Twenty years ago, when he was just getting his home improvement business off the ground, Ken Moeslein didn't think twice about running one-leggers — i.e., sales calls where just one of two or more decision-makers is present.

“We'd run anything,” recalls Moeslein, CEO of Legacy Remodeling in Pittsburgh. Today, with sales in excess of $6 million, Moeslein is far more selective. “At this stage of our company's life cycle, we discourage one-leggers every chance we get,” he says. Yet 5% of its leads end up being one-leggers. And the company runs them.

DEAD-END LEADS Some, but not all, home improvement companies flat-out refuse to schedule a one-leg appointment. One-legs who sign a contract are far more likely to rescind. If they don't rescind, they're more likely to alter the design and product specs as other owners enter the picture. A one-leg call often wastes time, generates administrative expense, and may demoralize reps. So why would any home improvement contractor even think about running such leads? Simple: They don't want to pass on the prospect who might prove to be a saleable lead, then or later.

American Siding & Window Systems, in Urbandale, Iowa, doesn't set one-leggers, says Pat Pagano, vice president of sales, “but we do run them.” Which means that if the person who insisted that he or she was the sole homeowner turns out not to be, reps may demo the product anyway. When handled well, Pagano says, “we've sold a lot of leads like that.”

That's the problem. One-leggers can be either a dead end or a potentially profitable call. The trick, owners say, is to train reps to recognize and manage the variety of situations that go by the name “one-legger” because, whether you refuse to call on them or not, one-leggers are and will continue to be a fact of life in the home improvement business, and some will slip through the net of your appointment-setting procedure.

BUILT-IN OBJECTION For sales reps, a one-leg's biggest negative, apart from the possibility of rescission, is its powerful, built-in objection to the sale. “On a sizeable project it is nearly impossible to close a one-legger because they have an absolute out: the excuse that they have to talk it over with the other party,” says Kim Blake, owner of All-Weather Window, Doors & Siding, in Mission, Kan. “That's tremendously hard to overcome,” he adds.

Many major home improvement projects are complex and involve multiple options and selections, such as glass packages or siding color and trim. They also cost more than homeowners are used to spending. Homeowners aren't experts on these matters and often can barely understand what's contained in an estimate, let alone reasonably compare the details of different proposals from different companies. More often than not, presenting to one party and leaving that party with a proposal sets the stage for misunderstanding. The result: frustrated salespeople and unhappy homeowners.

“When two people see the presentation,” says Jerry Rott, of Wm. C. Rott & Sons in Tonawanda, N.Y., “they can compare notes, ask more questions, and remember more of what's said.” They can also agree to make an informed decision.

At Legacy Remodeling, reps who go on one-leg calls are trained to determine, when they reach the house, whether or not there is truly an interested buyer. If there is, the rep proceeds with the full sales presentation. If not, he or she might measure, then schedule a subsequent visit, meanwhile leaving behind product information.

FLEXIBILITY IS THE BEST POLICY The term “one-legger” covers several situations. Most often, though, it's the party that insists that although the home is jointly owned, he or she has the right to make a buying decision. Or it's the caller who claims to be single, but isn't. Should you set these as two-leg appointments? In many cases yes, contractors advise, since you can't force people to be there and you need to take homeowners at their word.