Building a Door-To-Door Canvassing Team

Canvassing is a form of engagement marketing, this article will help those looking for door to door canvassing information and managing a department.

Canvassing Definition
Canvassing is a form of engagement or experiential marketing where the company or political representative interacts with the potential customer or constituent face to face. This is usually thought of as going door to door. Homeowners are usually the focus of door to door marketing, but stopping by or cold calling businesses can also fall within this definition.

History of the word canvass (as in door to door canvassing)
It seems that the word to canvass is associated with sifting ideas as though  sifting and separating grain from the chaff by tossing on a piece of canvas. In the early days it was a way to put yourself and your ideas out in public for others to examine.

This article is the results of my research on door to door canvassing for a job proposal.

From a Friday to a Sunday I spent over 30 hours researching what goes into building a door to door canvassing team. I did this as a proposal for a company I wanted to work with. I am offering the insight I gained to my readers who may be interested in this type of marketing. For some reason I find the subject of door to door canvasing quite fascinating. I have participated in canvassing as part of political campaigns and I have also done some door to door canvassing to increase awareness of my public access Television Show. I have also done engagement marketing in stores to generate leads for a home improvement company. It appears that door to door marketing combines all three of these experiences.

Effectiveness of canvassing door to door
One of the first things I noticed in my research is that door to door canvassing can be quite effective. Many businesses are finding it harder to reach people with outbound telemarketing. The reason for this is a lot of people are now on do not call lists. In addition, a lot of  folks don’t even have a landline and only use a cell phone.

No matter what you think of door knocking, political canvassing campaigns have proven that it does work. I think we could make canvassing and door to door campaigns work even better by using  integrated marketing that also includes digital media such as mobile, online, video, and social media?

In political campaigns canvassing is more than twice as effective as calling on the phone.

Door To Door Canvassing is More Effective Than Phoning
Door To Door Canvassing is More Effective Than Phoning

By studying the lessons of political canvassing we can develop better insight into door to door canvassing for business and  sales.

Is door to door selling sustainable?
While door knocking is still effective if overused there will be a backlash that will bring harsher laws and diminish its usefulness. Many local governments have already implemented laws to control door to door canvassing. There are always several people per neighborhood who very much dislike people coming to their door uninvited.

I predict in the future, local governments will establish an allocation system to divide and regulate canvassing zones. When local governments do regulate door to door canvassing it will become much more expensive. By following the rules and developing polite, considerate, and courteous policies as an industry standard we may be able to postpone overly hash regulations.

What kind of products or services are best for door to door sales
Compared to other types of marketing, canvassing has a relatively high cost, therefore products or services that generate a high lifetime customer value do best. Some good candidates for door to door marketing are products or services with recurring sales or charges. Several that come to mind are financing, food delivery, lawn services, pest control, water filtration, magazine subscriptions, home alarm and security services, as well as cable TV and internet services.

Another category that can work well for door to door selling are high ticket services like home improvements and construction. Solar is one of those product that can hit both of these. New roofs can be good too.

Traditionally products that need some consultation have done well using door to door marketing. A few that come to mind are cosmetics and beauty products, think Avon, as well as vacuums and cleaning items.

Door-to-door sales

From what I can tell there are two basics style of initial engagement for door to door sales. The first is to give a company name and the canvasser’s name.

The second gets right to the point and leads with neighborhood information and tries to look and sound official.

Just about all blogs, articles, and videos online recommend sticking to an assumptive close. These can range from conversational and friendly to high pressure.

The presentation after the initial greeting can be quite varied. I developed three sample presentation as part of my proposal.

  1. One was a traditional introduction pitch/presentation
  2. The second was more official, leading with neighborhood information
  3. The third was an official sounding questionnaire.

If I was organizing and managing a canvassing department I would test them all.


Canvassing jobs

Craigslist canvassing ad intelligence and research
For many people, working as a canvasser is quite challenging. The pay ranges from minimum wage to about $25 an hour with commissions. Most businesses are afraid to put what they pay in a help wanted ad. Personally when I see no pay I think that means minimum or just above minimum wage. Some companies pay a bonus ($500 ) for staying with the job for 1 month, others do it at 60 days.

Many companies pay canvassers form $13 to $16 an hour. Some of the solar companies pay up to $25 plus commission. A couple water filtration companies have a base pay of around $2,000 a month, I know at least one of these is part-time.

I read one ad that pays $12 an hour plus they buy lunch.
Many companies mention the chance for upward mobility.
Quote from a solar ad – “Up to $1000.00 per closed lead plus weekly base pay and overrides on your team. Commissions are paid on the size of the system. Minimum is $500 Max is $1000”

One of the most important parts of succeeding at this kind of work is good company training. Sending people out on the street to do door knocking without the right training will make the individual salesperson less successful and it will be less efficient for the company as well.

Some companies have quotas. If you work for a company with quotas and no training and you do not have experience in door to door sales, be prepared to not last very long. You may be one of those who is very gifted and you’ll do fine. But the odds are against you.

The two things to look for in a canvassing job are good training and upward mobility. It’s best if the company is interested in investing in you and has a path for your advancement.

Many companies mention the chance for upward mobility. Some ads use very weak and vague language. These ill-defined stepping stones to career advancement amount to unclear wishful thinking. They often seem to be afterthoughts that are added on as a semi-desirable lure meant to catch extra hungry fish. When I see a wishy-washy description of future opportunities it appears the company is only looking for throw away labor.

A canvassing help wanted ad needs to show a clear path to growth and upward mobility, not just empty promises or hopeful wishes. Career advancement and having achievable goals to work toward are some of the most important elements for employee satisfaction and retention. Since retention is a huge problem with managing a canvassing program, descriptions of career advancement become an important part of the recruitment process.

Canvassing manager
Canvassing manager salaries
Glassdoor says the average salary for a canvassing manager is $42k – $45k.
If you manage a solar canvassing program you can make $100,000 a year according to indeed. I have read that $80,000 to $120,000 is reasonable for developing a canvasing program and running it. Especially if it covers several geographic locations.

Building a new canvassing department is not easy. It requires the dedication of resources and a commitment by management. Many people warn that it may take several tries before a business finds the right formula or system that works. It seems that three attempts is not unreasonable.

If you have determined that canvassing is a good marketing strategy for your business and your first attempt doesn’t work, don’t give up too soon. Take what you’ve learned and give it another try. This trial and error approach can be costly. To mitigate the cost and increase your chances for success do as much prelaunch research and planning as possible.

There are three main areas involved in running a door to door canvassing department.
1 Hiring
2 Training
3 Management

It is my understanding that hiring is extremely difficult in this industry. The job has a negative stigma, it’s hard work, there is rejection in spades, and a lot of people really don’t want you on their property. In addition it appears that a lot of companies think of canvassers as throw away workers. It’s not uncommon for companies to also have such low pay that if the commissions aren’t coming in, people quite to do something easier.

I have read on many forums that even when hundreds of people respond to ads only a few to none show up to interview. I have also read more positive comments as well, but it seems no one has an easy time recruiting.

There is also a lot of churn. Not only is it very hard to get good canvassers, but keeping them is just as difficult.

One of the greatest skills of the canvassing manager is hiring well. From my research, reviewing applicants and interviewing them will take about 8 or more hours a week. I don’t think that includes advertising and/or outreach.

There is a lot of deception in help wanted ads for canvassers. I have seen numerous extremely vague ads making the job seem almost enjoyable. A lot of them look for sports minded people or those that are persistent. While these are traits that will help with doing door to door canvassing, there are other variable that contribute to success as well.

I think that recruiting should be done just like any other marketing. First I would start with a recruiting website. The website will give someplace to send people who develop interest from your help wanted ads and advertising. It can also highlight the company values and lifestyle. Of course since I am a video guy, I think it should also include video.

Next I would post in help wanted directories and classifieds. The ones I would start with are

  • Craigslist
  • College job boards
  • Facebook jobs (its new)
  • LinkedIn (on linkedIn canvassing jobs have very low application rates)
  • Careerbuilder
  • Monster = $250 per month – I would not start with monster, to use this you should have a well defined canvasser profile to advertise against.

To accomplish the best recruiting results you’ll need to develop a persona for the ideal canvasser. These personas will be used as your canvasser profiles.

I would start with A/B testing posts on craigslist and Facebook. I also think targeted ads on Facebook might work well. That is until a lot of people start doing it.  Run Facebook ads targeting those who fit the profile of your ideal canvasser.

Look into college job boards and get recommendations and referrals from the college financial aid counselors.

There should be recruitment literature to give out (business cards, small postcards, etc.) There are usually several people in a good sized company who can give a job recommendation to someone  they know who’s looking for a job. Field crews can also recruit when they meet people interested in your company.

Create a well defined and clear path to growth and upward mobility, not just empty promises or hopeful wishes.

The selection process

  1. There should be a behavior profile that is used in the selection process. You may need to go to an outside company for this.
  2. First do a phone interview
  3. Then face to face
  4. Then training
  5. If they pass the training they go into the field

Additional recruiting resources:

  1. Resume search sites, these are somewhat expensive and I’m not so sure how effective they will be. They will be much more effective if you have an accurate persona to work with. It would cost less than a dedicated one on one community outreach recruiter. The one I priced was $575 per month for 100 resumes. However, the resumes look like they are of questionable value. You could get better results by doing better and more refined searches. To do better targeting you would need to have a good canvasser profile.
    One On One Community Outreach
  2. Events
  3. Meetups
  4. Home depot (most people I know at home depot do not want to confront customers to ask for a lead or sale. But there are some who will)
  5. Lowe’s
  6. Vocational schools
  7. Employee referrals.

Online Outreach – I am still researching this one I thought Reddit may be good, but looks like that’s not the place. I am now looking at Twitter.  I think Twitter would be effective if you used third party software to find the right people. There are a few business canvassers on Twitter, but when I looked, it was mostly political canvassers in the UK or Ireland.  The post I found most amusing was with a tank and machine gun asking people not to be too hostile to canvassers. If you’re using Twitter think about setting up a dedicated Twitter account just for recruiting.

If you hire well everything else will be easier.

Training should be based on scripts. Even if you let you people adapt to the situation and ad hoc opportunities, everyone should learn the script. The original part of the presentation should be scripted and so to should the answers/questions to overcome objections.

I think learning how to get more information and helping homeowners make a wise choice is the most important part of the training.

From what I have discovered in my research it is advisable that whenever you give more information to test with some kind of assumptive close.

Overcoming objections is a huge part of the conversation, but you need to close. In Fact you should always be setting up the next friendly assumptive close. If it didn’t work the first time it was just a test close. Move on, get more information, give more information, and then try another close.

Your salespeople need to overcome objection and close without  thinking about what to say next.

It is recommended that you do not allow your canvassers to schedule appointments. Have them get the information. Getting the information can be an important part of the final close. After they get the required information they can call the office to confirm the appointment time and date in front of the customer. Next they put the customer on the phone to confirm and actually make the appointment. I have found this to work well when lead generating in stores as well. Again it can be helpful if the canvasser has a scrip for this process.

Door to door canvassing is regulated by local governments. Regulations can range from simply alerting the local officials you are in town to fairly expensive and restrictive licensing. Your organization will probably need a separate license for each city where you do door to door canvasing.

It’s management’s job to know and be responsible for researching and documenting the ordinances and regulations. In addition, management  should maintain other important details and contact information on local law enforcement, city planning departments, and licensing departments  for each canvassing zone.

There needs to be training for canvassers in how to politely respond to the arrival of police. Another problem that can come up are neighbors trying to keep the community safe and crime free. In various business capacities I have encountered both of these problems.

To maintain a uniformed response and prevent as many problems with authorities as possible, standardize your representative’s response with a scripted reply. Develop a “response to authority” script, just like you develop a sales script. I have had people threaten to call the police on me and I have had a few people say they are going to report me to the city for littering. It is important to note that If you pay for a license you are canvassing if you don’t you are littering. If you litter you may incur the fines for littering as well. I do believe the fines you receive for littering are more expensive than the canvassing licenses.

Develop official policies for standardized, and may I add polite, community interactions.
There needs to be training in how to avoid upsetting homeowners. Polite and courteous behavior will help avoid negative interaction and possible encounters with authorities.

Some behaviors to be avoided are knocking too loudly on the door, machine gun doorbelling, knocking for too long, and one of the big door knocking mistakes – ignoring the “No soliciting” signs.

What are the door to door canvassing laws in the areas you operate?
It’s management’s responsibility to plan for problems and most importantly prevent as many problems as possible.

You can usually get information about canvassing laws from the business licensing department. I would suggest keeping a copy of the canvassing/peddling laws on file along with city phone numbers.

It’s a best practice to have an attorney look at the local ordinances and draw up a letter stating how you are in compliance. Once you have the letter don’t leave it lock in a drawer. Furnish the letter showing legal compliance to your canvassing department. All those who may encounter the police or other authorities should also have a copy. This includes door to door canvassers, Field managers, and the canvassing manager. Some cities require canvassers have a copy of the permit on them when in the field.

If police arrive a well thought out response should diffuse the situation. However, if they do say you can’t canvass an area don’t argue. Good planning will ensure you can still put in a full days work. There should always be a standard standby location in the event it is needed.

There are other times a standby location may be needed. Two I can think of are if there are swarming bees in a neighborhood and aggressive loose dogs.

Picking the canvass area
Depending on the extent of you canvassing campaign it may be good to start door knocking in neighborhoods where you already have customers.

It’s recommended that you keep a list of all the streets in each of you canvassing zones. Standard information should include listing the year the house was built, home values, neighborhood affiliations, and last door to door and/or phone campaign dates.

Data and tracking the houses visited.
There are varying levels of doing this from simply listing the neighborhoods visited to keeping detailed information on each house.

Collecting detailed information
Set up a database in which to keep track of houses visited. Create a spreadsheet for each neighborhood with columns showing the address, if a canvasser spoke with someone, the date visited, the person’s response, and follow-up plans, such as a consultation. If you are doing other types of direct marketing in the area it may be wise to include these as well. I do believe there is an app that can help track this information.

One low tech way to do this is to have the canvassers fill out the paper version of the spreadsheet while in the field. Then at the end of the day it is entered into the database by the office.

I think if I was setting up a canvassing department as part of an engagement marketing company I would outsource this to an office assistant or a virtual assistant. If I had a good crew that was stable and not transient I would use an app.

There are phone apps for this purpose and they may be worth investing in. ‘the ones I have seen provide a software as a service model. So you will need to pay a monthly fee and the costs go up with your activity. I think you could also set this up as part of a company website. You may also want to look into creating your own online app to access this part of the company website.

Keeping detailed records may take more time than both the canvassers and management want to invest. Collecting data will take time from door knocking. I think canvassers will look at doing paperwork as taking time away from earning commissions. To maintain morale and cut down on churn it may be necessary to pay more per hour if you require filling out paperwork. Inputting data by the canvassing manager may also take too much time from a more than full schedule. I have read that it’s not uncommon for a canvassing manager to work over 65 hours a week.

This detailed canvassing information can also be used for recruiting. However, you will need a little additional information such as which houses you received an appointment/lead from, which houses you made the sale with, and the commissions earned on the sale. If you can show new potential employees how many houses the average canvasser needs to visit and the number of sales they make with commissions it will make recruiting easier.

Assigning daily canvassing areas
Print maps of the neighborhoods you plan to canvas. Print directions to these areas as well. Make sure you have directions from one area to the next, so drivers don’t spend time getting lost. Each canvasser needs to have a map illustrating the string of houses to be visited and it’s also advisable they have a cell phone. There should be an agreed upon place to meet when the string of door knocking is over.

There should be safety procedures in place to address canvassers well-being and emergencies. Pinpoint the location of emergency hospital in the area and provide police and animal control’s phone numbers to your drivers and field managers. Reporting stray and loose pets can be a sensitive issue. Employee training should also go over how to handle encounters with animals.

Have a checklist for you field managers and/or drivers.

I have read that wearing a safety vest increases initial acceptance by homeowners. I have also seen that having a large photo identification badge with the word Permit on the top is helpful. The badge should also have the company name and the canvasser’s name. I think I would use both of these if I was doing a door to door canvassing program.

I would also suggest dressing business casual, such as khakis and a polo shirt or button up shirt.

From spending a lot of time walking and other physical activities I think good shoes may be one of the most important parts of dress. If your sales people are uncomfortable they will not be at their best. In the summer make sure to provide plenty of water.

That about does it for my brief summery of starting a canvassing department. I do hope this helps those looking for door to door canvassing information. It should also prove helpful for those who are thinking about whether a door to door marketing strategy will work for their business.

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