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Lost Leads? Engage Your Secret Weapon: The Lost-Customer Survey

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Sales + Marketing

Lost Leads? Engage Your Secret Weapon: The Lost-Customer Survey

Sending a simple survey to past prospects will do two things: reveal leads for buyers still in the market and ripe for a sale, and clean up your bloated CRM

By Jimmy Diffee April 13, 2023
Woman completing a customer survey on a tablet
Surveying lost buyers helps builders better understand why they lost the sale and lets them target those prospects most likely to make a purchase in the future. | Image: ARMMY PICCA / stock.adobe.com
This article first appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Pro Builder.

A home builder recently came to me wondering what to do with a list of prospects who didn’t buy. The company had made a significant investment to drive new traffic to help meet its sales goals, but things were slowing and they wondered: What about all of those lost leads—the hundreds (or thousands) of potential buyers growing cold in our CRM system? There have to be a few sales in there. How can we reengage them?

We often turn to email for prospect reengagement. It’s a low-cost way to warm up leads and get them off the fence. But how do you know if those prospects are still in the market to buy a home? 

Because most builders have a survey program in place to get customer feedback after contract, we suggest applying a similar strategy to gather information from past prospects: A lost-customer survey. 

What Is a Lost-Customer Survey?

Also called a lost-lead survey, this survey’s beauty lies in its simplicity. At its core are two questions:

1. Are you still in the market to buy a new home?

2. Are you still interested in buying from us? 

There can be additional questions, too, but the shorter the survey, the better. If it’s easy to respond to and includes a small incentive ($5 or $10 per response), you’ll quickly uncover sales opportunities while gathering information about the current market ... and clean out your CRM in the process.


Surveying lost buyers also helps builders better understand why they lost the sale and lets them target those prospects most likely to make a purchase in the future.

We recommend taking a “no prospect left behind” approach. Empty the cupboard. Go back as far as you have records and include all of those prospects on your lost-customer survey list.

What a Lost-Customer Survey Is Not

A lost-customer survey isn’t a full-blown market research study, so resist the temptation to over-ask, which could turn off prospects. 

For instance, don’t ask about all of the ins and outs of what you did well and what you did poorly, or details about floor plans and included features. The two questions above will give you those answers. 

If you need to get more qualitative data, simply ask the open-ended “Why?” which also will make it easier to parse the results into actionable data, namely in the form of sales training.

How to Improve the Response Rate for Your Lost-Lead Survey

Expect lost-customer survey response rates to be somewhat low compared with other surveys you conduct; these prospects didn’t move forward with you for a reason, so, naturally, they’ll be less likely to respond. 

You can also anticipate many of your older prospect records will have a higher bounce rate due to the typical churn of email addresses. Still, we’ve seen response rates as high as 8% from prospects who visited more than five years ago, and as high as 15% from prospects who visited within the last few years.


They key is to be brief. The more questions you ask, the lower the response rate will be. If you only ask the two questions we suggest—both with simple Yes/No answers—it will seem as though you’re genuinely interested in your prospects, while being respectful of their time. 

Another easy (but important) Yes/No question to consider is: “Are you already a customer?” Your sales CRM data may not be up-to-date, and your different technology platforms may not be totally in sync. Some of your actual customers are likely to land on the lost-leads list. In that case, you may want to take them down a different path of survey questions focused on customer satisfaction (CSAT), net promoter scores (NPS), and similar intel tools.

Rolling Out the Survey

After you’ve created and internally tested your lost-customer survey, extend it to include a few actual past prospects for final testing before a full rollout. 

While we recommend that test be sent to mostly older prospects, it’s a good practice to include 5% to 10% of newer lost buyers as well. The older records are more likely to bounce and be less responsive; a good cross-section ensures you’ll have some data to review. 

This “test” step validates your invitation and reminder messages and that all conditional survey questions are behaving as intended (display logic, skip logic, etc.).

The next step is to create segments from your remaining prospects. You’ll want to distribute your prospect survey in waves so you can prioritize follow-up for any customer who raises their hand. If they say they’re still interested in a new home and still interested in you, respond swiftly.

Your sales resources and follow-up strategy should determine how many segments to create and over what period of time to distribute your surveys.

Using the Survey Results

It’s critical to define your follow-up strategy in advance—ideally, at the same time you’re building the survey and gathering prospect records. Be sure to think through these questions:

1. Who will contact the prospect? 

2. What is your message? 

3. What channel(s) will you use? 

4. How do you leverage existing prospect data in your CRM?  

If old prospects are still in the market and interested in you, follow up immediately. We often find the reason why they didn’t buy from you was that no one followed up with them in the first place.

We emphasize “real-time listening and real-time response” for every survey program we implement. As such, we recommend directing all completed surveys in real time to sales leadership, the community salesperson, or possibly to an online sales counselor, based on your defined follow-up strategy.

A dedicated dashboard for lost prospects can also be a useful tool. It visually represents the aggregate data and provides the ability to filter results by division, community, salesperson, and so on, making it easier to act on the data.

You’ll quickly uncover sales opportunities while gathering information about the current market.

Use a survey tool that lets you export your data, which is useful to bring your CRM up-to-date. For prospects who are still interested, add pertinent survey information to their record. Also, flag any prospects who are no longer in the market, bought an existing home, or built with a competitor, so they can be scrubbed from future follow-up.

We usually see about a 10% response rate for lost-customer survey programs, whether the list size is 600 or 6,000. More importantly, we consistently identify about 2% of the builder’s overall prospect list for immediate follow-up based on their response.

My builder friend was correct when he speculated there had to be a few sales in his old prospect list somewhere—and there were. For a few thousand dollars and a two-week implementation, the lost-customer survey we deployed for that builder brought dead leads back to life. It set the table for the builder’s sales team to uncover those prospects’ current housing situations and future plans, and removed obstacles, allowing salespeople to move forward. 

Not only did the builder get valuable data from a “cold” list, but uncovering the lost sales more than paid for their survey efforts.


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Written By

Jimmy Diffee, principal of Bokka Group, monitors a wide range of home building trends. He sees and judges technologies and digital content for new home builders at events and competitions such as PCBC Speaker Sessions, the National Sales & Marketing Awards, and the International Builders Show Best of IBS Awards. Jimmy is author of the annual Home Buyer Conversion Report, the industry’s leading research showcasing technology’s influence on new home sales. Write him at jimmy@bokkagroup.com.

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