Your front line is connected to your bottom line. That means, while the "selling" process may culminate with the final invoice, it begins with the incoming call. On the other hand, your sale could end there too. And you may not even realize it.

I speak to many contracting companies in a week, and my phone calls are handled with everything from 5-star hotel quality service to salvage-yard rudeness. Please be warned that your hourly wage person may be costing you $150 an hour in sheer attitude, ineptitude, or ruditude (I made that last one up, but I’m sure you know what I mean).

How are your incoming calls handled at your company? The results can be surprising. A research firm made 2,000 calls to businesses asking, "How much is your (product) or (service)?" just to see what type of reaction was elicited. Here's the results:

  • 79% never asked for the callers’ name (A fast way to bankruptcy. If the only thing in your database is "sold" customers, you’re not giving the "unsold" ones a chance to get there!)
  • 86% never asked for the phone number or address (And how did you plan on recontacting them? Do you care where your leads are coming from?)
  • 38% gave out some prices and hung up after the caller said "thank you" (If you want to change your service from "price-driven" to "value-based," you’d best inform your call handler how to do this!)
  • 44% gave the price and other information, but made no effort to arrange an appointment (These call handlers apparently felt this was the customer’s responsibility!)
  • 52% took more than six rings to answer the phone, and a full 28% put the caller on hold for more than two minutes (Truly, truly disappointing.)

Knowing what’s going on in your company is the difference between profit and pitfall. For example, a gentleman called me to complain about the results he was getting from an ad we'd created. Too many "price shoppers" were calling him, and he wanted to weed those out. Plus, he said, many of the callers were such lousy prospects they didn’t even ask for an appointment.

A little research found that what happened after the call ruined results. The conversations went something like this:

Caller 1: "Hi, I saw your ad about the 'Trade In' and wondered if you could tell me how much you can give me for my window unit."
Receptionist: "We don’t trade in window units."
Caller 1: "Oh, okay. Thanks anyway."
-- Click.

Caller 2: "Hello. I wanted to get a quote on a repair. Maybe on a new system. I don’t know what all I might need!" (Laughs.)
Receptionist: "We don't give quotes over the phone." (Doesn’t laugh.)
Caller 2: "Well. What do you give?"
Receptionist: "I can send someone out for an estimate. But I can't give it over the phone."
Caller 2: "Thanks, anyway."
-- Click.

Do you see what’s going on here? The non-existent help from the receptionist killed any hope of lead-capturing and perhaps that of future calls from these now-disgruntled prospects.

On the first call, frankly, your company should have been willing to trade in a leaky aquarium if it results in a system sale. Does it really matter? Your job is to get the info and set the appointment.

On the second call, a friendly, half-scared prospect calls who admits to be in need and was thwarted from their simple request for information. In both situations, a sale ended with the incoming phone call. And yet, this easy solution for either call could get you on your way: "Sure, we’d love to come out. Let me get some information from you to start."

Get contact info first, then say, "Our specialist really needs to come take a look. You wouldn’t think much of a doctor who diagnosed you over the phone, and we can’t do that either! We want to be sure. Now is Wednesday afternoon or Thursday mid-day better?" The appointment is gathered, and the sales process is underway.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson Ink, a contractor marketing firm. He’ll be conducting a marketing seminar a HVAC Comfortech 2007 on September 26-29 in St. Louis. His company offers turn-key marketing solutions for contractors for lead generation, image, branding, publishes newsletters and offers Monthly Marketing Coaching. Call 800/489-9099, or fax to 334/262-1115, to request a free 16-page report called "Get More Leads in Less Time" or visitwww.hudsonink.com.