Credit: Illustration: Chris Gash

No salesman wants to hear the word “no.” And few homeowners, it seems, want to say it either, at least in so many words.

“It doesn't happen very often because in most cases when someone invites you into their home at six o'clock on a winter night, they want you there for a reason,” says Joe Mand, owner of Wrightway, in Fond du Lac, Wis. “They don't want to sit and watch TV with you.”

Generally, Mand says, what you get instead of “no” is a stall. Prospects say they have to talk it over before making a decision. Or they're waiting for a tax refund. Or that college tuition is eating them alive. Sometimes the car broke down that very afternoon. “You name it, we've heard it,” he adds. “No,” in this case, would signal absolute rejection, and its absence is a sign that there's definitely a chance of getting the sale.

“Rarely does a customer say ‘no,'” says Mike Feazel, owner of Feazel Roofing Co., in Westerville, Ohio. “They usually brush you off and say they're getting another bid.”

PROBE THE NO An experienced home improvement salesperson uses these brush-offs to probe, drawing out prospects to identify the source of their reluctance.

“Instead of ‘no,' many homeowners will say, ‘I don't think so,'” says Fred Raskin, owner of Prestige Sunrooms, in Chicago. Raskin says his response is: “Obviously you have something to think about. Would you mind telling me what it is?”

Drawing out the true objection, sellers say, is the point.

“Ninety percent of the time, the customer isn't giving you all the information,” Feazel says. “It's nothing personal. Our job is to dig in, find the truth, and build the relationship to where we can be candid with that individual and he can be candid with us.”

And when the answer actually is “no,” seasoned sellers know that a well-timed question will reveal whether that refusal is the final answer.

“If somebody says ‘no,' we try to find the reason,” explains Allan Terhune, owner of Atco Inc., in Beachwood, N.J. “We ask: ‘What are you looking for us to do differently that can affect this decision?' But,” he admits, “usually, it comes down to money.”

PERSEVERANCE FURTHERS Skilled salespeople always try to close several times. Even after “no.” “It's not a bona fide ‘no' until they ask you to leave,” Raskin says. Up to that point, there are ways to save the sale. “As a salesperson, you have to try to read the customer as best you can, to say, ‘There's a chance I can make this happen if we just get over these couple of hurdles,'” Mand says. “You keep trying until you can make a justifiable decision in your mind that there is no way you're every going to get this.”