When outbound telemarketing became passé for most companies, many intensified their use of print ads, direct mail, TV, radio, and events. This saturated some ad mediums and created more competition for the same home improvement prospect.

With lead costs in many markets averaging 12% to 20%, marketing has become a scary proposition. Companies that attempt to turn the situation around by using techniques with which they're not familiar run great risks. The costs can be staggering. Add to this the problem of spoiled salespeople demanding quality leads.

Canvassing crews are one option. These consist of scripted college students working in designated neighborhoods, bonused for lead production —not sales — and all the while supervised by a team leader who furthers the team goals. It requires great structure in both development and facilitation. There are more than 50 components to a sound canvassing program where leads are being developed for 10% or less.

Your 2005 marketing plan should include methods to teach and control self-generated leads, develop more referrals, and cultivate new and experimental lead sources that are also affordable. Work toward a budget that gets your fully loaded marketing costs below 15% rapidly and closer to 10% eventually. Boost your set rate by developing skills for lead intake (scripting) and a confirmation process that increases in-home presentation but doesn't offend your customer. Effective lead distribution and control requires efficient use and the return of the lead within established time parameters. Rehashing programs need updating too. Leads that salespeople couldn't present or sell need to be reworked. Again, that requires scripting.

The major shift required involves changing the attitude and business plan of management, developing a new mindset for salespeople, and then exercising continued diligence when evaluating budgets and expenditures for leads. It's a plateful for most, a painful transition for many, but it's a workable response to the lead challenge for 2005. —Dave Yoho (www.daveyoho.com) is president of the oldest and largest consulting group serving the home improvement industry. For additional information phone 703.591.2490.