Selling home improvement products and projects is an art, to some. Others might define it as a highly nuanced set of skills. The aim, of course, is to win the confidence of homeowners and close the sale. And like everything else today, home improvement selling is going high tech.

Increasingly, replacement contractors are arming their sales teams with laptop computers and packaged, electronic presentations to help tell a compelling story and make the sale. For some, the benefits have been substantial. Others have found that all they get for their considerable investment is disgruntled salespeople.

Staying on Message Computer-based sales presentations were originally on CD. Today, they're increasingly on DVD, because of that medium's capacity and capability to deliver “TV-quality” video. An electronic sales presentation offers a variety of sales benefits. For instance, it can help establish a company's credibility; it can diversify and bring excitement to the sales presentation. Laptop presentations even add a note of third-party objectivity via the on-screen spokesman or recorded testimonial. But home improvement companies that use electronic sales presentations say the biggest attraction is the ability of owners and sales managers to structure the presentation to match the company's selling system. Using electronics helps keep salespeople “on message.”

TEMO Sunrooms' CD/DVD presentation guides salespeople step by step using “milestones that take the customer through the sales process,” says Wally Ayotte, the company's creative director. Ayotte also points out that when salespeople are tempted to deviate, having a presentation on CD/DVD steers salespeople back onto the straight and narrow. “A system isn't a system if it's altered,” he says.

Then there's company image. Simply having a salesperson walk in, computer in hand, “becomes part of the presentation,” says Jim Ruppel, communications director at Four Seasons Sunrooms, a national franchise operator. “You can have a guy walk into your house in dirty jeans and a T-shirt or have a guy who walks in professionally dressed carrying a laptop. It says you are a professional organization rather than some fly-by-night outfit.”

Training Made Simple A packaged electronic presentation can extend the range of the sales presentation by adding new visual elements. “You can do things with video that your salesperson can't duplicate in the home when it comes to showing things like installation and customer testimonials,” explains well-known industry sales and marketing consultant Rick Grosso, of Rick Grosso Seminars, North Hutchinson Island, Fla.

Effective electronic presentations ideally work much like the traditional pitch book, and in their best form, even better. One area where they excel is sales training. Grosso says they help make new salespeople productive more quickly, “especially for the more complicated products that have a longer learning curve.”

That has an immediate beneficial result for companies that use electronics. “We used to tell salespeople that if they could feed themselves for two months we would feed them thereafter,” recalls John Monti, CEO of Bob Showers Windows and Sunrooms, Philipsburg, Pa. “The problem is that they can't afford to feed themselves for two months.” But using the company's sales DVD, “I can get them selling a lot faster and a lot more consistently — up and running and closing at 30 to 40% the second week on the job,” he adds.

Of course, for most owners, the ultimate test is sales. Or net good sales.

“We have a higher retention rate of good sales,” says Robert Randall, national sales trainer for TEMO and retail sales manager for Tony V's, the company's two-unit retail showroom in the Detroit suburbs. “When the first generation of the presentation came out in 2001, our net good sales [at the TEMO retail salesroom] were around 39%. In 2002 through mid-2003, we reached a peak of about 46%. As of today, we are at 68%,” says Randall. The company's first-generation DVD presentation “didn't flow as naturally as the current one. As the DVD has improved and the people are more comfortable with it, we find the technology helps out a lot.”