Credit: Photo: Marek Kolankiewicz

You have the name and address of someone who has an interest in your company's products or services. How far out should you schedule an appointment?

Here's the obvious answer: As soon as possible. The longer you wait, the greater the chance that the prospect will: a) buy from someone else; b) cancel; c) fail to be home when the rep arrives.

“The further you set them out,” notes Sven Johnson, marketing manager for True North Home Systems, in Kennebunk, Maine, “the more likely it is that they'll cancel.” Often because one spouse forgot to tell the other about the appointment.

Johnson's rule: “We never set anything out more than five days.” Recently, True North Home Systems experimented with two-week sets, and the result was “a rash of cancellations.”

AT YOUR CONVENIENCE For many reasons, it's not always possible to set a lead within 24 to 48 hours, though that's the first preference of many home improvement companies, including Miller Custom Exteriors, in Fredericksburg, Ohio. At Miller, where 50% of business is repeat/referral, “my philosophy is dictated by the customer and his or her timetable,” president Lorin Miller says. When past customers or people who have been referred to the company call, Miller says, they generally “have gotten to the point where they're ready to make a decision.” Set an appointment too far out and you risk having that interest evaporate or go elsewhere.

Miller notes that scheduling the original rep for that repeat or referral call will strengthen an existing relationship. But whether the calls originate in the company's marketing program or from past customers, Miller says he finds it wise never to schedule them out more than a week in advance.

REMEMBER ME? When it comes to setting appointments, different lead sources call for different levels of urgency. Almena Faux, outside sales and event manager for P.J. Fitzpatrick suggests setting canvassing leads no more than three days out. But, she says, show/event leads — a big source of business for the New Castle, Del., company — can be more flexibly handled.

The company's policy is to set leads at the event, using a whiteboard posted in the booth. That, Faux says, “shows people that we have high demand and an extensive waiting list,” making it more likely that they will be comfortable waiting anywhere from five days to two weeks for an appointment.

But, Faux points out, failing to maintain contact with the prospect in the interim risks a lost lead. Three contacts — letter, phone call, and personal e-mail — keep prospects committed. The importance of following up is “another reason to get e-mail addresses and second phone numbers,” Johnson points out, and to set appointments at the event rather than during the week that follows.