Bad habits, the old saying goes, are like a comfortable bed: easy to get into, but hard to get out of. Experienced contractors say it's often the same bad habits that ensnare home improvement salesmen, year after year.

“One of the things I've always seen throughout the years is sales reps trying to qualify the lead even before they get into the car to run it,” says Rick Edwards, president of Custom Patio Rooms, in Murrysville, Pa., who has been selling home improvement products since 1977. Reps, he says, get into the habit of qualifying a lead by neighborhood or by the customer's name before they'll run it.

IT'S CALLED A PRE-SET APPOINTMENT Edwards redresses this by reminding salespeople of what he considers to be the only worthwhile qualification of any lead: its definition. “A lead is a pre-set appointment with interested parties who own the home but don't already own the product,” Edwards says.

Another bad habit that salespeople often develop: shortcuts, says Paul Field, owner of Home Solutions Midwest, in Albert Lea, Minn. And experienced pros are as susceptible to this as new salesmen. “I don't care whether they've been on the job for a year or 10 years. We all get caught in it,” Field says. His remedy: continual retraining so that reps “stay on message.”

PRACTICES VS. HABITS Jake Jacobson, vice president of sales at Premier Window & Building, in Owings Mills, Md., makes a distinction between what he considers bad practices, such as those above, and bad habits, such as letting paperwork slide.

“Salespeople do sometimes tend to procrastinate when it comes to doing what I call ‘paperwork beyond the sale,' like getting color selections or going back to customers to finalize bank paperwork,” he says. The reason, he believes, is that having made the sale, reps don't see these details as a way to make money.

Jacobson helps salespeople break the habit in two ways. First, he keeps a daily log of pending jobs and asks salesmen about those jobs every day. Second, “we only reward the salesman with his commission when he's done everything,” Jacobson says. If you pay him before he has tied up all the loose ends of a job, “he isn't going to be in any rush to do it,” he says.