T& K Roofing Co., a contractor, in Ely, Iowa, had sprung a leak. Profit margins had dwindled from 5% to 1% on sales of $2.5 million. To patch things up, Kurt Tjelmeland, T& K's vice-president, designed the Lost-Job Survey, which asked would-be customers why they rejected his company's bid.

Half of the survey questions were designed to determine how T& K was being represented in the field. Answers to other questions revealed why competitors were nipping away at T& K's 68% market share.

Often the questionnaire kept alive a relationship that might otherwise have ended. When prospects returned forms that told of a particularly harrowing experience with T& K, they received a call from Tjelmeland and were sent a gift certificate for dinner.

The strategy paid off: The phone call and free dinner ended the relationship on an upbeat note, and several companies asked T& K to submit bids for other projects. Since it began using the Lost-Job Survey, the company has more than doubled its sales to $6 million, even though eight new competitors entered the market.

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing