When the folks at J. Francis Co., Pittsburgh, don't win a job, they don't just shrug it off. Because the company is 100% referral, it's particularly important to find out why the potential client chose another remodeler, says business development manager Jean M. Krak. “There's critical information you have to capture in order to know what you're doing well and where you need to improve. When you keep getting the same feedback, you have to pay attention to that.”

With a written questionnaire as a guide, Krak phones commercial and residential prospects who have turned down the company. She asks them several open-ended questions, in her effort to learn if J. Francis Co. responded in a timely manner, returned phone calls, and got the proposal in on time; but also to determine if the prospect had an existing relationship with another contractor, if they felt J. Francis made them a priority, and if J. Francis was competitive and by what percentage the company might have been over the accepted bid.

“Sometimes we're over 1%, sometimes 20%. Knowing this helps for several reasons,” Krak says, particularly in commercial work. “We know who we're bidding against, and we keep a file.”

Sometimes a project is postponed. “We put [this] in our system and track it,” says Krak, who stores all the information she gathers in ACT project management software. “I keep in touch with the customer every four to six weeks by e-mail to see if they want to move forward,” and many times they do.

Krak began doing the surveys three years ago by mail, but responses were only 1 in 10. Phoning gets her a response nearly 100% of the time. Recently, the company hired a firm to make the calls. “You've got to learn from your mistakes,” Krak says, “or learn your lesson.”