A homeowner saw or heard the ad your company ran for windows on a Sunday morning. They called your office. No one was there and the phone system invited that prospect to leave a voice mail. The prospect decided, for whatever reason, not to bother. Isn't this what every owner dreads? All their efforts are gone at the click of a phone.

Prospects hang up for several reasons. They might be irritated at not reaching an actual human voice. (Even reaching an automated attendant during business hours could turn off a prospect.) They might have gotten cold feet, and decided to postpone talking to anyone about new windows. They may have simply been distracted by something. The reasons are not that important.

What's important is that you spent marketing dollars to make that customer contact happen, and it didn't happen. Typically, these callers are not referral or repeat people because previous customers or referrals would most likely call during office hours or would leave a message. They're probably people responding to your marketing campaigns.

Work the List

So what happens now? Caller ID provides you with a list of all the calls you received and the duration of each call. If the call lasted less than 30 seconds, the caller probably hung up. If you lease an 800 number to track and record calls from different lead sources, it's easy to spot the hang-ups in your list of calls. They're so brief that a recording of the call didn't take place, thus you'll know it's a definite missed call. Better yet, if you can scrub these missed calls against your existing database, you'll know for sure where they are in your selling cycle. In either case, you have their number.

How many times does this happen — a few times a day, more on weekends? It depends on the size of the company and the types of promotions it does.

You can write these calls off, or you can follow up and turn them into leads. Either way, you've already invested a certain amount of money to get to the point where someone's calling you. And you'd be amazed at how many will turn into appointments when someone from your company calls them back.

When they do make that call, here are some pointers:

• Script the call. Don't just hand a list of phone numbers to someone in the phone room or the office and tell them to find out if the people want an estimate. Delegate the job to someone who is familiar with what's required. This takes finesse.

• Start the call by saying: "This is ______ from _______ Home Improvement. I'm returning a phone call from someone at this number who just dialed our office (or "called our office on Saturday afternoon"). We're sorry that we missed your call."

• Be sincere. When you call the homeowner back, you want them to know that their call was important, regardless of the reason.

• Speak slowly. They may be on the defensive, and talking fast will only confuse or irritate.

• Find out what the purpose of their call was and close the conversation with an either/or question: "I wanted to see if this was a customer service request or if you were interested in our product?"

People Skills

Retrieving hang-ups and converting them into appointments is a teachable skill. You don't know who you're calling. And not just anyone can make the call. But a seasoned caller, with a script, who speaks slowly and is sincerely apologetic, can get a conversation going and can convert this misunderstanding into an appointment.

Calling hang-ups probably won't be your priority. If you have a list of new leads, by all means, make those calls first. But since you've already spent the money to make a customer inquiry happen, doesn't it make sense to have a system or controls in place that increases the productivity of your marketing investment? Make it a practice to call back the hang-ups and you'll see how easily a raw lead can turn into a real lead.

—Sven Johnson has run the marketing departments at two large New England home improvement companies over the past 15 years. Reach him at svenj174@gmail.com; 207.450.1042; or view his LinkedIn profile. http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=40326495&locale=en_US&trk=tab_pro