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Get backs. Be backs. Thinkovers. More common than they used to be? Scott Hayes, owner of New York Sash, in Whitesboro, N.Y., says that first-night closes are down a few points, and he believes the reason is that people now spend their own money, as opposed to using credit.

"Our sales used to be about 80% financed, 20% cash," Hayes notes. Today that ratio has exactly flipped, making for a more reluctant-to-buy consumer. Other home improvement company owners find similar. "Everybody's trying to get more value and not make mistakes with the dollars they spend," says Chuck Mepham, sales manager at Majors Home Improvement, in Milton, Fla. Customers, Mepham says, do more looking ? on the Internet, at home shows, and in arranging for more quotes.

The Name of the Game: Sales Efficiency

Few home improvement companies, however, are willing to walk away from a commitment to close on the first call. It's pure economics. "If every salesperson had to return to every lead for a second visit to finalize the agreement," Hayes says, "we'd only be able to run half as many appointments." But with more customers insisting on thinkovers, New York Sash permits sales reps to reschedule an appointment. So, under certain circumstances, does Prince William Home Improvement, in Woodbridge, Va. "We haven't modified anything," owner Scott Holtzhauer says. Unsold leads go back to the company and are rehashed. But if a sales rep wishes to follow up, he or she has two days ? though the rep has to earn that right. "If they follow up and bring in sales, we allow them to do it," Holtzhauer says.

Sales consultant Tony Hoty agrees. "I think there should be a window [of time] everyone is aware of" when it comes to getting back to unsold homeowners, he says. He also believes that "if you can get all [the prospect's] questions answered and address all their major concerns, they should be able to give you a yes or a no."

A Time-Management Issue

For many companies it's not just a matter of time-management, it's also an awareness that leaving clients to shop around may cause them to default to apathy or to competitors.

Mepham says that the way to avoid the thinkover is to isolate the reason why prospects aren't buying. Is it the deposit? The product? The price? Then address that head-on. He warns, however, that you can only do that if you've built rapport.

And if the homeowner is still thinking it over? Hoty says don't push it beyond a certain point. "Mention that the No. 1 thing people complain about with regard to contractors is that they don't follow up," he says. Then ask for a specific time when you can get back.