You work hard — and pay big bucks — to get the phone to ring. But that's only a small step toward making a sale. Once callers respond to directmail, television and radio commercials, and every other seductive measure that you use, you need to handle them with care.

“The first impression of anyone's company is the most important,” saysPaul Despenas, vice president of marketing for Midwest Construction & Supply, aMason City, Iowa window and siding replacement company. Forthat reason, and to make sure that lead sources are tracked, the company hasa script for inbound calls. Key to determining the lead source is the question: “Dida friend or relative refer you?” Callers aren'trushed into next-day appointments; instead, the date is set for three tofour days out.

Personal Touch While many companies carefully script warm-call reception, Alure Home Improvements, EastMeadow, N.Y., prefers to use what marketing director Seth Selesnow says is more of an outline than a script. “That allows the call-taker'spersonality to shine on the phone,” he says, which helps createa relationship. No matter what, though, the first question is how the callerheard about the company. “That is vital information as we reevaluatethe budget and put advertising dollars where they perform the best,” Selesnow explains. The company also quickly checks that the servicethe caller wants is something it can provide: Alure Home Improvements limitsits kitchen and bath work to Long Island, but its Owens Corning BasementFinishing System franchise covers a much broader area.

“Help me understand what you want,” is part of the script at thecall center for Renewal by Andersen/Colorado, co-owner Randy Shepherd says. Follow-upquestions include asking how old the home is, whether the needis for a window replacement, and what type of window is in place. Because thecompany plans to do e-mail marketing, those who take warm calls also requestthe homeowner's e-mail address.

Qualify Carefully As important as what to say is what not to say. “Our company policy isnot to pre-qualify over the phone,” says Lorrie Klemons, co-owner ofArchadeck of Charlotte in North Carolina. “We consider every phone calland every customer vital to the success of the company.”

While some contractors firmly believe that you need to qualify callers, Despenasargues that “if they respond to your ad or marketing, they're agood lead right there.”

If the caller is female, “it's taboo in our company to ask, ‘Willyour husband be there?'” Shepherd says. Although the contractordoes ask if there's anybody else who would want to take part in the process, itwill set one-legged appointments. Ferreting out home values isn't partof the script, either.

Phones don't ever ring in response to the big direct-mail piece from MelaniBros., in Yorktown, Va. — but that's all right, because the company promotesa sweepstakes. Homeowners send in entries with their contact information, andthe contractor's 15-person call center follows up to thank them — andto offer a free estimate.