Your job is to walk into a stranger's house and, within minutes, get them to trust you. Otherwise, they're not going to listen to your sales pitch. How do you do that? Start by taking off your shoes. That's what Don Darragh, vice president of marketing and sales for Energy Swing Windows did on a call several years ago. Darragh doffed his shoes, even though the entryway to the house was dirt and the house itself less than a showcase. After the owner signed, she told Darragh the reason she liked him was because he was the only salesperson respectful enough to remove his shoes, even though her home wasn't all that nice.

Today Energy Swing Windows sales-people work to build trust before they get to the door. First, the Murrysville, Pa., contractor sends an appointment confirmation letter that includes references and a video or DVD. “That makes us credible and builds confidence,” Darragh says. They also arrive five minutes early and call if even one minute late. Along with a red company shirt, his salespeople wear dress pants and dress shoes. When they exit the car, they avoid walking on the lawn, and if there's a newspaper outside, they bring it with them. It all helps build rapport.

Common Ground When Bill Hughes, president of Medallion Security Door & Window in Fayetteville, Ga., mentions BLT, he's not talking about a sandwich. BLT — believability, likability, trust — is the formula Hughes uses to build rapport. To do that, he employs eye contact and does his best to emulate prospects, that is, to talk their talk and to demonstrate similar interests. “People like people who like the things they like,” he says. For example, he compliments the landscaping or talks about awards he sees in the house.

Bob Strong, a salesman at Better Living By Sunspace in Athens, Ala., makes a point of finding common ground quickly. Usually, he says, he will make a comment about the house and find out how the prospects heard about the company. Odds are that they know someone the company already has done business with, he says. He also likes to get people to laugh. “It puts them at ease,” he explains.

No Razzle A totally different approach works for Stormtite sales-people in the Warwick, R.I., area: They're not trying to make the sale right away. President Ed Ladouceur says that 95% of the contractor's sales don't come on the first call. “We don't set people up to ask them: ‘What will it take for you to buy from us?'” Ladouceur says. “We don't do the razzle-dazzle stuff. We try to make a friend before we make the sale.”