One of the office systems that we have in place at our company is a gatekeeper pre-qualifying program. It is basically a phone interview that takes the potential client through the “gate” of the company. It involves a series of pre-determined questions for the prospect to answer. It’s a wonderful tool, but it requires great diplomacy. After all, no one wants to be pre-qualified because it insults the prospect to think we may not want them.

So here’s the trick: It is critical as the gatekeeper to know when to speak and when to be quiet. I have heard it said that a person should listen 80% of the time and speak only 20%. One thing you can always count on is that folks love to talk about themselves. And they want to talk about that extension of their personality—home sweet home.

As they talk, listen for their driving pain. Something made them pick up the phone and call you. I remember talking with a woman who was considering remodeling her bathroom. Shaving was driving the potential project. Yes, shaving. When she shaved her legs she had to sit on the edge of the tub and when she did, her knees hit the toilet. Sounds silly but it made her want to spend thousands of dollars. People usually buy because they are in pain. If you spot the pain, you can remind them of it down the road when the money part gets scary.

Be discerning: Listen for words like “hate," as in "I hate how dark my house is." Or "power-packed" words: "This master bath is hideous and pink."

It’s funny how a minor decorating fix can turn into a major bath remodel. When your prospects go off into a personal story--let them. Remember, people love to talk about themselves. When you listen to them it helps to break the ice and develop rapport. The upside to the time you spend listening is that you may gain a life-long customer and a good friend. Kathy Shertzer is office manager at DuKate Fine Remodeling, in Franklin, Ind.