In home improvement sales, lying and exaggerating in order to close has too often been acceptable. False claims regarding the company's credentials, product performance, and warranties are just a few areas where contractors don't level with potential customers or even with their own employees. The problem starts at the top and works its way down.

OLD HABITS Part of the problem is that few salespeople know what the facts are, since manufacturers, employers, and managers often conceal information for one reason or another. New employees, in turn, aren't being truthful with prospects — by default, in most cases. I've seen several examples of this in my 30 years in the trades. I know of a large national contractor that modified its ranking in national magazines by reproducing the magazine page so it appears unaltered, making that company appear to be ranked higher than it actually is.

I've seen a contractor teach sales reps to hit siding samples in such a manner that it sounds and looks like the siding is stronger than it is. New contractors may use a relative (who's been in business for 25 years) to qualify for their license, then tell homeowners they've been in business for 25 years. Telemarketing personnel pass on false information to prospects to get the lead set, hoping the sales rep is skilled enough to overcome the lie. The list goes on.

ON THE LEVEL? There's nothing wrong with closing a customer, but exaggeration and embellishment will backfire. It happens in three ways. The first is turnover. The longer sales reps sell with this false system, the more they realize that what they're saying isn't true. Homeowners ask questions that reps can't answer, and when reps learn the real answers, they doubt both the company and its product. Now the rep feels like he's part of something ugly. His closing ratios begin to drop.

A sales rep can only lie for so long if he has any integrity. So he quits. He'll say he quit because of the hours, the travel, the training. In reality, he quit on the company long before he quit the job. Not being on the level with sales reps will lower a contractor's retention rate.

The second problem is that lying is contagious. When sales reps realize that the contractor is teaching them to lie, they think it must be OK. Why not make up a few more falsehoods to help close more? Soon false claims regarding product performance and warranties litter the presentation. There's no end to it — at least until someone files a suit. The complaint may be about the grossly exaggerated energy-saving potential of a window or siding product, or a warranty that supposedly covers labor and materials for a lifetime when in actuality the coverage on work is just three years. Unfortunately, some contractors only care about the money, so they decide they can live with the ramifications if the money is good enough.

RETAINED BUSINESS The third problem with not being on the level is rescission.

With Internet use as widespread as it is, many homeowners are educating themselves about products and companies before they buy. And buyer's remorse sets in hard when customers have any reason to believe they've been misled.

Contractors had better start cleaning up their presentations and methodologies to become more “on the level” and honest. You can sell and create urgency without lying to homeowners. —Tom Farmer is general sales manager of American Home Craft, a Sacramento, Calif., window, door, and sunroom company.