You're driving along and you pass the house where your company did a bang-up job installing siding three years ago. You give the house a glance to admire the quality of your work and see how the job's holding up.

It's holding up well. But there, parked in the driveway, is a competitor's truck with two guys unloading windows. And now you notice the competitor's lawn sign.

Has this happened to you lately?

Maybe. And, like many home improvement contractors, you probably felt some resentmentat the customer who forgot what a great job your company did. Then you chalked it up to human nature, which is self-interested, forgetful, andtypically of-the-present.

You told yourself that there would always be new leads.

New leads are critical, but for some company owners they're a kind of drug ? adrug that makes them think short term rather than in months, quarters, andyears. So they pour money into media or additional event marketing, orthey drive themselves nuts trying to create a canvassing program fromscratch. A perfect stress recipe.

Here's the thing: If you knew that that customer liked your company's work, andif you'd documented that by, say, obtaining a testimonial letter or a survey, andhad that documentation in a database, you'd be in an excellent positionto ask for more business. You'd be in an even better position if youhad a menu of products instead of just one or two, and if at the time ofinstallation your installer or salesperson had made note of possible futureneeds. But even if you only had one new product, you'd be well situated toget some business from a satisfied previous client who liked your companyand said so.

Making that happen takes someone to manage the information as well as the softwareto do it with. Such software is available and well worth getting. Companiesthat are proficient at data mining see their previous-customer businessgrow, year on year, saving marketing dollars that go right to the bottomline.

Yes, new leads are the lifeblood of a home improvement business. But they costmore than ever. And in a tepid economy, consumers are wary of committingto major cash outlays. Wouldn't it be nice to know that your previous customers ? anddemo/no sales, one-legs, credit rejects, and those missing-in-action ? wereregularly reminded that you, a bright spot on thelandscape of their experience, exist and flourish?

Jim Cory, Editor