A few weeks ago, I was going door to door with a new crew of canvassers. The top producer and I were doing a small street of approximately 25 houses. It took almost an hour because we were writing appointments at what seemed like every house.

By the end, I had four appointments and my canvasser had four. Eight appointments out of 25 houses! Now that's fun.

I've had my share of fun getting leads. But most people — if they're honest — are not excited about going door to door. And it's difficult to hire people to do it. That's why traditional hiring methods simply won't work. Hiring canvassers requires a more proactive approach.

I boil my strategy for hiring canvassers down to seven steps:

  • Write ads that sell.
  • Take the ad calls live.
  • Set appointments using good marketing skills.
  • Use the interview to recruit.
  • Make a choreographed job offer.
  • Support the canvasser on their critical first day on the job.
  • Do on-going recruiting.

Now let me elaborate on one key step: taking calls live. It will help you recruit more and better canvassers. WHAT THEY'RE WORTH Not long ago, I was speaking to a group of home improvement company owners. What would happen, I asked, if they stopped answering the phone? What if they let prospects' calls go to voice mail, then returned them when they had time?

Naturally, they looked at me in disbelief. Yet these same owners allowed their managers to run help-wanted ads and let the ad calls go straight to voice mail. On Monday morning, when the phone's ringing from the weekend ad, most canvass managers are at home dreaming about the weekend's festivities. Wake up! You're missing the best opportunity to grow your team.

Those ad calls are much more valuable than any prospect's call. Why? OK, how much is a call-in lead worth? Ten thousand dollars for windows? Thirty thousand for a sunroom? Very few homeowners spend more than $50,000 with a home improvement company in the course of a lifetime. The ad call — on the other hand — could well be from someone producing that much business every month.

And I would also argue that the best ad callers are those who call early in the morning — before some marketing managers get to the office. The person calling needs a job and plans on an interview … today.

And don't assume that every applicant will leave a message. The best know they're unlikely to get a return phone call. Their best chance is to wait and call back in the hope of catching the decision-maker at his or her desk. So they call the next ad and the next one — until they find someone “home.” Letting ad calls go to voice mail is the perfect method for eliminating the best people.

GET BACK QUICK Most managers don't do a good job getting back to callers. Returning calls is time-consuming. Most canvass managers pick and choose, calling only those applicants who sounded best. Hint: Canvassers don't need to sound good over the phone.

In any case, the most time-efficient and cost-effective way of getting through the ad calls is fielding the calls as they come in. The person on the other end of that call could be your next superstar. —Ed Antle is president of Sudden Impact Marketing. While the marketing director of a $27 million home improvement company, he developed canvassing, direct mail, and event marketing programs that produced more than 100 leads a day at a cost of 12.6% over a 10-year period.