On the one hand it seems that sales call etiquette is merely common sense. On the other, it seems that sales calls can be pretty easy to mess up. Does that mean salespeople lack common sense? “Guys have not been trained in sales etiquette. The real student of sales is reading and studying and learning whatever he or she needs to do,” says business coach and author Michael Stone. “The little things make the difference between people who can sell or those that starve.”

Little things like reeking of cigarette smoke, wearing work-stained clothing, not shaving (for men), or, even, not taking off your shoes — as Bill Honn learned. An architect and salesperson at Associates in Building & Design, in Fort Collins, Colo., Honn called on a couple who led him through an immaculate garage covered in indoor/outdoor carpet and then into the house. Honn spent an hour and a half with the couple and thought he'd made a sale. When they hadn't called back after a week, he called them, and they told him they'd gone with another contractor. Why? Says Honn, “‘The other contractor took his shoes off at the door,' the homeowner said, ‘and we realized he was really going to have a lot of care and concern for our house.'” Honn says he removes his shoes now at every call, even when the owners tell him it's not necessary.

Nancy Sine learned about the little things when dealing with a couple who weren't both involved in the conversation. The husband did all the talking, and Sine got the impression that it was his project and perhaps the wife had objections to it. “We got to the close,” says Sine, a sales rep for Medallion Security Door and Window Company in Forestville, Md., “and I tried to involve the wife. She turned and walked out of the room saying, ‘You never cared about my opinion before, why now?'” Sine has never let that happen again. She has found that things that can lose a sale include talking about politics, not connecting in a warm and genuine way, not listening to what the customer wants, and misjudging people.

You also have to show genuine excitement in their project, says Mason Lord, owner of Hudson Valley Preservation in western Connecticut. “If you're not, it insults them.” He also cautions how important it is to ask questions rather than offer opinions. “You might see something hideous in their house and assume it's something they want to change. Don't say, ‘You don't want to keep that window treatment.' If they love it, you're done.”

In the end it's about prequalifying your customers and not prejudging them. Get to know them and show respect to everyone and everything in the house. Says Lord, “If a cat sits on your lap, stroke it and let it sit there. No one will hire you if you don't like their cat.”

Six Little Ways to Lose a Sale

Don't Be On Time
Yes, things happen. If you can't be on time, it's 100% better to call and say you're going to be late than not to call. Never destroy the relationship with an apology during greeting.

Offer A Bad Handshake
Most men want to give every other man a vice grip handshake. You're fighting and you haven't even gotten over the threshold. If you squeeze a woman's hand too tight, you're done. It's over. Give a quick handshake that is equal to or less than the receiver's grip. If she's a limpy noodle, be as limpy as she is. If he's got a vice grip, give back just a little less. Make eye contact or the situation will feel cold. Never do the hand over the hand on the first handshake.

Take Ownership of The House
Stop yourself if you're about to say, “If this were my house, I would…” Or, “I really don't like white cabinets…” You're personalizing the taste of someone else's house and taking ownership of their project.

Quickly Expose the Solution
Walk in like Superman with your hands on your hips, your cape flapping, and your tape measure at the ready. Women salespeople tend not to have this problem, but men want to resolve the situation right away and they give away the shop. Qualify what the client needs and wants first.

Don't Prepare Beforehand
You can't get a genuine, helpful, respectful relationship going quickly if you're not ready. It's game on as soon as the office phone rings. The gatekeeper needs to extract as much information as possible. Send an easy-to-understand agenda to the homeowners before the meeting. People buy from those they know and trust.

Don't Have Your Paperwork Handy
You'll get the fish out of the water and then say, “I'm sorry I have to go back and get the paperwork.” Be prepared to accept business and be ready to whack the fish on the head and pull it into the boat.

From Joe Dellano, design/build sales coach, Arlington, Mass.