Set the stage for a decision by clarifying, for the prospect, what's going to happen during your visit.
Credit: Oliver Munday Set the stage for a decision by clarifying, for the prospect, what's going to happen during your visit.

There was a time when I had an 18-inch–high stack of folders on my desk, each requiring a callback. These were prospects who hadn’t made a decision, and they weren’t returning my calls. In time, the folders cycled out and new ones took their place. Homeowners are scared that you’ll get them to buy something. And all the traditional ways sales reps interact with customers reinforce this. For instance, you arrive, observe that it’s a great neighborhood, and ask: “What made you want to live here?” Well, they’ve already heard that from three other window reps, and their patience for the niceties of “warming up” is exhausted.

Down to business

Distinguish yourself from the others by getting right down to business. If that seems abrupt, consider that the one thing people have less of today than ever is time.

So, after introducing yourself, ask: Why am I here? And let the homeowners tell you about their situation.

Many salespeople at this point start talking about product. Instead, set the stage for a decision by clearing the air. When you do that, you address their fears — of paying more than they can afford or buying something they don’t really need — and clarify what’s going to happen during your visit.

After you’ve heard them describe a drafty living room or having to wrap themselves in blankets to watch TV in February, say something like: “The way this works is that you’re going to want to ask me a lot of questions — about types of windows and styles — and I’m going to want to ask you a lot of questions, including some sensitive questions about the timing of your project and the budget. Are you comfortable with that?”

Of course they are.

Then explain that there typically are three outcomes from a meeting like this. “The first is that we can move forward, whether the option at that point is a purchase decision or the need to return for some reason.” Explain that you’re not sure what that looks like now, but together you’ll figure it out.

“The second outcome is that you decide we’re not the right company for you or we may decide you’re not the right customer for us. Are you OK telling me that — with saying no?”

Of course they are.

“The third outcome is that you might say ‘We’ll think about it,’ or ‘Send us a proposal.’ I’ve done it, you’ve done, we’ve all done it, when the answer is really No. ‘Maybe’ is an outcome that’s really just wasting everybody’s time. Would you agree?”

Of course they would.

The old & the new

Now that you’ve set the rules of engagement, begin to build rapport and interest. Bring it back to the homeowner’s problem.

Traditional selling teaches that you use logic to make them emotional, then overcome objections. The better way is to ask questions to uncover conditions. Conditions can stop a sale. Say, for instance, they’re interested in your windows and you believe they own the house. But on asking, it turns out that Dad co-signed the mortgage. That’s a condition. Now you know that Dad needs to be present, so you arrange to schedule that. That’s the moving-forward piece. By the time you get to the end, there is no close except this question: Do you want my help? Using this method, I was able to whittle that stack of Maybe’s down to three or four folders. And that’s the way it should be. A salesperson needs to spend his time finding new business, not dodging the undecided in the grocery store parking lot.

Jim McCarthy is co-owner of Inner Circle of Maine, a business coaching firm. As a home improvement company sales manager, he increased sales from $1 million to $6 million in a three-year period., 207.205.7321.