No salesman wants to hear the word “no” from a prospect. Happily, few homeowners want to come right out and say it either, at least in so many words. “It doesn't happen very often because in most cases when someone invites you into their home at six o'clock on a wintry night, they want you there for a reason. They don't want to sit and watch TV with you,” says Joe Mand, owner of Wrightway Inc., in Fond du Lac, Wis.

STALLED OUT Generally, instead of an outright “no,” you get a stall instead. Prospects say they have to talk to their spouse. Or they're waiting for a tax refund. Or the kids are in college. Or the car broke down that afternoon. “You name it, we've heard it,” Mand says.

“Rarely does a customer say ‘no,'” adds Mike Feazel, owner of Feazel Roofing, in Westerville, Ohio. “They usually brush you off and say they're getting another bid.”

An experienced home improvement salesperson uses these brushoffs as a way to keep the sales process going and to eliminate or postpone the flat-out refusal that, in most cases, signals the end of the sales call.

Instead of “no,” many homeowners will say, “I don't think so,” explains Fred Raskin, owner of Prestige Sunrooms & Decks, in Chicago. But he customarily responds with this question: “Obviously you have something to think about. Would you mind telling me what it is?”

DIG IN AND FIND THE TRUTH “Ninety percent of the time the customer isn't giving you all the information,” Feazel points out. “It's nothing personal. Our job is to dig in, find the truth, and build the relationship to where we can be candid with that individual and he, in turn, can be candid with us,” he adds.

Getting prospects to be forthcoming about the actual reasons for not buying is a big step toward a sale. “If somebody says ‘no,' we try to find the reason,” says Allan Terhune, owner of Atco Inc., in Beachwood, N.J. “We ask: ‘What are you looking for us to do differently that can affect this decision?' But usually, it comes down to money.”

KEEP TRYING Contractors habitually will try to close several times. If the answer is “no,” the response should be: “Why?”

“It's not a bona fide ‘no' until they ask you to leave,” Raskin says. However, knowing when “no” really means “no” saves a lot of time and frustration. Ultimately, that relies more on the art of salesmanship than on any science.

“As a salesperson, you have to try to read the customer as best you can; to say, ‘There's a chance I can make this happen if we just get over these couple of hurdles,'” Mand says. “You keep trying until you can make a justifiable decision in your mind that there is no way you are ever going to get this.”