The client wants the siding up by the Fourth of July. She’s having a barbecue and party then. “No problem,” says salesman Pete — even though it’s already June 20 and getting the job measured and the materials ordered would take two weeks; besides which there’s scheduling the install.

A week goes by. The client calls to say that no one has been out to measure yet. The production department informs her that that job can’t possibly go in until early August. Stunned, she says, “But you told us …”

Promise Her Anything

Of course the contract says nothing about July 4. The salesman’s oral promises are not legal writ. But boy do they hurt.

How about when the home­owner asks the salesperson whether or not the window installer can also fix that squeaking screen door? No problem! Except that it’s not in the paperwork and no one has ever mentioned it to the installer.

Home improvement sales reps are like any other kind of salespeople. They’ll sometimes say anything just to get the job. That includes making promises they know can’t be kept. Are they lying or are they just not telling the whole truth?

That’s a minor distinction because here’s what happens: The customer who was promised something will be angrier about that than she would be if the job got screwed up. Notice how “Pete” immediately became “you,” and she doesn’t believe anything your company says. She may not even pay the final bill.

Hold Him Accountable

Manage this by making Pete accountable for the mistake. Let’s say I get a call from a homeowners who says: “Pete told me that our siding would be up in time for my party in two weeks.”

I contact Pete and say: “Call the customer and explain to her why you told her that.” Do this two or three times and Pete will knock it off.

People new to sales sometimes develop the bad habit of promising work they know can’t be delivered. The experienced salesperson has already felt those promises come back to bite.

So what should Pete say if the customer wants to know if the siding can be done by her Fourth of July party in two weeks? He should look her in the eye and say: “No ma’am, that’s not possible.”

The fact is that if you tell customers the truth, you gain their respect. And in the long run, respect will get you far more sales than puffery and lies.

—Jake Jacobson is vice president of sales at Premier Window & Building, a Maryland home improvement company. Reach him at