Salespeople, of course, are more interested in running a lead than in spending time visiting past customers to ensure satisfaction and secure a referral or two. Some home improvement companies feel that salespeople should be required to revisit past clients. Some see that as an uphill struggle requiring incentives. “It's always been a battle in this business to get your salespeople to stay in constant contact with the customer,” says Mark Chaikin, owner of The Window Place, Fairfax, Va. At Patterson Home Improvement, in Jacksonville, Fla., owner Rex Patterson wants salespeople selling. He notes that reps naturally reserve “prime selling time” — 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. — for sales opportunities, and don't want to be spending it with old customers.

Ice Breaker Oliver Shreiber, sales manager at Medallion Home Improvement in Forestville, Md., expects its reps to have “multiple points of contact” with clients, beyond the initial presentation. “But forcing them to do so is a whole other issue,” he points out.

What Medallion does require is that reps deliver a jar of candy to clients when the job is complete. The candy jars are an ice breaker, enabling reps to find out if clients are satisfied, and, if appropriate, to ask for referrals. Schreiber says that in April the company sat 59 of its 68 referral leads, closed 47 of them, and wrote $237,000 worth of business, just from referrals. Medallion has had the candy jar program in place since 1996.

At The Window Place customer satisfaction surveys showed that salespeople weren't contacting customers as often as needed, Chaiken says. To fix the problem, he recently started a bonus plan with the emphasis on homeowner satisfaction scores. These are “absolutely an incentive for them to get the referral business,” he adds. Salespeople are required to visit the customer's home during and after the job. “And if they can't get there, they have to call.”

Relationship Building Patterson says he leaves it to others in the company to follow-up on customer satisfaction, and referrals. “If the company's done a good job, you'll have good rapport from multiple folks who have been on that job.” Patterson Home Improvement is in the process of creating a program — Patterson Rewards Program — that rewards customers with trips for points accumulated.

Schreiber agrees that reps should spend most of their time in the home selling. “But what happens if he gets to that 6 o'clock and it's a no-show? Instead of going home, he should get in the car and go to somebody's house that was just installed, or knock on doors around recent installs.” Still, he concedes, “it depends on the rep. Some reps build deeper relationships than others.”