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“Back to the Future” With Canvassing

By Rick Grosso, CSP

Years ago when the earth was young and I first started selling home improvements, the standard way to obtain leads was by canvassing door to door. Today, 30 years and a generation later, as they say in the movie “Poltergeist”…”I’m back!”

In the olden days when I learned how to canvass, they taught me to stick my head in the door. That way if the customer slammed the door I could keep talking. Today’s canvass operation has re-emerged with a new face. It is no longer a canvasser working alone or with a closer in the car on a 100 percent commission. Today, many companies have professional canvass departments with a canvass manager whose only responsibility is to hire, train and work in the field with a canvassing team.

Many of the successful canvass operations today work with college and high school students. Some have located their offices close to campuses allowing them to recruit right on campus. The students are allowed to work flextime so that part time work doesn’t interfere with class scheduling. By the way, it has been found that students who engage in canvassing often go on to home improvement sales during the summer breaks, and many have made it their lifetime profession.

The Basics of Successful Canvassing

Typically, the canvass crew will report to the office at 4:00 p.m. Then the manager does about 20 minutes of motivation and recognition of outstanding examples from the previous day. Then they go out in teams of three and four in a car with the manager or a field manager. It is vital that they work together as groups to overcome the negativity, isolation and rejection that they would have to deal with if they were working alone.

Another key to hiring and maintaining a crew is to do away with “Mystery Friday.” (“Mystery Friday” refers to the pay day mystery of wondering, hoping and praying that there is going to be a pay check.) Instead of 100 percent commission, today’s canvassers are generally paid on a salary plus bonus basis, similar to telemarketers. Most companies are paying a base salary of $7 to $8 an hour.

I recommend that the bonus should be on confirmed appointments, not sales. You can expect a good canvasser to produce one confirmed lead an hour. The bonus should be based on leads generated versus hours worked. Here’s an example of a bonus schedule that is fairly typical for today’s canvassers:

Pay Example
$8 per Hour +
1 lead per hour = $10 bonus per lead
1 lead per 2 hours = $7.50 per lead
1 lead per 3 hours = $5 per lead

The easiest and most productive place to begin canvassing is in the area of an existing fence job while it is still under construction. In picking the jobs to canvas around, make sure that the neighborhood meets the demographics of your customer. (That is, age of house and customers, plus income and property values.)

Obviously, you’ll want to make sure the existing customer is happy with the overall look of their new fence and installation and aware that you will be working in the neighborhood. It is also a good idea to offer some type of minor incentive program to the existing customers to notify them of people who stop by and ask questions.

The Approach

Canvassers should be trained to be observant as they walk up to the house. They should notice flowers, lawn, family car and the general condition of the house. This not only gives them clues about potential products, it also brings to mind items of pride and areas of interest to talk about as ‘openers’. Then, have them follow the following sequence:

  1. Always notice the name on the mailbox or doorbell. When you address your prospects by name and tell them that you are working with their neighbor they assume that you were referred, and will give you the courtesy of listening.
  2. “Hi, Mrs./Mr. Smith. I appreciate you coming to the door. I hope I haven’t troubled you. Mrs./Mr. Smith, my name is Rick Grosso and my company is presently installing a privacy fence at your neighbor’s house, the Jones’.” (Now compliment them on something you observed.)
  3. Do not ask them if they would be interested, that will solicit a ‘no-interest’ response. “By looking at your lawn and flowers it’s obvious that you have a lot of pride in your home. Since we are in the neighborhood, we are offering a free, no obligation estimate and presentation of our fence products. I can show you how a fence could enhance the look of your home, provide additional privacy and safety and increase the value of your home. Are both you and your husband home during the day or would evenings be better for both of you?”
  4. Handle objections and close for an appointment. If you are not able to get an appointment, ask for referrals. If you have a video, leave the video along with your business card and ask them to take a look at their neighbors’ fence when it is finished. Then stop back to pick up the video and retry for an appointment.

All of your canvassers should carry door hangers with a criss-cross sheet. On those that are “not at home” they should leave a door hanger and make notations on their criss-cross sheet identifying items they can pass along to telemarketing for follow-up.

Why Canvassing Is Back

Leads generated by canvassing are of unusual high quality – sales people love them! They offer your company the unique advantage of targeting to the right demographics. What’s more, when you are working off an existing job, the new prospect has a higher degree of trust. They have seen the quality of your work and know that their neighbor is happy.

In addition, the eye-to-eye and smile-to-smile contact from a previous meeting seems to give the prospect greater confidence. These are some of the reasons why canvass leads close at a higher percentage with a higher retention rate.

Is it easy to build a good canvass operation? No. Someone once said that if it were easy, everyone would do it. Anything worthwhile is difficult.

So why is canvassing coming back so strong? Because it does work – and it gives you a lower lead cost as well. I invite you to “knock” on the door of opportunity and enjoy the rewards.

As published in print:
Exterior Advantage – Published by Brandon Publishing -Fall 2000
Western Roofing Insulation and Siding – Published by Dodson Publications, Inc. – May/June 2001
World Fence News – Published by World Fencing Data Center, inc. – May 2001
Fencepost – Published by American Fence assosiation – May/June 2001