We've all seen how technology can have a profound impact on the effectiveness of a home improvement salesforce. A well-worn Rand McNally street atlas was once standard issue to a siding salesman. But today, virtually every salesman carries a smartphone. Navigation, text, and voice services support him on the road looking for the next appointment and at the kitchen table going for a phone drop. And for many, the laptop computer, with its dazzling digital flexibility, has replaced the tattered pitch book.

As the millennium has brought forth many useful wonders, many contractors have resisted every new advance as "too complicated for our guys" or "too expensive for our company." But those who embraced the new technologies usually found that the hardware paid for itself in weeks and that they quickly got buy-in from their Luddite veteran salesmen as the tech-savvy rookies posted big numbers.

Yes, we've seen dramatic advances, but we ain't seen nothin' yet. On January 28, 2010 Steve Jobs introduced the iPad. In the two years since, its tectonic impact on our industry has begun to change the landscape.

iPad Early Successes

For those first contractors wise enough to use the iPad at the kitchen table, the increase in closing rate is greater than they experienced moving from pitch book to laptop. It's faster out of the blocks. With a 10-hour battery life and touch-screen navigation, there's no need to plug in anything. Just touch the screen and instantly you're running. The screen size is perfect for two homeowners with a presenter at their side. The content can be as rich and varied as a Hollywood movie; as simple and intimate as a Post-it note. Most important, the content can be adjusted on-the-fly as the homeowner asks questions and reveals objections and concerns. (E.g., if the homeowner is worried about a siding crew damaging her expensive plantings, the salesman touches the thumbnail that calls up a video testimonial of a happy customer standing before a beautifully re-sided house with elaborate plantings. If he encounters price resistance, he calls up a testimonial recounting the careful comparisons of price and value that led to that homeowner's happy decision.

iPad for Leads?

We've found that the iPad can play an important role in lead generation as well. Media advertising has become more fragmented and expensive, and face-to-face lead generation has become more important in home improvement marketing. Canvass, home shows, and retail intercepts in buying clubs or hardware stores all rely on a rep's ability to engage a cold prospect. Even the most successful reps improve their performance when they hand the prospect an iPad and ask a provocative question: "Every wonder why your air conditioner runs long after sunset? Well, let me show you with this animation."

What Next?

As dealers discover the value of the iPad, smart manufacturers will begin to supply digital content along with traditional brochures, hand samples, and pitch books. Video transformation from before to after can add drama to a presentation, and animation can fly the homeowner into the works of a window to watch a patented interlocking checkrail in action.

We've found that a well-crafted app can give compelling clarity to a vague benefit — like saving energy. The salesman enters the particulars of the home, the energy market, and the installation. The iPad delivers a bar graph that projects accumulated savings, a payback date, and shows how the return on investment increases in the long term as energy rates increase. Touch another icon and the app takes that return on investment and presents it as a gilt-edged certificate of deposit — paying 13.23% interest. ("So, would you like to make that investment with a check, credit card, or payments?")

—John Stevens, Peterson|Stevens advertising and marketing. jstevens@petersonstevens.com, 800.270.0911.