The phone rings. A customer requests an appointment. The person in your office answering the phone asks: “How did you hear about us?”

The answer will improve the quality of the lead and determine how well your lead sources work. Here’s the problem: Prospects’ recall is often vague, and with the barrage of media in their lives, it’s getting harder for them to recall. “They may give you an erroneous answer just because they don’t want to be caught not having an answer,” says Brian Brock, general manager of Hullco Exteriors, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Phone Probes

Dedicated phone numbers or URLs attached to specific ads via landing pages identify what immediately prompted the contact. So can a required field in the contact form on your website.

Four Seasons, the national sunroom franchiser, which drives customers to its website through magazine ads, points them toward identifying an actual publication once they arrive at the site via a drop-down box listing all the magazines where its ads run. To track Web searchers arriving at its site, Four Seasons uses Google analytics to quantify searches by keyword combination, notes its vice president, Peter Allen.

But to pinpoint the information source, “handling the phone call is still more important than anything else,” home improvement marketing and sales expert Rick Menendez says. His advice: Respond to an unclear answer, or lack of an answer, with a follow-up question, such as, “Where did you most recently see some information about our company?”

Tough Game Getting Tougher

Prospects might have seen your ad or have talked with a customer, then made their way to your website for a phone number. For companies distributing a marketing message through multiple channels, those channels should and do feed into one another.

But, says George Faerber, owner of Bee Window, in Indianapolis, and an Internet marketing expert, “consumers are not keeping track of the multiple places where they saw your ad.” What happens more and more, he says, is that the home­owner watching a TV ad reaches for an iPhone to email the company through its website, making it ever more important to ask how the homeowner heard about you.

But just as important, says Brock, a one-time media salesperson, is to avoid making “knee-jerk” reactions to what customers say. “Get the right message and put your money where you’re reaching people,” he advises.