Having successfully completed a series of good-sized service jobs for a company he described as a great customer, a prominent electrical contractor (who wishes to remain anonymous) was making a routine visit to the company’s main office for what he fondly refers to as a “customer care call.” This time, he intended to thank his customer for its most recent business and get an early indication of the additional electrical work the customer was planning for its upcoming fiscal year.

Perhaps his retelling slightly exaggerated the highly effective salesmanship he claims to have exuded, but it worked.

“Your company’s performance on all of your service work for us has been excellent, and we appreciate it,” said the customer’s senior executive. “In next year’s capital budget, we have planned an extensive amount of what you electrical guys like to call low-voltage work. We’re looking for some good contractors who specialize in that.”

“Look no further! That’s rapidly becoming one of our top specialties,” the contractor said. 

The conversation progressed into greater detail. Not long after, they settled on a large negotiated contract for all of the low-voltage work in the company’s facilities.

“It’s easier to sell something new to an existing customer than something new to a new customer,” the contractor said. “That’s Rule No. 2 in any kind of business.”

Universally, marketing managers call it cross-selling, and they swear by it. It can open fresh opportunities to increase revenues and profits in almost any business scenario. It is one of the oldest rules in the book.

To retest this decades-old marketing proverb, we went to the oldest electrical contracting firm in the United States, Hatzel & Buehler in Wilmington, Del., to find out how Rule No. 2 has contributed to ensuring its unequaled longevity. What was overwhelmingly evident at our first glance was the dedication to constantly remaking itself by uncovering new and innovative ways to serve the very best customers.

Bill Goeller, president of Hatzel & Buehler, underscored that kind of commitment as he pointed to dramatic evidence of its business philosophy.

“In 2005, we established a telecommunications subsidiary, Bluestone Communications Inc., to provide diversified low-voltage installation and maintenance services,” he said. “In doing so, Hatzel & Buehler was able to establish itself as a single resource to its customers, offering a complete range of electrical services. Bluestone quickly grew to include a broad portfolio of technology-­focused services, allowing Hatzel & Buehler to provide an even more comprehensive customer service offering.”

Simply put, Hatzel & Buehler has followed Rule No. 2. It buttressed its longevity through ongoing expansion of its most important customer relationships by introducing greater, better service product offerings.

We carried the conversation on Rule No. 2 to Portland, Ore., where we visited with Mark Walter, president, Christenson Electric Inc. There we found another successful company moving ahead with a sound strategy of expanding relationships with the best of its existing customers. Christenson places great trust in its lead field technicians.

“They feel that they are responsible for their own destiny, and we give them the tools and support to grow their own book of business,” Walter said. “This sense of ownership—combined with the support that our management team provides—encourages the level of customer service that keeps customers coming back.”

Walter summed up the principles that have guided Christenson to across-the-board success for service that the company delivers.

“We strive to provide exceptional value to each and every customer that we engage,” he said. “Many times this may mean that we are going outside our comfort zone of just being a plain vanilla electrical contractor.”

Just as vanilla is the most popular ice cream flavor, this may describe the most prevalent style of business for electrical contractors. However, opportunity-savvy electrical contractors who make the effort and take the time to understand the full range of their best customers’ needs will taste the flavors of exceptional success by following Rule No. 2.

What about Rule No. 1? Legendary business guru Peter F. Drucker brilliantly summarized it by saying, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”