Before you get to sip the cider, you have to harvest some apples. It's somewhat like nurturing and converting leads. Badly handled, they rot in wormy piles. And just like that old cliche about a few bad apples spoiling the bunch, a few poorly performing lead sources throw your marketing costs way out of line. So here's a system for organizing your marketing efforts into what I call the "Four Trees of Conversion."

1. Generation
Start with the generation tree. Here we measure our ability to convert prospects into appointments. Begin by setting a minimum standard for conversion rate in each lead source. In canvassing, for instance, this should be one raw lead per hour. In TV, x raw leads per commercial. And so on. Use these standards to identify any deviation and manage it. If that canvasser, for instance, isn't hitting target, then re-train. If your commercial is a dud, move it to a different time or station to better connect with your audience.

2. Confirmation
Now move to the tree of confirmation. Here's where you convert raw leads into confirmed appointments that will be assigned and issued. An inbound lead source — yard sign calls, for example — should confirm at a high percentage, say 80% to 90%. Outbound leads generated by your aggressive marketing effort (canvassing, cold-call telemarketing, etc.) will confirm at maybe 50%. In every case, you need a profitable benchmark for each specific lead source. When the numbers drop away, climb that tree and take a look around. Sit with your confirmer, listen to recorded calls, figure out where the breakdown is taking place. Then get back on track.

3. Conversion — Appointments Into Demonstrations
The third tree focuses on converting confirmed appointments into demonstrations. Naturally, salespeople get more pushback on outbound leads, where your demonstration rate should be between 65% and 75%, compared with 85%+ for inbound. Don't make the mistake of expecting outbound to convert at the same rate as inbound — if you do, you're asking for a lot of stress. Homeowners who are not in the market for our products at the moment get irritated with lengthy, invasive confirmation calls. Get the information you need, and train reps in building value and interest.

4. Conversion — Demonstrations Into Sales
The last tree is your demonstration-to-sales conversion. Have a system in place to measure how many product demonstrations become signed contracts. Have another system to train for skill development. Upgrade regularly. Your company's life depends on it. If your demo rate or closing numbers don't meet your standard, sit in on training sessions, make unannounced trunk inspections to examine all samples and collateral materials, and schedule a ride-along with sales reps to see what's happening with those leads you worked hard to create.

If your standards aren't met, take immediate action. Employees don't get better on their own. And don't bark up the wrong tree. If your sales are off because you don't have enough leads, direct your attention to the marketing department. If demo and close rates are down, call a meeting with the sales department.

You put a business model in place to achieve a certain sales and profitability outcome. These metrics — the four trees — tell you, day by day, hour by hour, how efficiently your model is working and how and where you need to improve staff performance. Now go shake a tree.

—Sales and marketing consultant Tony Hoty has been a home improvement company salesperson and owner. Reach him at or 888.447.3969.