Thinking about canvassing? Or maybe your company already had a crew in the field but they didn't generate as many leads as you expected and the whole thing kind of went away. Or maybe your canvassing is great one month but lousy the next. Or you're getting sick of having to find a new canvassing manager every few months and start all over.

Canvassing is not like any other kind of lead source. In most home improvement marketing, leads are inbound. You market and the homeowner gives or sends you his contact information. Canvassing is completely outbound. You go out, find people who might be interested in your product, you get their names and set up a sales appointment. Before your canvasser knocked, the homeowner may not even have known he needed new windows or a new roof.

WHY CANVASSING FAILS If a home improvement company can't get its canvassing effort off the ground, it's going to be for one of five basic reasons.

1. Cultural revolution. Canvassing may be a whole new animal for your company. If you're going to make it work, you first have to commit to canvassing. And not just commit as you, the owner, but commit your company on every level to making canvassing succeed. If you've never done it, or have never succeeded at it, understand first that canvassing success requires a cultural change. You're going out there and aggressively seeking prospects, and those prospects have different expectations and a different understanding of your product and company than those who see your ad on TV and call or who go online and find your website. Your confirmers, marketers, and salespeople all need to be aware of this.

2. Numbers tell the story. Whatever the lead source, you're either making money or you're not. Canvassing can be a solid lead producer, especially compared with lead sources such as television, where consumer response to ads can vary significantly and where your marketing expense or lead cost can fluctuate from month to month.

Canvassing is different. Get your canvassing systems right and you create a predictable lead source that generates a steady flow of customer contacts. But before you launch your canvassing operation, or revamp it, figure out what kind of sales you expect, what kind of profit you want to make, and what your marketing expense will be as a percentage of revenue. Say, for instance, that you expect to generate $1 million in net good sales from canvassing and spend 10% of your revenue on marketing. Now backtrack that to the front end. Figure out how many canvassers it takes to produce x leads per hour, per shift, per day, what percentage of those leads will be issued, and what percentage of issued leads will convert to sales.

Benchmark each stage. What will you pay per hour? And will you offer a demo bonus? (I recommend it.) Now you can prepare a budget, based on how many canvassers you need to have. The majority of the companies I see want a crew of anywhere from three to six canvassers out on a daily basis.

3. Phone home. All your admin people need to do with an inbound lead is check to make sure that the caller qualifies, then schedule the appointment. If they qualify, it's pretty likely that a sales rep will end up getting in front of them. Most of these leads result in a price on the table. (The industry's most efficient companies demo about 80% of their appointments.)

With canvassing leads there is much greater likelihood that the appointment — the raw lead — won't be confirmed or result in a sales appointment and product demonstration the first time out. Maybe 30% of the leads you pull in will result in product presentations the first time around. There's also the ongoing need to reschedule these leads. The way to move that 30% up to 40% or 50% (of raw leads converting to appointments) is by working those leads on the phone. Often people cancel or the spouse kills the appointment. Some may need to be rescheduled two or three times. Someone skilled on the phone will need to re-set many. Without a phone room for follow-up contact, your conversions will fall through the floor.

4. Sales department prep. Your salespeople are used to selling a certain way. The prospect contacted your company and wants to hear about your product and how it might benefit them. Competitors are eager to get a foot in the door.