A year and a half ago, Sven Johnson, marketing manager at TrueNorth Home Systems, in Kennebunk, Maine, analyzed one month's worth of calls made by the company's six-person call center. He found that roughly 10,000 calls were made, but that just 17% of contacts were actually reached by phone, and that when contacts were reached, it took an average of nine calls to do so.

Many home improvement companies that use a phone room to process contacts through to the lead-setting stage are arriving at the same conclusion: It's not easy to reach people. “Which is another reason to get e-mail addresses and second phone numbers,” Johnson says. At the moment, TrueNorth Home Systems scripts demonstrators at shows and events to book appointments on the spot. Such “interactive appointment setting” is a policy that other companies have also gone to, or are at least considering.

A TIME AT THAT TIME Troy Marshall, owner of Marshall Roofing, in Lorton, Va., says that, at shows and events, company demonstrators used to collect names and contact information for appointment-setting callbacks. Then he realized that less than half the names collected became confirmed appointments. Other companies at shows advised him to set appointments on the spot. “Now we bring our schedule with us,” Marshall says, “and we block out the following week for show appointments. We offer them a time at that time.”

P.J. Fitzpatrick Inc., a roofing, siding, and window company in New Castle, Del., brings its whiteboard to home shows, sets appointments on the show floor, and fills in blank spots as appointments are set. That, says marketing manager Almena Faux, creates a sense of urgency.

THRESHOLD OF SUCCESS P.J. Fitzpatrick's canvassers also set the lead at the door, when possible. Many companies that canvass are learning to do the same. “We train [cavassers] to ask for the appointment, and to call the office,” says Mike Damora, sales manager at Morris Window & Siding, in Ledgewood, N.J. “They hand their cell phone to the homeowner and put them through to the call center.”

Damora says that the company is able to set somewhere between 33% to 42% of interested homeowner contacts that way. The remainder are turned over to the call center, where approximately a third become set leads. “It's not because they're blowing us off, but because we can't reach them,” he points out. Calls to land lines so often prove fruitless that many companies now ask prospects for e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers.

But not all companies have changed their policy. “We will get a general idea of when the prospect is looking to see us,” says David Goodman, vice president of Windowizards, in Bristol, Pa. “We keep them in the pipeline.”