Yesterday I tried to call a potential Client in the home services industry.  As a plumbing contractor, this company is in the business of providing emergency service to customers with plumbing problems. I had misplaced his direct phone number so I went to their company website and dialed the number on the home page.  I got a busy signal.  I figured I must have misdialed so I tried the number again -- busy!  What if I had been an actual customer?

I then did the legwork and tracked down his direct phone line and told him about my experience.  What was really shocking to me was that he didn't seem too concerned about it.  "We only have 2 lines," he said.  "That only happens if we have 2 people on the phone at the same time, and that doesn't happen very often."

We work with a lot of home improvement and home services companies to develop programs to increase their inbound lead generation from the Internet.  Many of these projects involve developing a website and driving leads through organic and paid search campaigns.  More often than not, we find that there is big gap in the percentage of appointments set to overall inquiries generated (either phone calls or email forms requesting information).

Smart business owners spend much of their time measuring the effectiveness of their advertising efforts from a cost per lead and return on investment standpoint.  What they don't realize is that closing this appointment setting gap is often the single biggest thing they can do to lower their overall marketing costs -- but it takes a systematic process (and many times a culture change) to do so.  Consider these facts:

  • According to an MIT study, the faster you respond to an inbound Internet lead the better.  In fact, the odds of contacting and qualifying an inbound lead decreases 2100% from 5 minutes of receipt to a half an hour.
  • For inquiries submitted via the web, 78% of customers buy from the company that responds first.  (
  • According to a response analysis done by, on average 43% of internet inquiries sent in to companies never get responses!

The obvious takeaway here is that prospects who are searching online are looking for solutions to their problems, now! If they take the time to fill out a form on a company website requesting more information, the faster the company calls that prospect back the better.  Similarly if they call you -- someone has to answer the phone!  Customers who call a company and get a busy signal, or even a voice mail box very likely will hang up and call someone else.

In addition to calling prospects back immediately, another huge issue we find is over qualification of inquiries.  Often times the person in an organization responsible for setting sales appointments (either a sales representative, receptionist, or sometimes even a project manager) has no idea how marketing costs work, and they take actions that aren't in the company's best interest. Many times the sales department either sets their own appointments or has influence over the appointments that do get set because they "don't want to waste their time" with prospects that aren't ready to buy.

According to home improvement industry expert Dave Yoho, a qualified appointment is a prospect who:

  • Is a homeowner
  • Has a need and an interest in the product or service
  • Agrees to have all homeowners and /or decision makers present for at least an hour of their time

Sadly, many times we find that as many as 70% of total inquiries to a company from online sources are never set into appointments. As a result, sales representatives never get an opportunity to meet with those prospects!  Keep in mind, these are prospects who sat down at a computer to research a problem, found the company's website or landing page, and took the time to call or fill out a form requesting more information!  Why wouldn't an appointment get set?  Some of the most common observed reasons for not setting an appointment are:

  • "They weren't ready to buy yet."
  • "We have a minimum job size of $."
  • "We don't do that type of work."
  • "We don't travel that far."
  • "They were just looking for a ballpark price."
  • "They were just starting to shop and didn't know what they wanted yet."
  • "They just had a few questions, but didn't want to set an appointment."
  • "They hadn't had any other estimates yet."
  • "They already had 3 estimates and our prices are higher than the companies they had talked to."

Do you notice a pattern here?  As an in home sales representative and sales manager myself for over 15 years, I recognize most, if not all of these are objections that could be overcome on the way to closing a sale -- if only given the opportunity!  That's where the sales process starts, with an opportunity!  The job of the appointment setter is to "sell the value of the visit" and get as many raw inquiries set into appointments as possible.  Maximizing the appointment set rate will increase the sales opportunities, leading to increased sales revenue and reduced marketing costs.

It has been estimated the average cost of an issued appointment in the home improvement industry today is now approaching $300.  Generating an appointment is now harder than ever before.  For that reason in order to remain profitable companies must maximize every marketing dollar spent.  Consider the following example of 2 hypothetical companies.  Each company spent $7500 on paid search to generate 100 raw inquiries -- either phone calls or email responses.  Company A routes the calls and emails to a receptionist who in the course of the day, in addition to answering calls does various administrative duties.  As a result, getting appointments set isn't her primary focus.  Company B on the other hand routes all inquiries to a dedicated individual or contact center, who using a scripted methodology is focused on setting and confirming all appointments for the sales team.

Both companies have a strong sales department that follows a structured sales methodology.  In the following example, the success or failure of this same paid search campaign hinges entirely on the number of appointments set.  Company A, with a 35% set rate had a cost per issue over $300, while Company B by setting 20% more appointments had a cost per issue of $195.

What is the opportunity cost to Company A of having an inefficient appointment setting system?  Company B ran 14 more appointments and sold an extra $25,200 -- that's $1,800 per missed appointment!

Lowering marketing costs is all about maximizing sales opportunities.  Wayne Gretzky said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take!"