It seems like a 100 years ago as I think back on 1987, the year I quit my day job and became a full-time business consultant and trainer. Of course, then as now, I focused exclusively on the building supply industry. One morning I was sitting in my office when the phone rang. It was a lumber dealer in Connecticut. I knew this particular lumber dealer from my days at Enterprise Computer Systems and was happy to hear from him. He explained to me that his salespeople were issuing what seemed to him to be quite a lot of customer quotes and turning embarrassingly few of them into orders. He wanted my advice.

After quizzing him for a few minutes, I learned that, yes, his salespeople were doing an inordinate amount of quoting, but, no, they were not following up with the customers they were quoting. Not one of the salespeople was following up.

I asked the owner to give me a day or two to try and come up with a solution, which he granted. I then began making telephone calls to lumber-dealer friends whom I knew to be doing a good job with their quote-to-order ratios. I wanted to find out what process they were using.

As it turned out, all of them were following up with their customers after their salespeople issued a quote. Everyone I spoke with who was doing a superior job was following up, so it seemed to me that following up was the key.

I called the dealer in Connecticut back and told him what I had learned. He immediately agreed to make it a condition of employment that his salespeople follow up with each customer they quoted within 24 hours and use these exact words: "Yesterday morning we quoted you on material to build a deck, if you don't mind my asking, how do we look on the quote?"

Bingo! The Connecticut dealer's quote-to-order ratio increased from a pitiful 25% to a whopping 60% practically over night.

What's your quote to order ratio right now? Is it possible your company could substantially improve the number of quotes you are currently turning into orders by following up?

You may wish to give it a try.

Bill Lee is a business consultant, columnist, speaker, and seminar leader who works extensively throughout North America. He also is affiliated with Lee Resources, a Greenville, S.C.-based consulting, training and publishing organization.