As my dad used to say, “Yesterday’s score doesn’t count in today’s game.” What are the rules of the new remodeling game, and how will we keep score?

Your first challenge is either to find buyers who need to play the game — whose remodeling needs are of an urgent or timely nature — or to provide enough interest that buyers will want to play. The second and bigger challenge, in my opinion, is to help buyers understand the new rules, so that they feel that the game is safe, fair, and worthy of playing through.

If you wait for buyers to figure out the new rules themselves, you will either need to sell on price or you will get to them too late. Either result could put you out of business. Be proactive.

Inspire a Process

Homeowners need a new process for reaching remodeling decisions. They can no longer assume that remodeling will increase their home’s value, and low price might not compel them either.

It becomes your job, as salesperson, to help them find new reasons to go forward, to walk them through the due diligence they feel they need, and to show them how and where to start.

Be a decision engineer, methodically guiding buyers through their emotional and intellectual considerations relative to deciding with confidence. Notice I said guide them. Buyers must feel that their decision and the process for reaching it are their own, and that they are overlooking no details.

Instill Confidence

Bad news sells better than good news, and the recent abundance of bad news — financial scandals, credit crunches, job losses — has left buyers with low confidence. To feel good about committing to remodeling or any other big purchase, they need to have confidence in their decisions, their choices, and their salesperson.

In the sales process, find time to understand your buyers’ concerns. Help them see that you understand what they are up against. They want options, but merely throwing options at them will just add to their confusion. Become their trusted expert not by what you say but by the intuitive questions you ask — questions that show you know what you’re talking about, and that crystallize why they want to remodel and their concerns about doing so. Be purposeful and sincere.

Provide Proof

Establish proof of your offer and your claims. You want your buyers to stay confident after closing the deal.

For example, to lend credence to your abilities and promises, provide strong personal references. To show that you truly listened and captured important details, provide professionally prepared project specifications and agreements. To instill confidence that they are receiving incremental value, establish a payment schedule based on project milestones.

Describe your production process. Explain your pre-construction and pre-completion meetings and reasons for them. Tie several benefits of these meetings to concerns that the homeowners expressed during your discussions.

Even if you already take these steps, scrutinize your process. Do you present your solutions in ways that directly address your clients’ goals and concerns? Make no assumptions. People remember 10% of what you say, but 90% of what they say. If a buyer says that he or she likes your solution, ask why, and seek a detailed answer. In her response, she will hear herself justify her decisions, and you can double-check her expectations against your understanding.

There is a saying that in business, nothing happens until there is a sale. Embark on these strategies, and I can almost guarantee that you will stand out in your marketplace. If that doesn’t motivate you, remember this other saying: Timid salespeople have skinny kids.

—Shawn McCadden founded, operated, and sold a successful design/build company. A co-founder of the Residential Design/Build Institute and former director of education for a national K&B remodeling franchise, Shawn speaks at industry events and consults with remodeling companies.