Are you still telemarketing to generate business? Lots of companies are. Cold calling remains a major lead source at home improvement operations of all sizes. And many companies that once relied on cold calling for leads have converted the phone to “warm call” uses. They contact past customers seeking repeat business or referrals. They get in touch with contacts gleaned at shows, events, or SFI kiosks. Or they use the phone to call recipients of direct mail pieces.

This is where it gets tricky. Right now, almost 63 million people have placed their numbers on the Federal Trade Commission's national do-not-call registry. Call them anyway and you could be cited and fined — up to $11,000 per violation. So far, consumers have reported 450,000 violations. Filing a complaint is as simple as visiting the government's Web site ( or calling a toll-free number. Enforcement is intensifying.

If you plan to continue to use the phone, be aware of several important regulations. First, there's the Three-Month Inquiry Rule. You have three months to contact someone who's made an inquiry about your services. If that contact becomes a customer, you have 18 months after the last transaction to call them, according to the 18-Month Last Transaction Rule. You must update your database every three months with new names from the government registry. (That'll change to every month, starting January 1.) You also have to maintain an internal DNC list that consists of people who've specifically requested that you not call them.

One other thing: Referrals aren't exempt. You can't call a referral if that person's name is on the registry.

Many companies have successfully adapted to these rules. And many have moved marketing dollars into media. But the best alternative to telemarketing seems to be face-to-face lead gathering — shows, events, SFI, and canvassing. (By the way, you should always get a signed form, giving you permission to call.)

Cold call telemarketing will fade. And that's not necessarily a bad thing: The customer who's interested in your product is a lot more inclined to buy than the randomly dialed homeowner whose dinner just got interrupted.