When it comes to turning raw leads into issued appointments, most home improvement contractors cut right to the chase. “When a prospect calls our office, we book the appointment there and then,” explains Tom Capizzi of Capizzi Home Improvement, Cotuit, Mass. “That is a tremendous time-saver and gives the customer the best possible service.” Play phone tag, he points out, and you run the risk of losing people.

Whenever possible, many companies make that appointment during the initial prospect phone call. That does, of course, depend on where the lead came from, which is typically the first question asked. One East Coast home improvement company, for instance, carefully screens its canvassing leads. “Some people are just looking to get their windows fixed,” the owner explains. “We want to make sure we eliminate all that before we send someone out.”

Information Gathering Setting the appointment is one aim of that first phone call. Qualifying prospects is another. Questions on a lead sheet about budget and scope of work can save the time and expense of calling on people who have no real interest in buying the product. At gutter/gutter cover contractor Austin Gutterman, Austin, Texas, the company often receives calls requesting service. “Sometimes the call comes in because a gutter fell off or someone backed into it with their car,” says owner Bill Frazier. In that case, “it's not a real lead.” Such calls are relayed to the company's service department. Others are pressed for additional information, again with the goal of setting the appointment on the phone.

“We get as many phone numbers as possible,” Frazier says. “We get an e-mail address, if we can, and the receptionist will set up the appointment with a specific salesperson.”

Building the Relationship No sooner do some contractors hang up the phone than they begin building a relationship, as a way of helping to ensure that the appointment results in a signed contract. Austin Gutterman, for example, quickly mails a letter that introduces the company, reviews its history as an established and reputable firm, outlines the products offered, and invites the prospect to visit the company Web site to learn more.

Capizzi Home Improvement mails a booklet and cover letter the same day the prospect call comes in. In addition to offering information about the company's history and products, the package includes a letter and photo introducing the assigned salesperson. “We get a lot of good feedback on that,” Capizzi says.

Many contractors make at least one more contact to reconfirm the appointment, either the night before or on the day of the appointment.

At Austin Gutterman, “the salesperson is required to call the customer the day before the appointment, not the same day,” Frazier says. “That's a personal touch that people seem to appreciate.”