When home improvement marketers and salespeople hear the word "yes" from a prospect, they know what to do. They move swiftly to convert that commitment to an appointment or a sale. By the same token, when door-to-door canvassers, telemarketers, show and event staff, or salespeople hear the word "no" from a homeowner in need, they're often quick to respond with well-rehearsed rebuttals to get that lead or potential sale. But what about when the homeowner says "maybe"? Where do you go with that unwelcome and ambiguous term that doesn't mean yes or no?

There are many examples of how we as salespeople and marketers encounter maybe in the field. The most common is when the prospect says something like: "Is this your phone number?" (Marketer or salesperson says yes, or nods agreement.) "Great, then I'll call you." Ouch! Another instance is when one homeowner claims he or she has to talk with their spouse before making any commitment. Whatever the method, these are smokescreens or stalls and are typically a back-door way to say, No thank you.

Ugly Baby

These types of objections fall in a category that I call "Ugly Baby Syndrome." It refers to that very human inclination to lie rather than hurt someone's feelings. For example, imagine a new mother pushing her baby stroller up to a good friend or even a total stranger. "Isn't he cute?" she asks. Even if that baby is homely, the invariable response, even from those who pride themselves on frankness, will be an emphatic, Yes! That positive response issues from the same spirit that has husbands, fiances, and boyfriends complimenting their significant others on outfits that they actually find tasteless. Consequence overrules the honest answer.

This tendency in human behavior also applies when an eager marketer or salesperson asks a committing question from a prospective customer. Instead of being forthcoming and sharing their true thoughts (that let's say they're not completely convinced by your company or its product), they follow their natural inclination to spare your feelings by offering some facade or diversion.

How to Handle It

There are two keys to successfully handling these situations. First, develop the ability to know when smoke's being blown your way. When I train marketers, I'm careful to explain that in most cases, maybe equals ugly baby. Most of the time, a homeowner who's telling you that they'll call you or that they need to talk to their spouse is brushing you off. If you know that, you can prepare for these types of statements.

Second, hold them accountable for what they say. "I'll call you," the homeowner says. Great! What time frame did you have in mind? Oh, and which project are you likely to contact us about first? Establishing a specific priority and a timeline lets you create urgency in many ways. Respond this way and you've sidestepped a brush-off and secured a time commitment.

The same is true when one spouse defers to the other. Get them to confirm that the other party is the decision maker. Ask if they've ever discussed or previously gotten estimates on replacing their siding or windows. Explain that the No.1 topic of conversation between spouses when discussing a much needed home improvement project is usually affordability and that no one can really talk about affordability without a price. Then close for an appointment time when you can have that information provided to both of them.

Constant resistance makes marketing and sales jobs challenging. But if you don't recognize that resistance for what it is, challenging becomes impossible. We all know the difference between yes and no. "Maybe" is just a little bit more difficult to manage, but you can do it with the right mental tools.

—Sales and marketing consultant Tony Hoty has been a home improvement company salesperson and owner. Visit his website or reach him at tony@tonyhoty.com or 888.447.3969.