A recent article in The New York Times suggests that phone calls are a fading form of social interaction. Far-fetched? It depends on the prospect's age and level of technical sophistication. But marketing experts agree that e-mail is the most legitimate, effective way to stay in touch with prospects. “Consider it as valuable, if not more so, than a phone number,” says Mark Waldeck, owner of Brave New Markets, a Maryland marketer that plans campaigns for home improvement companies, as well as other clients.

KEY PIECE OF INFORMATION Waldeck is among many marketing experts who contend that an e-mail address is the single most important piece of information you can get from or have about a prospect. That's because it allows you to reach out and build interest in your product over time, delivering message after message of your choosing.

So, how do you get e-mail addresses from prospects? You can give them something in exchange, such as a free downloaded report on replacing windows or a home improvement newsletter. But as enticing as that may be, “the No.1 way is a sweepstakes,” says Todd Bairstow, president of Internet marketing company Keyword Connects.

In fact, many home improvement companies advertise some kind of drawing on their home page. Bairstow says that many home improvement companies don't necessarily like sweepstakes leads, but the point is to generate names (and e-mail addresses) of people who are somewhere in the buying cycle and to reach them regularly with your message. When they're ready to buy, yours is the company that comes to mind.

Other features on your home page that may persuade visitors to send you their e-mail address include live chat or links to social media that you subscribe to.

RELEVANT & PERSONAL The other way to add e-mail addresses is to collect them on every contact form and in every phone conversation with prospects. The best way? Ask. “We tell them we need [an e-mail address] when we set the appointment,” says Shane Schuckman, co-owner of Renewal by Andersen Las Vegas/Phoenix. He explains that the company will send a bio of the rep who will be coming out on the appointment. “We get it nine out of 10 times.”

Tom Higgins, owner of Superior Products, in Denver, always asks for e-mail addresses, whether at shows or events or when he's in the home presenting. He explains that he won't sell the prospect's e-mail and that the messages will be “relevant and personal.”