The dog wants out. The baby is crying. A cell phone rings and it's a favorite aunt. Or it's a Sunday afternoon, with the presentation running long and the man of the house excuses himself because the football game is starting. And you're still talking. Or you were, until it became clear that no one was listening.
PRIOR KNOWLEDGE Chris Foti, sales manager at SRA Home Products, in New Jersey, advises salespeople be trained to prepare in advance for interruptions. If the homeowner has children under 5, for instance, bring a coloring book and crayons, or some kid-favored DVDs.
Normally, when an interruption occurs, assess the situation. Is it a real emergency or is it something that caused a minor delay in your presentation? Foti advises that if it's just a minor delay — a ringing phone or a knock at the door — draw on the rapport you've already established and pick up where you left off. “You've got to know where you are,” says Vin Gerrior, sales manager for Thompson Creek Window Co., in Lanham, Md., one of the industry's largest companies.
The toughest distractions: babies and sports. Pets run a close third. So ask homeowners about their children, their pets, the teams they root for. “You've got to relax and be comfortable in the home,” Gerrior says. “Go with the flow. Have commonality and show compassion.” He cites an instance in which a homeowner has to run down the street to visit her daughter. “Find something to do for 30 minutes and come back.” The salesperson who is empathetic and flexible has the best chance of getting distracted homeowners back to the kitchen table.
BEYOND SALVAGE Sometimes homeowners, advised that the sales call takes 90 minutes, will announce that the sales visit is over. In that case, Gerrior says, ask for a few more minutes so that you can give a price. If an interruption comes while you're closing, it's more difficult to recover momentum. Mention that you're nearly through, he says, and ask if you can continue. If not, reset the appointment if at all possible.
Typical short-term interruptions — the arrival of someone unexpectedly — are no big deal, says Baltimore salesperson and sales trainer Tommy Steele. “It's one more thing I can use to build credibility.” More rarely, interruptions occur that make it difficult — or pointless — to continue. Steele and others advise that salespeople know when to exit. “Be a gentleman and a professional,” he suggests. And let the company's lead-setter know the circumstances that led to terminating the call.