For AAA Windows Siding and Roofing, in Illinois, canvassing brings in 60% of sales. The company operates three teams of four canvassers, each team with its own van. Sales manager Tom Slicko says that those sales have increased fourfold since AAA launched the program in 2009. And four years has been enough time for Slicko to form firm opinions about the most effective way to motivate canvassers.

In addition to paying an hourly wage, AAA distributes bonuses based on sales. Company canvassers make between $20 and $24 an hour, and their hourly wage is typically the smaller part of compensation. “You don’t want them working for the hour,” Slicko says. “You want them working for sales.”

Bonus for Sales or Leads?
Canvassing consultant Chris Thompson, operator of Canvass King, in Cleveland, says that most home improvement companies pay hourly canvassing employees $9 or $10 an hour. Period. Then owners wonder why their turnover is so high. “Nine dollars an hour isn’t going to motivate people,” he says. “You could do a lot of other things for $9 an hour than knock on doors and get rejected.” His suggestion is that owners offer above minimum wage — $10 or $11 — and a bonus for leads that become set appointments.

Most canvassing operations that do pay a bonus do so for leads or appointments.
Why sales? There are two reasons. “I found out,” Slicko says, “that if you bonus on leads, they bring in the phone book.” By paying only when the job’s sold, “we find that canvassers spend a little more time learning the product line, learning about home problems. They take more time introducing themselves.”

The other reason, he says, is that what the company finally needs is sales. “Getting a lead is what they need to do, but it’s not what I’m after.”

How To Keep the Best
Canvassers will come and go no matter what you pay. You can slow that outflow, Thompson says, by showing recruits “stepping stones” to greater earnings and further levels of responsibility. That way, he points out, you retain the 10% who are potential leaders. He suggests that you:

1) Create a multi-tier system for managing crews, teams, and the overall operation so that canvassers are aware that performance leads to promotion and that “the only way they can be successful is if they help other people be successful,” Thompson says.

2) Learn by doing. Entry-level training should be one week, with trainees going in the field their second day to observe and to do an introduction. On the third day they can take over a larger part of the presentation. By day five they’re on their own. Since canvassers can get tongue-tied at the door, AAA uses pictures to train them on how to spot curling and discolored shingles, windows that haven’t been replaced, peeling siding, and so on. That gives them something they can use when they walk up to the house and start a conversation.

3) Establish firm benchmarks. Canvass King’s Thompson says that a canvasser should be able to knock on 18 to 22 doors an hour, which might produce eight qualified people to pitch to. “Out of the eight, you should get one lead,” he says. AAA expects canvassers to set a lead every two hours “and of those we expect 80% to become appointments,” Slicko says, adding that the company closes 25% of canvassing leads. —Jim Cory is a contributing editor to REMODELING who is based in Philadelphia.