A willingness to try new methods is critical to successfully managing your company's lead generation program. REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR asked a number of companies about their most recent lead source, for better or worse.

OUT SOURCED CANVASSING Renee Reed, vice president of marketing for Unique Window & Door, in Indianapolis, is excited about an outsourced canvassing operation known as The Smart Circle. “They're masters at writing leads,” she says. “We had $40,000 in sales off their leads [in one day].”

Unique Window & Door's agreement with The Smart Circle specifies lead criteria, and Unique is free to reject leads that don't meet those criteria. The home improvement contractor pays $95 for each lead it accepts. The current goal, Reed says, is to up the conversion rate, in order to lower costs to about 10%.

DIRECT MAIL, UPSCALE Mark Tiffee, owner of A Cut Above, a window and siding company in Portland, Ore., has been using a direct-mail service called Affluent Portland, with good results. According to its Web site, the marketing company targets homeowners with a household income of $125,000 and above. Compared with the average consumer, Affluent Portland's target market is four times more likely to buy a new car, twice as likely to own stocks, and 82% more likely to own secondary real estate.

COLD WORLD At the beginning of the year, Southern Windows and Siding, in Augusta, Ga., bought a Haines directory of local homes and homeowners — price: $1,800, according to marketing director Brad Codman — and began cold-calling, a practice it had essentially abandoned. “We did $92,000 our first month” from cold-calling leads, he says. The demo rate for cold-call leads is lower, but so are costs, Codman says. “It goes a long way toward offsetting our bigger lead costs, such as newspaper and television,” general manager Charles Gorse says.

WALK, DON'T RUN Theresa Swimme of Swimme and Sons in Elizabeth, N.C., noted that the local mall attracted a large number of retired people who are using the facility for exercise. The mall walkers — older consumers — are exactly the sort who would be interested in sunrooms and gutter protection.

Once a week last fall Swimme and Sons set up a table at the mall to distribute bottled water with the company's logo on it, along with brochures. “We did it for a few months before Christmas,” Swimme says, “then we had to move out for Santa.” Those mall visits generated two jobs. This spring, Swimme and Sons is back at the mall.

WHO'S CALLING? A “complete and utter failure,” is how Dale Brenke, president of Schmidt Siding, in Mankato, Minn., describes his company's experience with an Internet lead supplier. Despite having given the company all the particulars about the area in which Schmidt Siding does business, the leads it would feed him were rarely in his territory. “So now I don't buy them,” Brenke says.

Sven Kramer, general manager of Stanek Windows, in Cleveland, says his company has been hit or miss with Internet pay-per-lead suppliers. Some of the people his warm-call department contacted had never heard of Stanek Windows, Kramer says, or were already in the company's database. Kramer says he has yet to see an “effective” pay-per-lead program in the home improvement industry and believes he knows why: “Why would [prospects] go to the Internet when they could just open the phone book or respond to one of the direct mail pieces they get?”