A growing percentage of your market speaks little or no English, and your sales staff speaks only English.

“It all starts at the first point of contact,” says Michael Lee, a multicultural marketing consultant. He suggests hiring a receptionist who speaks the language most prevalent among the emerging homeowner groups or teaching the receptionist a few words. You could also route calls to an interpreter or a translating service (search the Internet or contact the language department of a local college).

In preparing for the sales visit, assess the prospect's English fluency. If it's very poor, Lee advises bringing along an interpreter. If the prospect speaks some English and you go alone:

  • Learn a few words of the prospect's language.
  • “Say ‘I'm sorry,'” Lee says. This puts the blame on yourself and shows you're sensitive to their culture.
  • Ask if anyone else in the household can help you communicate. The children of first-generation immigrants are often bilingual, he notes.
  • Follow the prospect's lead in body language. Rather than reaching out for a handshake, wait and see what he or she does. Don't stand too close or too far away. Make eye contact only if the prospect does.
  • Use both hands to present your business card, with the lettering facing the prospect.

  • Caveats

    Give the relationship time, and expect more than one meeting before closing the sale. Also, make sure a translator or interpreter goes over the contract.

    Michael Lee,; 800.417.7325. Lee will be speaking at the Remodeling Leadership Conference, May 18-20. For more information,