In this age of social media and digital dominance, you might think that when it comes to leads — the lifeblood for contractors — the web would be king. But you’d be wrong.

That’s according to results from the 2015 Remodeling 550, an annual survey of top replacement contractors across the nation. When asked to name the most productive lead generators, those contractors named old horses such as referrals over new-fangled methods such as Angie’s List. Here’s a look at the 10 most productive lead generators and the percentage of contractors who ranked them in each spot:

  1. Referrals: 43%
  2. Previous customers/repeat customers: 32%
  3. Company website/search engine optimization (SEO): 28%
  4. Events/home shows: 27%
  5. Word-of-mouth: 19%
  6. Television/Cable TV: 18%
  7. Door-to-Door Canvassing: 17%
  8. Internet pay-per-click: 13%
  9. Direct mail: 14%
  10. Internet referrals from social media, including places such as Houzz, Angie's List, and Porch: 11%

 The fact that referrals top this list actually shows that these contractors are doing their jobs — and recognizing that successful replacement contracting doesn’t follow the same rules as other business, says Bill McGowan marketing consultant for Save Energy Company.
“What contractors experience is the need for real relationships — not virtual ones,” McGowan said. “When a homeowner is asking someone to work on his or her prize possession, looking someone in the eyes, talking with them in person and shaking their hand is what is ultimately important.”

While that may be true, contractors could be relying too heavily on “old-school” referral methods, says Mike Damora, general manager at K&B Home Remodelers LLC. He said it’s particularly telling that homeshows/events are nearly tied with SEO. “SEO is better than any shows, or event, hands down,” he said. “The challenge is most home improvement firms are skeptical, if not downright ignorant of technology, SEO, review sites and the entire concept of inbound marketing.”

Phil Isaacs, owner of California Energy Consultant Services, says his firm has worked hard to “crack the code” of SEO, hiring an expert and developing a quality website. But he remains frustrated with this lead generator. “I believe there’s more potential than the slow tickle of leads we currently receive.” 

The same is true for social media. Many contractors are leaving a lot of good leads on the table if they simply ignore social media, Isaacs says.

“On a social media platform such as Angie’s List, your company’s reputation has to be on par or slightly better than your competitors,” Isaacs said. “My experience has taught me it takes years to accumulate genuine reviews, awards and to fine-tune other factors such as company profile and other listing enhancements. But eventually, it can become the goose that lays the golden eggs of high quality, frugal leads.”

Still, McGowan contends that there are intangibles social media simply can’t convey — a sentiment contractors seem to share.  

“People like getting a “feeling” — in person — about the people they work with in these situations,” he said. “So interpersonal skills are really the magic potion in replacement contractor work, not social media posting. If you are able to make people feel at ease, show confidence, express empathy, listen well, you’ll get the business and the referrals. What this ultimately says is there is no replacement for good interpersonal skills backed by a job well done.”