You have a lead and you think you're set to sell. You may be, but there's a lot you can do to increase the likelihood that the prospect — your future customer — buys from you. What you know about him, her, or them can aid you in matching your product or service to their particular want or need. So how do you go about finding out what you need to know to sell them?

First there's the matter of where the lead comes from. Lots of people in home improvement selling say that the lead source doesn't matter; a lead is a lead is a lead. On one level, that's true. No matter what the source, you should try your best to sell the lead. But, on the other hand, the source of the lead is important because it tells you where that client currently is in the buying cycle.

Say it's a referral lead or even a certain kind of Internet lead. That shows a prospect who is very interested, in terms of a buying decision. With a referral lead, for instance — especially the referral who calls you — all the things that your marketing seeks to tell people (how fair your company's pricing is, how professional your people are, etc.) have already been communicated to that prospect by your past client.

A canvass lead, on the other hand, could vary, depending on how the canvassing is done. It's a good idea for the lead sheet for canvass leads to specify the customer's level of interest. Is the homeowner very interested in getting work done? Are they possibly looking to get something done sometime this year?

If you have a one- or two-person salesforce, you may even want to color code your leads to prioritize them. Put hot leads — referral, repeat, Internet — on green paper, lukewarm leads on blue paper, and least-inclined-to-buy leads on red paper. (But be aware that if you're running a larger salesforce you don't want to do this because your sales reps will be thrashing around like piranha for those green leads.)

CHECK THINGS OUT In home improvement, the customer is the customer but it's finally the house that you're working on. There's a lot you can find out about that house without setting foot on the property. Satellite technology — sites such as and Google — let us look at a building from some remote place, so you see the home before you get there.

In less than half an hour you can get a strong sense of the condition of the home's exterior, whether or not there's a lot of brick, and the general condition of the house. If that sounds a little intrusive, remember that your prospects are using online sources to find out about your company, too. The least you could do is to use online sources to find out about their property and needs before the appointment. But be smart. Don't pull those photographs out in the middle of the sales call or the prospect will think you're stalking them.

When arriving at the prospect's home, allow yourself time to see the neighborhood first. There are two things it can tell you. The first is the range of houses, from upper-end to lower-end. People today are far more aware of what they might get for their house if they were to sell it. Owners of upper-end homes may not be as willing to invest in them. Those in the lower-end homes, on the other hand, may have more flexibility when it comes to investing because they'll probably get a solid return.

The other thing to note is the age of the neighborhood. If you're in a nice neighborhood with homes that are 15 to 20 years old, those homes are ready for home improvement.

CONDITION OF THE PROPERTY When you get to the address, the first thing to do is to look at the landscaping. Is it professionally done or did the homeowner do it himself? Is there a mower in the garage or is someone paid to come and cut the grass? The homeowner who does his own landscaping tends to be more frugal and tends to do other things himself, too — he may even be collecting information and advice from you that he can use as a do-it-yourselfer.