Mark Robert Halper

We will look back on the last few years as the golden years for remodeling — a time when many remodelers thrived as mere order takers. But tough times like those we have now mean a return to true selling.

Yet I’ve watched many remodelers, feeling pressured by the market, actually reduce the effectiveness of their selling by:

  •  Minimal or no qualifying, in the hopes that a job may lie in that stack of weak leads;

  •  Frantically making appointments day and night;

  •  E-mailing proposals in lieu of second visits because they are working so many leads;

  •  Logjamming their design/estimating systems because they are going for quantity rather than quality;

  •  Decreasing design-to-construction conversions because of ever-long design cycles, reduced design fees (that attract less-dedicated buyers), and inattentiveness to prospects who are already in the system.

Back to Basics

Here’s how the savviest remodelers are succeeding in sales today, and how you can do the same:

Slow hiring. Get very serious about who you hire to sell for your company, as well as how you hire them. Develop hiring packages that include search criteria (this person’s ideal skills, abilities, and experience), job descriptions, interview questions, and compensation packages. Everything in the package should mirror the company’s culture.

The good news is that the weak job market is yielding amazing hires, especially from online ads. If you need a key player, this is the time to get him or her.

Sales “boot camp.” Develop sales training systems for 30, 60, and 90 days for your new hires. In the curriculum: learning about the company and its systems, shadowing established salespeople, role-playing, attending weekly meetings, and learning from books, CDs, and Web content.

Fast firing. Decide in advance on your pass/fail criteria for new hires at 30, 60, and 90 days. What behaviors will you measure and monitor? How many first appointments, presentations, and sales will you require per month?

Team selling as a differentiator. I’m hearing especially favorable reviews of co-ed teams. One option is to pair a salesperson and a designer. Even if the salesperson is the owner, having a second person at the initial meetings will make for a smoother handoff to the design team. One member of the team should be responsible for keeping tight notes.

Selling fast. Strive to get the prospect to sign the design agreement on the first visit. It won’t always happen, but it can! If not, be prepared to give a good ballpark budget for the proposed scope, to leave the design agreement with the prospect, and to follow up.

Prospect coddling. Many remodelers are losing momentum between the design agreement and the sale, and are paying less attention to prospects. This reduces the project’s sense of urgency and diminishes the chances of conversion to a construction contract. Consider training your sales, design, and estimating staff in seeing your process from the prospect’s point of view. Invite suggestions for how to streamline the process, take the best ideas, and implement them.

Rehashing as an art form. Pull out your old lead sheets and call to assess whether folks have done the job or remain in a holding pattern. You’ll probably revive some leads.

These conversations are also a good opportunity to learn how your company handled leads the first time around, and to refine the process accordingly. For that reason, I suggest having someone other than the original salesperson make the call — preferably someone who is very good on the phone. Make these calls to lost design clients as well.

When this recession tapers out and the market revs up again, you will look back at this era as a time of relearning — of getting lean and doing more with less.

—Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage in Laurel, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5260;;