Cold Canvassing: Definition & How to Do It (+ Expert Tips)

Check out our ultimate guide on cold canvassing, including all the tips and strategies you'll need to master door-to-door sales.

Cold canvassing is one of the most tried-and-true methods of local sales. In order to get some success out of it, there are some things you may need to learn. You need to determine if cold canvassing would work for your business, learn how to properly canvass, and check out reference materials to use as a guide. So, we’ll cover all of those bases for you to help you get started.

Cold canvassing is a great way to proactively generate leads, but it isn’t the only prospecting method. For a complete rundown of the top outbound strategies, check out our ultimate guide on sales prospecting.

What Is Cold Canvassing?

Cold canvassing—or door-to-door sales, as it’s commonly known—is the act of walking up to your prospect’s doorstep to sell or introduce your product. This can be at a prospect’s home, or even their place of business if you are a B2B salesperson. It’s the oldest sales method in the book, and it focuses on well-prepared pitches or demonstrations.

Who Is Cold Canvassing Right For?

Getting in touch with prospects face-to-face obviously requires more time, effort, and resources per prospect than any other commonly used sales method. As a result, the scope of businesses that will receive a net benefit from it is limited. Typically, cold canvassing is right for salespeople or businesses with a concentration of valuable prospects in a physical location, especially if you have a product or service that can benefit from demonstrations.

Specifically, these are the primary factors to assess when considering cold canvassing:

  • Proximity of your prospects to your business
  • Proximity of your prospects to each other
  • Value of demonstration for your product

Ultimately, if you’re focused on outbound lead generation, this might be for you. Let’s take a look at each of these factors in more detail so you can get a concrete understanding of whether or not you should invest time in cold canvassing.

Proximity of Prospects to Your Location

Since you are going to have to organize your employees’ or your own transportation to your canvassing location, it’s important to consider the distance you’ll be covering. Typically, if your customer base is far from HQ, cold canvassing isn’t the best option. The exception to this rule comes in the form of remote salespeople, which can be hired based on proximity to your canvassing location.

Proximity of Prospects to Each Other

Cold canvassing campaigns rely on an area highly concentrated with prospects. This is the only way you can outweigh the heftier costs involved with direct sales. You need to have prospect-dense neighborhoods or business complexes nearby for you to hit regularly in order to make the most out of cold canvassing.  You also want to ensure prospects within the location are quality so you don’t waste time on an area with lots of doors that will likely get shut in your face.

Benefit of Product Demonstration

Some products are easier and more beneficial to demonstrate than others and can save the prospect time and effort. Whether or not your product benefits from demonstration relies on a simple question: If I demo now, can I close the deal now?

In-person demonstrations don’t work for every product. If you can’t physically demonstrate what your product does, then you may benefit less from cold canvassing. This doesn’t rule it out completely, but the benefit of demonstration to your product is a major factor to consider.

How to Cold Canvass in 6 Steps

The success of a cold-canvassing campaign is reliant on your level of preparation. You need to nail down your target demo, figure out where best to canvass them, and set up the training, materials, and sales incentive structure to maximize quality. Let’s go down the list and dive into the meat and potatoes of what these steps mean.

1. Define Your Ideal Customer

Every business needs to define its target demographic. This process is made simple with resources like HubSpot’s Make My Persona tool to personify your target market. When defining your buyer persona, ask yourself two primary questions for cold canvassing: Who is my ideal customer, and where are they located? The factors you consider in a cold canvassing situation will also differ depending on whether you’re in B2B sales or B2C sales.

Targeting the Right B2B Customers

Your product or service will determine what kind of business you target, and with whom you need to meet in order to close a sale. So, take a look at your product and consider these questions when deciding if a business is in your market:

  • Which types of businesses can benefit most from your product/service?
  • Who makes the purchasing decisions at those businesses?
  • Where are those types of businesses located?
  • When is the decision maker typically onsite?

These questions will help you narrow down your target business and figure out where and when to find them. Now, there is always the chance that your target businesses aren’t located near each other or don’t have decision makers onsite, and that may mean that your use case could benefit more from cold calling or cold emailing.

Targeting the Right B2C Customers

Similarly to B2B, your product will dictate your target audience. The questions you’ll need to ask here are a little different, and they have more to do with the type of homes you’ll canvass and in what location. These are just some examples that may help you narrow things down:

  • Does your service need to be purchased by a homeowner (pest control, HVAC services, etc.)?
  • What size household is most likely to buy your product?
  • What age demographic is best served by your product?
  • Who is the decision-maker in the household?
  • When is that decision-maker typically home?

These questions should help quite a bit when choosing between territories. Every layer of detail you add to your targeting should increase conversion; just be mindful that it can be pretty easy to run out of ground to cover in certain industries. Don’t narrow things down so much that you sacrifice markets that may be just shy of optimal for your campaign.

2. Outline Your Desired Territory

Once you’ve properly narrowed down your ideal customer, it’s time to do some research to find territories to cover. Taking the following steps will help you narrow down some spots to canvass, focusing on prospect quality and density:

  • Check the US Census to find which areas near you have customers from your target demo.
  • Check Google Maps to target specific locations with a solid density of doors to knock, for both homes and businesses.
  • Mark out your territory on the map or write down a range of addresses to canvass.

Once you’ve decided who you’re looking for, you can use these tools to find areas near you that include people from your target demo. You should choose areas that are large enough for you to tackle in a day, so size will depend on your staff. Once you find a good region, use Google Maps to verify that there are enough doors, and get started.

cold canvassing territory in Google Maps
Google Maps with marked territory

Using this info, you can locate areas with a high concentration of your target demo in your target environment. This will maximize the number of doors available for knocking and opportunities for a sale. Remember to consider lead quality and how likely the prospects are to be ready to buy instead of just going with the area with the highest number of doors.

3. Prepare Your Cold Canvass Script

In order to land consistent success as a cold canvasser, you’ll need to make sure you have a solid script for door-to-door sales. Scripts don’t just increase your likelihood of conversion; they also maintain consistency among all of your staff if you manage multiple sales professionals.

The key to preparing a quality script is to include the following elements:

  • Introduction
  • Initial prospecting questions
  • Quick pitch or demonstration
  • Call-to-action

Give a Quick Introduction

The only things you need to include in your introduction are your name, the company you’re from, and why you’re canvassing. No need to be subtle about the fact that you’re direct selling—trust us, they know. The goal is to have a quick sentence giving them the rundown so that you don’t waste their time.

Here are a few good examples:

  • “Hey, I’m John with Johnny’s Pest Control, and we are taking a walk around the neighborhood to do some free assessments for you guys.”
  • “Hey, I’m Jen with Jenny’s Flood Insurance, and we are taking a survey of the neighborhood to see who’s covered.”
  • “Hi, I’m Jim with Jimmy’s IT Services, and we are out here offering some free network diagnostics to businesses in this complex.”

Notice how we are spinning the canvassing process as a benefit to the lead. All of the ways we described our canvassing process also offered some sort of free service, giving the prospect a reason to entertain the conversation. Not only that, but each service—whether it’s an assessment, survey, or diagnostic—opens the door for a sale at the end.

Ask Some Prospecting Questions

Before diving into your pitch, ask a few questions to get the prospect talking. Prepare some questions in the script that are broad and open-ended but directly related to your script. The objective is to get them comfortable in a conversation with you and gather information that could inform your pitch at the same time. Questions like these will help you open things up:

  • “Who typically makes the purchasing decisions?”
  • “Who’s your current ___ provider?”
  • “When was the last time you checked your ___?”

All of these questions have a point and will guide the conversation toward your pitch. They will also help you, as the salesperson, decide the best way to deliver your pitch or demonstration. It’s always good to add a personal touch to your pitch, and these questions help make that happen.

Deliver a Quick Pitch or Demonstration

Refer to whatever materials you brought, and deliver your pitch. If your pitch includes an assessment of some kind, ask if they are okay with beginning that service, and go ahead with it. Pitches will vary widely depending on the use case, but here are what they must include:

  • What your product is
  • Why they should use it (a helpful stat or an aspect of your service for which they expressed a need)

The demonstration part is optional, but if you don’t have any level of demonstration as part of your canvassing process, then you probably aren’t making the most out of it. The benefit of face-to-face interaction lies in your ability to demo, so why not give it a shot?

Pro Tip:

Demonstration doesn’t always mean the use of props to directly demonstrate a product. For hard-to-demo products such as insurance and retirement products, you can simply go over your literature in depth with the prospect so that you’re there to answer all of their questions.

End With a Call-to-Action

Just like any other pitch, you need to end with a strong call-to-action. This can be summed up in one sentence and include a direct offer to take their contact information down or set an appointment for them. Something like “Let’s get your name and number down here, as well as a good time for a follow-up (appointment/call).” Short, sweet, and to the point.

4. Gather Your Required Materials

Depending on the way you’ll be demonstrating your product, you’re going to need to gather some materials. You are working with limited patience, as prospects can be extra hasty to brush you off when you’re at their home. So, come equipped with everything you’ll need throughout your script.

Here are some examples of what you might need:

  • Product literature and/or informational brochures
  • Hands-on product demo props
  • Tools for any assessment/diagnostic you’re offering

Finally, the most important material for the cold canvassing process is a sign-up sheet or online form. Setting appointments and gathering contact info are the name of the game in direct sales, and you want to make sure you are prepared to take down any information your prospect offers.

5. Set a Goal for Number of Locations Visited

Depending on the size of your canvassing operation, you’re going to want to set some goals based on how many doors you’ll knock in a given day. Go through some dry runs of your canvassing process, and time the simulations you run. Once you have an average time for the process, create a goal that makes sense and gives your canvassers enough leeway to stick with prospects who ask a lot of questions.

6. Knock Until You Meet Your Goal

We’ve done all the necessary preparation. We decided who our target prospect is, figured out where to find them and what to say, and brought all of our tools. Now, it’s time to get knocking. Start with door #1, and go in understanding that you’re going to deal with rejection. There will be doors that never open, and people who shut them as quickly as they opened them.

Don’t get discouraged; keep knocking until you meet your goal. Afterward, you can do a quick debrief, figure out where you can improve, and make adjustments for your next trip out. Rejection isn’t a sign of failure, it’s just part of the process. Meet your goal, assess, and adapt.

Top Information to Gather While Cold Canvassing

Cold canvassing is all about gathering the right information. Since you are usually going in with limited intel on your prospects, the goal is to get everything you need for the sales process during the meeting. You need to know who is making the decisions, what they like about your product, how to contact them, and what the next steps are.

Figure Out Who Makes Purchasing Decisions

Whether you are in a prospect’s home or a business office, there’s usually one person who makes the financial decisions. Your first goal is to figure out who this person is, which is why we included a question regarding this in the script section. For the most part, you don’t want to spend too much time talking with people who can’t buy the product.

Search for Interests Related to Your Product

Once you’re speaking with the person who makes decisions, it’s time to figure out why they might buy your product. Your prospecting questions should have a goal to figure out what parts of your product the prospect likes. A less direct way of doing this is to talk about needs or frustrations they have that your product could fix.

Pro Tip:

Taking notes after your visit is a great way to keep this information handy for the future. Don’t hesitate to write down any other personal information you gather, as bringing these things back up can show that you’re listening and build rapport with your prospect.

Gather Contact Information

Aside from closing a sale right then and there, getting contact information is the focal point of your meetings. Make sure to get every point of contact you can, as successful sales campaigns often include phone calls, texts, and emails. We aren’t gathering this stuff for no reason, so let’s talk about why we need it.

Set Follow-Up Appointment Details

When getting a prospect’s contact info, you should be trying to set up a follow-up in the same breath. Always ask for a phone number and email within the context of setting up a future meeting. Asking “Can I get your phone number, email, and a good time for a follow-up appointment?” is a go-to way to get everything squared away at once.

Obtain Order Information on Closed Sales

If you do everything right and the prospect is ready to buy, make sure you gather all necessary info for the order. This means payment info, delivery date and time, all necessary contact information, and exactly what it is that they’re ordering. Make sure you draw up an accurate receipt or invoice detailing how many units they are purchasing. Only leave once you and the lead are on the same page about the order and you’ve closed the sale.

3 Best Cold Canvassing Tools to Use

Cold canvassing is a complicated process, so there are a few different tools you can use to make it easier. You should get a tool to help find prospects, one to help gather contact information from them, and one to help organize that information. Let’s look at each in a little more detail.

Use a Standard Navigation App

Whether it’s Google MapsApple Maps, or Waze, get your canvassers using the same navigation app. This will make it easier to find and get to canvassing locations, and designating a particular app company-wide will make sure everybody works off the same estimated time frame.

Get a Free Contact Form App

If you or your canvassers carry business phones, tablets, or laptops, you can use a free contact form tool to take down prospect info. These tools streamline the contact information process, and they can even sync info to popular CRM software. Here are a few of the best free contact form tools for you to try:

  • JotForm: A web-embedded contact form tool that allows you to make streamlined forms and add them to your website for your canvassers and customers to use
  • HubSpot: Another great web form tool that works similarly to JotForm, adding forms to your website for any use case
  • Zoho: A tool that adds a unique feature to the mix—a business card scanner to make inputting contact information even faster

Once you’ve gathered the information, it’s time to organize it and use it in your marketing campaigns.

Organize Prospects Within a Quality CRM

CRM software are the lifeblood of sales-driven companies. You need a great CRM to properly organize, contact, and notate prospect files. If you don’t already have one, consider using one of the tried-and-true veterans in the field, such as the following:

  • HubSpot: This is one of the most popular free CRMs around. It’s very customizable, and most auxiliary tools that sync to CRMs will be compatible with it.
  • Zoho: This CRM has some of the most flexible payment structures out there, starting as a free CRM for three users and growing in price as you scale up your business.
  • Pipedrive: The easiest to use out of the three, Pipedrive is another longtime powerhouse in the space, specializing in a clean and simple interface.

If you are only going to use one of the tools from the list, this would be the one. You cannot operate a successful canvassing campaign, or any marketing campaign for that matter, without a CRM. Maximize your efficiency by investing in quality software.


Additional Reading:

If you want to check out a few more CRM options, read our article on the best CRM software that includes examples and summaries of all of our favorite choices.


Cold Canvassing Tips From Top Producers

After laying out the fundamentals, we figured it would be helpful to hear some tips from sales experts. It’s one thing to know the basics, and another to benefit from the experience of masters in the field. So, let’s see what some top producers have to say about door-to-door sales.

Focus on Hours Over Commission

This one comes from a content creator who focuses solely on door-to-door sales, talking about the way sales professionals can struggle if they don’t get their hours in:

They’ll sell a lot, and then they won’t work for a week, and then they’ll be broke again. If you have the mindset of ‘I work the hours no matter what,’ I promise you will be a lot more successful than those that go on the ‘salesmanship rollercoaster.’

Sam Taggart
Sam Taggart
Founder, Door2Door Experts

Sam is talking about salespeople who focus too much on commission, then end up living off of each deal and coasting until they have no money left. If you want to really develop your book of business and make consistent money, you’ll need to make sure you work it like an hourly job. Don’t neglect your work because you feel your last paycheck was big enough.

Don’t Talk Too Much

This is a great tip from a content creator and regional sales manager combating the myth that salesmen need to constantly be talking to keep the conversation going:

Don’t talk too much. You want to find a way to ask good questions and get the other person talking. They don’t care nearly so much about what you’re saying as how they feel about you, and a lot of that comes back to how good of a listener you are to what they’re saying.

Chandler David Smith
Chandler David Smith
RSM, Aptive Environmental

Many prospects feel that the moment they see a salesperson at their door, they have to worry about being run over by a fast-talking, pushy seller. You have a ton of room to pleasantly surprise them by asking quality prospecting questions and really listening to their answers. When you do this, they like you more, and their answers can inform your pitch.


Additional Reading:

For a full list of top door-to-door tips from verified experts, check out our article on the best door-to-door salesperson tips, including strategies to optimize for the best results.


Bottom Line

With this lead generation process laid out and some tips to help improve it, now’s the time to start cold canvassing. It’s important to keep hammering the fundamentals, ensuring that you’re coming up to every door with confidence, and adapting your approach when you notice things aren’t working. If you do all three, you’ll be in good shape when selling door-to-door.

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