By David H. Martin

If ever a lead generation technique wore out its welcome, it’s door knocking. Once a staple of virtually every water treatment dealership, “knocking on doors” fell out of favor gradually as more and more families became dual wage-earner units, leaving nobody home during the week.

Now, few dealers do it. But, just maybe, you should take another look. Since the national do-not-call list made it impossible to reach millions of potential customers by phone (see WQA legal counsel Michael Sennett’s article in this issue), some companies in other industries are returning to an old-fashioned alternative—”door knocking” for leads.

So far, door-to-door sales appear limited to certain businesses including (ironically) telecommunications. While it might not be as effective as telemar-keting, face-to-face lead generation could make sense, if you do it selectively, as a part of your marketing mix. SEC Communications started a test of door-to-door sales in the U.S. several months ago. Plus, AT&T made door-to-door part of its marketing mix several years ago.

Going door-to-door has its limitations because it’s expensive and inefficient, says Walter Janowski, an analyst for the Gartner Group in Stamford, Conn. “It would be difficult for anyone to do it on a significant scale,” says Janowski. But for some companies, door-to-door canvassing has always been a staple.

Kirby vacuum cleaners have always been sold face-to-face since the company started 90 years ago. “The company doesn’t do any telemarketing,” says Rob Shumay, Kirby’s vice president for consumer relations in Cleveland. “We knock on doors and set up appointments. If we call back, we always do so with signed permission to call.”

Being creative and selective
Make door-knocking part of your referral program. On the day an installation is scheduled at a residence, drop off gallon bottles of drinking water system product water to neighboring homes. Pre-print a card or “bottlenecker” that announces the neighbor’s installation of home water treatment and invite the recipient to sample the water such as:

“Please accept this sample gallon of quality drinking water with our compliments! We just installed high-quality water improvement equipment in your neighbor’s home—(SPACE FOR CUSTOMER’S NAME AND ADDRESS). If you would like to learn more, please call them at ______________. Or, better yet, please call us to arrange for a free home water analysis.

Before beginning this program in a specific neighborhood, make sure you have the permission of your new customers to use them as direct referrals to their neighbors.

If someone answers the door when you knock, present the “gift” in person and ask them to enjoy the water and add: “Could we call you to see how you liked it? Your neighbor—NAME AND ADDRESS—is enjoying quality water in their home from a system we installed.” If nobody answers, just leave the “gift” with your message attached and leave.

Timing is important. Don’t knock on doors at night. People are naturally wary of unannounced night visitors. The best time to knock is Saturday mornings. The second best time is late afternoon on any day before suppertime.

Make your goals realistic
Don’t try to accomplish too much in a cold call. Just make friends. Your main goal is to introduce yourself in person, if at all possible. Don’t expect to be invited in when they answer the door. Don’t expect to make a sales pitch on specific equipment. Don’t even expect to set an appointment on the spot. The idea is to meet and “qualify” them, and to set up a next visit. Ask two or three “qualifying” questions, if they give you time. Qualifying questions may include the following:

  • “Does your home have quality water for drinking and bathing?”
  • “Would you try this gift of quality water and let us phone you to see how you liked it?”
  • “Your neighbors have one of our systems. Can we tell you about it?”

Define the next step
If you follow the above line of questions, your next steps will be obvious:

  1. Secure the home or work phone number of the prospect.
  2. Make a follow-up call within three days.
  3. Schedule an in-home appointment.
  4. Secure the appointment with the promise of a “free home water analysis.”
  5. Encourage the prospect to talk with your customer, who lives in the neighborhood, before the day of the appointment.

You thought door knocking was dead? Think again. And telemarketing isn’t dead either. In spite of the national do-not-call list, many experts see a silver lining for telemarketers who are willing to work from a smaller, more selective list. Most of the people who have placed their names on the list would never buy anything over the phone, or for the home, anyway. Many of them just don’t want to be bothered in the sanctity of their homes. That’s all right. Don’t worry about them, and don’t call them.

The good news is the “self selection” process may leave telemarketers a much richer pool of prospects that don’t mind being called. “In the past,” says Janowski, “where a telemarketer might have to make, say, 50 calls to find a good prospect, it might now take only 20.”

Two key rules to remember
Whether you generate leads from door knocking, telemarketing, home shows or direct mail—or any combination of these or additional methods—maintain the following two disciplines:

  1. Separate suspects from prospects—Too many advertising/promotion dollars, and too much time, are spent on people who will never buy. Unless your lead generation program weeds these people out, it’s not working effectively. The media you select, the offers you make, your creative strategy, and even your tone all play key roles in drawing out high potential prospects and screening out suspects.
  2. Sell “the next step” harder than you sell your product or service—The whole objective of lead generation programs is to begin the sales process, not to complete it. Your initial effort should push for action on the next step—getting more information, a free sample, a free analysis, etc. Once you have qualified prospects, you can concentrate on a full presentation of product benefits, features and applications.

Lead generation is everybody’s job from service personnel to salespeople. You can generate leads on the Internet, through advertising, home shows, direct mail, telemarketing, and even old-fashioned door knocking. Never rely on just one technique to develop leads—use two or three. And never forget that your best source for new leads is from customer referrals.

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, email: [email protected] or website:



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