ads still work after a business closes. If a company goes out of business and drops their phone number, the yellow page ad will still work! The ad doesn’t just disappear. I discovered this when I was building a heating and air conditioning business in Wisconsin. We picked up an old phone number that had been disconnected for more than 4 months. The very first month this phone number produced over $15,000 in revenue. We did over $40,000 in 3 months before we stopped tracking it. We eventually acquired 2 more numbers with similar results.
How did I get so much revenue from a number that was disconnected? The number came from a business that had been around for many years before it closed. The owner retired and could not sell it. This phone number had ads in several current and past phone books. There were also stickers all over the area with their phone numbers on them. That equipment would eventually need service or replacement. We hoped they would contact us through the old number and they did.
There are many reasons to acquire disconnected phone numbers, the biggest one is the potential access to thousands of customers that were serviced by the old company. You pick up access to these customers for a fraction of what you would have to spend advertising for them. Even if the homeowners moved, the stickers on the equipment stayed with the house. Some people kept old invoices and refrigerator magnets for years. They all had the old company’s phone number on them.
Many times we mistakenly think our customers know everything we do, but this is not usually the case. Most people will never know a business is closed until they need their services again. After you reactivate a disconnected phone number, just pick up where the old business left off. Make sure your call takers are scripted on how to handle calls that come in from old business. If handled correctly, customers won’t be too concerned about the change as long as you take care of their needs.
Finding disconnected phone numbers is easy. All it takes is a little finger exercise. Take out a phone book and call all the numbers in your category as well as any related categories. Make sure you call from an unknown or blocked number. You don’t want your competition to know you are calling them.
Use a tracking sheet to record how they answered. Think of this process not only as marketing, but as research. You want to know how professionally they answered their phone. Did it go to a machine or answering service? Do their people answer your call and take control, or do they appear not to care? Is there a busy signal, or no answering machine? You may be surprised at what you find out by doing this exercise.
When you do find a disconnected number, you want to convert that number to your business. Here are some steps to do that.
1- Call the phone company to see if you can get that number immediately. Some phone companies won’t give you the number until after it has been disconnected for 6 months to a year. Find out the exact date that it is available and mark it on your marketing calendar. Make sure you call early on that day to get the number.
2- If you can find the former owner, offer him some money to have the phone company release the number to you earlier. Consider offering him some money for his old customer records also.
3- Sometimes the phone number is connected to a huge ad in the phone book that wasn’t paid for. Offer the phone company a small percentage of the cost of the ad if they give you the number (20-30%). If you don’t get results from one phone employee, talk to another. Some employees don’t have the authority to make that decision. Any money is better than no money.
4- Train your call takers on how to properly convert the calls from the old business.
5- Treat these new customers like gold and that should take away most of the concerns they have.
If someone already has an old number and they are not the competition, offer to buy the number from them and pay all their costs to change the numbers. Ask them how many calls they get a week looking for the old business. This information should help you know how much to pay for the number.
If they don’t want to sell the number, ask them if they would refer the calls to you. Tell them you will pay a referral fee. Your highly trained call takers should be able to keep track of all referrals.
We used to go through this exercise every 1-3 months. Acquiring a discontinued phone number reduced our overall lead cost and was worth the effort. Consider doing it yourself the first time before passing it off to an employee. Personally listening to the phone answering of your competitors may offer some insights into your own phone practices. Now, let your fingers do the walking.