Sales representatives in the home improvement industry are often decried as “lead babies” by company owners, who lament the reps' failure to prospect or to properly appreciate the “free” leads they get from the company. Two years ago, EuroTech in Bensenville, Ill., decided to find a way around that problem by requiring sales recruits to canvass as part of their training.

“It started out as a few days of canvassing, along with their training,” says Fred Finn, president of the siding and window company. A few days grew to a week, a week to two weeks. “Each time we lengthened it, it got better,” Finn says. Recruits spend half the day knocking on doors, the other half learning sales skills and product knowledge.

Candidates for sales jobs at EuroTech are informed in the interview process that canvassing will be part of their training. Some have walked out of interviews. Finn's response? “I'd rather they do that,” he says, “than blow off three of their first six leads because they had to drive too far.” EuroTech had no prior canvassing program. The bulk of its business comes from store and TV leads. But lead generation was not the motive. The canvassing part of sales training, Finn says, served to filter out candidates less than fully committed. It's a test of character.

The company's sales manager takes recruits out in a van each day, and Finn advises that the sales manager needs to be willing to knock on some doors himself.

“We get good leads out of it and we make good money out of it,” Finn says. “But at the end of the week, I want my sales manager to know who these people are.”

Value of a Lead Finn credits the program for increasing salesforce longevity. But another reason for it was to teach reps the value of a lead. Reps' indifference to their leads is a source of frustration to many company owners. Ed Augustine, president of Paramount Builders in Virginia Beach, Va., says that in his company's telemarketing days, sales trainees would be sent to the phone room to work a shift. Now reps with low demo rates are sent back out with the company's canvassing teams. “When you knock on 200 doors to get one person to set a lead with you,” he says, “that'll make you think twice about showing up late, or with food on your tie.”