Rick Engstrom, owner of Engstrom Siding & Windows, in Siren, Wis., finally had to say something. The salesman was performing up to expectations in all ways except one. “I told him, ‘You've got one foot on a banana peel before you ever get in the door,'” Engstrom recalls. “Because he'd drive up in this ratty old '85 Buick.” At the company owner's strong suggestion, the salesman went out and leased a new car. “You can't drive up in a rust bucket,” Engstrom says, “and say to the prospect: ‘Honest, we have the best product in the world.' They're going to think: Oh, yeah, he must be really successful.”

Little Things Making a good first impression is critical to landing the contract. Many times salespeople can blow the presentation before a word is uttered by not paying attention to the little things that can become major annoyances to prospects. Examples? Walking across the grass instead of stepping on pavers. Tracking mud into the house. Exhibiting a less-than-friendly demeanor toward the family pet (even if the pet is unwelcoming).

There's also the danger of prejudging that prospect and carrying that attitude into the demo. At the basement division of Alure Home Improvements in East Meadow, N.Y., salespeople are instructed never to drive by the house before the sales call, but to get their own house in order. “Never, never drive by in advance,” says Mike Kuplicki, general manager for the division. “We don't call and we don't drive by because you might prejudge it either way.” There's a far better way to prepare for that sales call, he says. “Number one, look in the mirror before you go in the door. Number two, if you have a training CD or tape, pop it in on the way.”

For others, preparing for the knock on the door is primarily a mental discipline. “We teach our guys to take a few deep breaths before they get out of the car, to get their composure and to mentally tell themselves, ‘These people need our product,'” explains Paul Despenas, marketing vice president, Midwestern Construction & Supply, Des Moines, Iowa. “‘I'm going to concentrate on slowing down so I can give a good presentation and think positive before I go in there.'”

Sample This Engstrom points out that, though all his salespeople have been with the company for some time, he still has to remind them to “make sure they're on time, are prepared, and have everything in order.” Having everything in order means having samples that are clean and in good condition. “There's nothing worse than going in and having to apologize for what your samples look like,” he says. “If your samples are scratched and dirty, or your window doesn't work, it's embarrassing.