Tom Henderson was midway through his deck presentation when the prospect, in her early 50s, keeled over. He phoned 911. Baltimore paramedics arrived and revived the lady, who, it turned out, had had a minor stroke.

Not long ago, a rep from Lakeside Exteriors, in O'Fallon, Mo., was in mid-presentation when a member of the homeowner's family had to be rushed to the hospital.

“He [the rep] decided to forget about business,” says company president Matt Merrifield. “In fact, he didn't even try to re-set the appointment. Instead he offered them a ride to the hospital.”

Get Control Medical emergencies are not the stuff of everyday experience for home improvement salespeople, but they happen. Far more common, say sales managers, are disturbances such as domestic squabbles, nosy neighbors, or unruly kids that put the kibosh on the presentation. A good salesperson has to learn how to avoid, at all costs, losing control of the call.

“If you don't get control, they're not going to listen,” says Mark Dziedzic, general manager for The Muhler Co., a window and door replacement firm in Charleston, S.C. “And if they're not going to listen, you're not going to win.”

Dan Gavin, sales manager for Ohio Consolidated Builders, in Cleveland, says the most challenging situation is when one of the buying parties suddenly gets up and leaves the room.

“It's a physical objection, a sign of disinterest, and it's latent with fear,” he says.

Sales staff at Ohio Consolidated role-play to prepare for such “partial demo” situations. “It's hard to get the younger rep to understand that it's not about the product, it's about the people,” Gavin says. “You haven't solved their problem yet, and to solve their problem takes control and expertise.”

Running Wild Alan Levine, sales manager at Swing Line Windows, in Pittsburgh, Pa., says the challenge that occurs most frequently is kids “being so wild that one of the parents has no choice but to leave the presentation.” If it's impossible to get the sit back on track, Levine says he'll suggest rescheduling in the company's showroom, which contains a play area for children. When that happens, chances of getting a contract are about 50%.

For Henderson, a frequent challenge has to do with homeowners who bring an uninvited guest — such as a neighbor — to the sit. In that case, he says, prospects won't feel free to discuss finances, and he will “make some kind of excuse, or beep myself” to leave, after rescheduling.

Grace under pressure sometimes pays dividends. The salesperson from Lakeside Exteriors later contacted the homeowners and sold them a siding job. Henderson says that after his prospect was revived, he inquired as to whether or not it was his price that caused her stroke. The humor was appreciated, but the deck went unsold.