I recently went to look at cars and met Mike, a nice car salesperson. We were talking, going on test drives, being nice — so nice, in fact, that I knew I could work my magic, soften him up, and get an all-time best deal.

Mike kept pushing the two models left on the lot, so I said, “What’s the discount if I take one off the lot?” No discount, he said, and I’d have to wait eight weeks for a custom order. He also talked about the 2013 models, so I said, “When is a good time to get a discount on the last of the 2012 models?” Again, no discounts because the new model is so similar and these cars are in high demand. He even used my secret weapon against me: He had the audacity to bring up car shopping websites and show me price comparisons.

Ink the Deal

It all made me think about sales in the remodeling business. Sales experts use lots of fancy words and lay out specific steps in the process. But let’s get “acoustic” with this. Take away the fancy electronics and what you’re left with are the basics our grandparents taught us about being a good person: be prepared, be nice, make conversation, listen to their needs, give good advice.

Easy enough. But there are two more items in that list that our grandparents told us to avoid, and they are what separate success from failure. To go from being a friend and adviser to signing a contract for a project, we need to talk about money and decide if there is a fit.

The Money

As a consumer, we want some idea of cost so we don’t waste anybody’s time. But for remodelers, talking about money is tough. First, it can take a lot of time to develop sound pricing.

Second, we’re afraid we’ll scare off our prospect if the range we give is too high. The solution? Make talking about money a conversation. That’s right — don’t just hit them between the eyes with a high and a low figure. Talk about money like you’d talk to a friend looking to make a major purchase.

You: “How much do you want to spend?”

Them: “I don’t know. How much do they cost?“

You: “Anywhere from $15,000 to $120,000. Let me give you an idea of why that range is so large. For under $30,000, you can get “x”; up to $60,000 you get “y”; at $120,000, you get “z.” And so on.

Them: “Well, I want to be in the $30,000 to $60,000 range, but I want this and that feature.”

You: “There are going to be some trade-offs, but I’d recommend you first consider this and that. Is that helpful?”

The fit

At the end of your first appointment together, don’t pull out a contract and pen; don’t try some closing trick you read about. Just ask, “Is there a fit?” If they say no, you hold your head high, confident that you’ve given them the best advice. Now you can focus on other clients. If they say yes, you have a green light to explore next steps.

Remember, though, that you have options. Some clients want to explore things further before committing, others want to dive right in. Make sure the alternatives are win-win — we can’t be unpaid professional researchers.

It turns out Mike, the car salesperson, was a cop before selling cars for a living. He worked in drug enforcement and in homicide. He told me that being in sales is no different from doing interrogations. And maybe he’s right because now I’m cowering in the corner, telling him I’ll buy now and pay full price.

—Bruce Case is president of Case Design/Remodeling, in Bethesda, Md. bcase@casedesign.com