BEATING YOU UP You want the job, but not at the risk of compromising your profit margins. How do you “educate” prospects and clients that you just won't do certain things, no matter how they ask?

“It starts at the beginning,” says Jack Hauber, a sales coach with the Sandler Sales Institute. Whether a prospect tries to pin you down on an unreasonably low price range, or a client expects you to meet after hours, “you begin to set a pattern by caving in,” Hauber says. By the time you say no, or explain your change-order policy, you're probably losing money.

BACKBONE OF STEEL In that first conversation, clearly explain how you do business. One Sandler method is the “up-front contract” — an oral agreement making clear how both parties will interact in the meeting or relationship, and what the overall goal is. You might explain it in the context of “Here's how my company works,” or “Here's what I hope we can accomplish today.”

Memories can be selective, so reinforce often, Hauber says. For example, “When we first talked, we agreed that … .” If they don't remember, say, “My fault, I can review it with you. Here's how we work.” Sticking to your guns can be difficult. Hauber advises practicing on projects where the risk isn't so great and you're not so emotionally involved.

ONE REMODELER'S APPROACH “Nurturing attitude” and “calm tone of voice” are the magic words for Jeffrey Hall, owner of Villa Builders, in Chester, Md. He asks prospects lots of questions, listens intently, and sets up a meeting only after explaining how his company works and getting their buy-in.

Calmly asking, listening, and explaining builds trust and defuses tension, even among prospects who say they “just” want a bid or an estimate. (Hall doesn't do either.) “I used to think they wanted a detailed, written estimate,” he says, but by probing, he often learns that they're seeking a professional assessment and, potentially, are strong prospects.

“Your best clients are not going to beat you up,” Hall says. And on the occasions when prospects “disqualify themselves,” it's usually for the best.