Credit: Illustration: Johnson

A little more than a year ago, Chris Keeter, co-owner of All States Windows & Siding, in Wichita, Kan., decided to try an experiment. Instead of distributing leads on a first-come basis, he would assign call-in leads after considering demographics, personality type, and neighborhood.

The idea: to match these customer characteristics with that member of his six-person salesforce most likely to immediately connect. "It's not One Size Fits All on these leads with our salespeople," he says. Instead it's a matter of finding out as much as possible about the prospect and matching that prospect to the salesperson "best suited" to work with them.

Chess in Three Dimensions

With home improvement companies generally running fewer leads than they did two or three years back, it makes sense to do whatever is necessary to increase the chance of a sale. What helps sales managers do that is obtaining as much information about the prospect as possible ? age, gender, product interest, comfort or lack thereof with technology ? at the confirmation stage.

Keeter compares making that match to the TV show The Dating Game. Jake Jacobson, vice president of sales for Premier Windows & Building, in Owings Mills, Md., compares it to "playing chess in three dimensions" because so many variables are at play. "You should know your salespeople well enough to know that some are going to do better with single men, with single women, with recent widows," he says. "Some will do better with people who want more details. If a guy calls up and is asking questions about U-value and R-value, you want to send somebody who knows windows."

Default to Friend

While finding a good match is important, a sale is rarely consummated on the basis of personality alone.

A few years ago Don Darragh, sales manager at Energy Swing Windows & Doors, in Pittsburgh, had a neighbor invite him over to discuss replacing windows. They shared a pizza, and Darragh figured he had the sale in the bag. "I totally aborted my sales process. I figured: He's my buddy and he likes me and trusts me. I told him that because he was my neighbor I would give him a good price."

A week later the neighbor told Darragh that he was going with a competitor. Price was the primary consideration, and someone else came in with a lower one. What Darragh learned, he says, is the value of a sales process that hits all personality types.

The best salespeople, Keeter agrees, are "chameleons" who "in 15 or 20 seconds can figure out the type of person they're dealing with and adapt their style to that customer. They can work with anyone."