Note: This month's article was written by David Alan Yoho, senior account executive, Dave Yoho Associates.
After working with scores of canvassing programs, I have been able to identify eight ingredients that dramatically affect success. When you execute all eight, you have the probability of a super-profitable canvassing program.
Someone at the highest operational level in your company, not the canvassers or team leaders, has to make the marketing decisions in regard to which neighborhoods, saturation, and frequency the canvassing is done.
You have to limit the number of products canvassers solicit. There is a false belief that having more products to sell will increase the number of appointments or demos. It usually works in reverse.
You need a wall map of your entire territory broken down into zip codes and zones created by economic potential and physical boundaries such as main roads, bodies of water, railroads, and parks.
Research and document the ordinances, regulations, and details on local law enforcement for each zone. Maintain a list of every street within each zone, geographically listing the year built, home values, neighborhood affiliation, and last campaign dates. Never canvass a neighborhood without having scouted it at least one day in advance.
Every team leader needs a master map including planned stops. Canvassers will contact more people “per hour” by giving each their own map—printed from your system—including the direction to walk. You can drop them, retrieve them and find them easier and quicker. You need to trade driving time for canvass time at every opportunity. At least two-thirds of the canvasser’s paid hours should be spent “knocking on doors.”
Enforce daily maintenance checks on the vehicles because breakdowns are costly in multiple ways. You need plans for confrontations with the occasional unhappy resident, and how to deal with local authorities when your paths cross.
Most of our clients failed at canvassing, some more than once, before contacting us. None of them were able to pinpoint clearly why their canvass program was unprofitable.
We resolve this by developing one single measurement throughout the system—the paid man-hour, computed on canvassers only, not management. Establish costs, forecasts, and budgets by the hour. Pay bonuses on either issues or demos based on the number of hours to obtain one. Essentially, pay bonuses based on what it costs you to obtain the lead.
Measuring and reporting costs as well as production by the hour makes it easier for canvassers, team leaders, and managers to understand the impact of their performance, which is based on profit and loss, not the number of leads. When there is a consistent, proficient, and valid system of measurement, there are fewer surprises. Everyone knows where they stand at all times.
3. Lead management
Typically, three to four people speak with a prospect before the demo (canvasser, inside sales rep, confirmer, and outside sales rep). Typically, each will define a lead differently if you do not control and enforce the process. Here are commitments we establish, which a customer agrees to before the scheduling of an appointment.
Prospects agree they have a need for your product and want a price before the office is contacted. They commit to a minimum amount of time and whom will be present. A specific time is scheduled. Canvassers can still generate lower-qualified leads to be set by the office at a later time. Scheduling slots in your calendar with bogus leads or those that will almost certainly not demo is expensive.
Do not permit canvassers to schedule appointments. They call the office (or call center) and qualify the commitments in front of prospects before putting them on the phone to schedule. This is accomplished with a non-negotiable script that serves the customer and helps boost the demo rate. While many canvassing organizations don’t write enough leads, the larger problem is their demo rate. Most organizations only demo 10-to-30 percent of their leads. Utilizing our structured disciplines, our clients typically demo 45-to-55 percent and higher.
4. Team leaders
Most team leaders are nothing more than bus drivers. Some provide coaching but, even then, an insufficient amount. Sometimes they’re effective role models but, in most companies, they’re just babysitters. The result is that the average team leader earns only $40,000-to-$50,000. This limits the quality of who you can hire and retain.
Great team leaders are great canvassers; however, to provide stability and lesser risk to you, they have to be much more responsible, consistent, and disciplined. They’re the key to managing a herd of “manageable mavericks.”
Ideal candidates are typically earning $40,000-to-$60,000 and feel stuck. Ideal team leaders will earn $65,000-to-$80,000; the top earners will crack $100,000. Here’s how:
In our program team leaders typically work 55-to-60 hours per five-day workweek. They are responsible for vehicle safety and maintenance, scouting and mapping territories, canvassing for 75 percent of “knock time,” monitoring the canvassers, resolving problems, and recruiting five-to-seven hours per week.
Their job is to maintain a fast-paced, intense, competitive, challenging, and exciting experience for canvassers. They enforce “the system” without compromise. When your team leaders average $75,000, it’s easier to retain them.
5. Hiring and selection
Hiring the wrong candidates dilutes your production, lowers morale, increases turnover, and creates the need to hire more. This means less time to coach up average producers. In desperation, lower producers are more likely to write lower-quality leads.
Interview candidates by phone first to remove emotion from your decision. Identify their verbal skills. Can they speak intelligently at or above the customer’s level? If not, end it there. Can they “deliver” a conversation persuasively and personally? Do they command attention and respect?
Examine their attitude toward work and people. Are they courteous, mannerly, and respectful? How congruent are their motives and ability to work? Do they live more than 20-to-30 minutes from the office or meeting place? How would they get there? What’s their income history, ability to work odd hours, motives, and income expectations?
If you see any conflict in any of these areas, do not consider them further. Identify “preferred traits,” which include optimism, presence, confidence, curiosity, and assertiveness. You want a determined, thick-skinned, “manageable maverick” who can act autonomously, work at a fast pace, and maintain eye contact.
Our clients use a behavioral profile to help them determine congruence with these essential traits because it’s easy to be fooled during the interview. We use the profile to identify behavior and potential as a communication tool to help you make a hiring decision.
6. Training and coaching
The average canvass training program provides too much information on the product and too little about prospect habits. Therefore, the average canvasser is ill-prepared to succeed. We recommend three days of tough, basic classroom training to identify those who cannot or will not perform effectively.
Canvassers do not graduate unless they can deliver the script verbatim. Otherwise you nullify your standards and enable mediocrity from day one. Do more than test their knowledge of the script. Test their endurance, commitment, and work ethic. Lots of people can learn the script but can’t handle the physicality of knocking on 100 doors in four hours at the “double quick.”
Most trainees would love to earn $25 per hour (including bonus) as do average producers, but they aren’t committed to doing what’s necessary to earn it. You need to find out early—usually within two weeks.
Standards are an antidote for mediocrity. While your standards could vary, here is a system many of our clients use. For their first month, trainees are expected to produce leads that generate one demo for every 14 paid hours. Once canvassers complete their first month, the minimum standard for every month is one demo per every 12 paid hours.
If canvassers fail to produce one demo per 12 paid hours in any calendar month, they are placed on probation. Valid exceptions are when they exceeded the minimum set rate (six hours to one set), and the company failed to augment their performance due to lack of available slots, or when validated elements like foul weather, illness, or permitted time-off created an unfair amount of time to measure. Only the canvass manager may validate exceptions.
When canvassers are placed on probation, they invest their next working day in basic training. Canvassers on probation may not get in the vehicle again without passing a verbal test. Probation lasts for one month. If canvassers fail to exceed the minimum standard in the subsequent month, they are terminated unless the canvass manager validates an exception.
Paying the same amount for every lead is a mistake. They don’t cost the same. That’s why we use man-hours to determine value. A common, fully loaded canvassing cost per man-hour before any bonuses are paid is around $25. If it takes you 12 man-hours to obtain a demo, that demo costs $300 before bonus. If it takes 18 hours, it’s $450. If it takes 8 hours, it’s $200. Identify your budget and pay based on what it costs you.
Our clients typically pay more for higher demo rates (typically 50-plus percent) during any month. Many of their canvassers issue 65 percent of their leads. While some are much lower, most meet or exceed a 45-percent demo rate. You should not pay bonus on demos if the demo rate falls below 30 percent. They are creating way too much work and expense for you and will continue to produce that way unless there are consequences tied to performance.
More so, when someone is earning $25-to-$35 per hour, they’ll have a hard time leaving. Where else can someone work 30 hours, stay up and sleep late, and have no responsibility other than showing up on time and following our methodology?
It’s a hard but simple way to earn a great living, and canvassing efficiently and effectively is a great way to grow your business. PR
David Alan Yoho is a senior account executive with Dave Yoho Associates in Fairfax, Va., (www.daveyoho.com). His client base consists of large and medium-sized companies who manufacture, distribute, and sell retail home improvement projects to consumers. He is a speaker at industry functions and has authored numerous articles on the subjects of marketing and selling. Yoho is featured in an easy to use web-based training program entitled Super Sales Training http://supersalestraining.com.