Homeowners looking for window, siding, or roof replacement usually want to know one thing: How much it will cost. They also know what they want to avoid: a salesperson whose tactics (such as big price drops) make them feel pressured and uncomfortable — or a sales rep who runs on and on.

Blogs, complaint sites, and other social media are chock full of stories about the home improvement salesperson who wouldn’t take the hint. That’s why when someone from your office calls to set the appointment, some homeowners will demand to know how long it will last.

Companies that respond by providing a time frame do that because they just want an opportunity to get in. “They think that’s what the homeowner wants to hear,” consultant Tony Hoty says.

So what do you tell prospects about the time, when setting the appointment?

  • You can give them a time frame. But whatever time you give — whether it’s 20 minutes or 90 — won’t be accurate. How could it be? Setting a time limit when confirming the appointment also gives homeowners a reason to mull the whole thing over. If they have sat through three window presentations already, the “only 90 minutes” you’re promising sounds like eternity. And they might cancel. Hoty, who works with many home improvement companies, says he sees conversions fall off at companies that provide a time frame.
  • You can give them an answer that’s not a time frame. But it’s also an answer that satisfies them. What’s the goal? “We want them to set aside a significant amount of time,” says Brian Brock, general manager of Hullco Exteriors, a home improvement company in Chattanooga, Tenn., “without scaring them off.” Remove the mystery by explaining that the salesman will be there as long as it takes to measure, prepare a proposal, and explain the product. “What we say,” Brock points out, “is that the amount of time could vary by the scope of the project and the number of questions they have.”
  • You should find out why they’re asking. If people want to know how long the appointment will take, they have a reason. “It’s almost never curiosity,” Hoty says. That reason could block your effort to give a full product presentation. It will be important to know, for instance, if they plan to divide their time that night between your salesperson’s visit and some other event. Hoty suggests asking, “Are you going to be free for the balance of the evening?”
  • Make an effort to put them at ease. It could well be that prospects have sat through other sales presentations and are anxious to forestall another three-hour appointment. If someone from another company has worn out his welcome, salespeople from Hullco are trained to find that out and to assure homeowners that “we are at your service.” That is, the company’s sales rep has no intention of remaining in the home beyond the time that’s appropriate to give the homeowner the information he or she needs. And say the homeowner pops that question — How long are you going to be here? — at the door. Hoty says the best response is: “Not a second longer than I am welcome.”
  • Get to the point and engage. The real answer to the question of how long the salesperson will be in the house, says Randy Leeds, owner of First Choice Windows Remodeling Group, in Greenwich, Conn., depends on the connection the salesperson can build — and build quickly. “You take the time that you need, and the customer will give it to you if they like you,” Leeds says. He suggests sales reps should get right to the point. If, for instance, homeowners have already researched your company’s reputation and history, you don’t need to spend 20 minutes singing its praises. Prospects will only like you if you’re respectful of their time and attention. If they don’t like you, a fixed time frame is a stopwatch.
  • Cut it short if you need to. At Hullco, salespeople hit with the homeowner’s sudden need to leave are authorized to cut the presentation short and set a second appointment. Long gone are the days when salespeople could wear homeowners out by staying until a signature on a contract was the only way to get the rep to go away. If your presentation isn’t clicking, but the clock is ticking, it’s not wise to press on — because chances of cancellation are strong. So are chances of winding up as the subject of a homeowner’s irritated blog post or review. —Jim Cory is a contributing editor to REMODELING who is based in Philadelphia.