You might have seen competitors promoting the fact that their sales calls take only half an hour. Can you really make an effective sales presentation in half an hour? Not everyone thinks so.

“I guarantee you that some of those companies advertis ing that way are using it as a ploy, or they're not going for a one-call close,” says Shannon Brandt, a salesman for Ambassador Home Improvement in Harrisburg, Pa.

It's the Client, Not the Clock So, how long should an effective sales call take? Brandt aims to have a price on the table in an hour and a half, and to be out the door in three hours for larger projects, a bit less for smaller ones.

The average time for salespeople at WinDor in Charlestown, R.I., is about two hours, says president Paul Clough. But there's no hard-and-fast rule there. “The client, rather than the clock, should dictate the time spent,” Clough says. “The thing taking the most time is building rapport. You stay as long as the clients show interest.” And when they stop showing interest, “you read those signs and ask if there is a better time to reschedule, because we need more time than you've allotted,” he adds.

Advance Warning Some companies, such as Washington Home Remodelers in College Park, Md., tell customers upfront to set aside two hours for a call. “We tell homeowners they may be used to someone with a clipboard walking around and doing an estimate. We need the time to do a good job explaining everything and making sure the pricing is correct,” president Danny Bronstein says. If Ambassador customers ask how long the call will be, the company will tell them it depends on the extent of their questions.

Both Washington Home Remodelers and WinDor salespeople do the traditional warm-up for the first part of the call, but reps from All Metal Roofing in Memphis, Tenn., tell prospects they know “why you got me here,” and go right to the presentation book, says general manager Rodney Cheshire, who wants reps warming customers up throughout, especially at the end. Bronstein, too, encourages his salespeople to spend as much time as they can buttoning up. “That decreases the cancellation rate for us,” he says.

When to Go Of course, you can spend too long on calls. Brandt has seen newer reps give too much information and make customers impatient.

Bronstein tells his salespeople that, unless the customer tells them to leave, they should continue. “But there are times [the sale] won't happen because people are pressed to leave or one can't sit down and has to attend to children,” he says. “If [the reps are] not being listened to, it's time to go.”

“One of the rep's most important jobs is to read his audience,” says Jim Cipressi, a partner at Cipressi Brothers Contracting, Aston, Pa. “People don't have a real long attention span.”