Homeowners are taking twice or three times as long to commit to (or decide against) projects. How can remodelers help prospects sign more quickly, with confidence that they’re doing the right thing?

“Their heart wants to do it, but their head is holding them back,” says Dave Mattson, CEO of Sandler Systems, http://www.sandler.com/ a sales training organization with many remodeler clients.

Kyle T. Webster

In a strong economy, remodeling decisions are usually driven by emotion and quickly waived through by the intellect, assuming the price and the remodeler seem good. The balance has shifted, with intellectual concerns (about finances and the like) preempting any emotional investment.

Smoke ’Em Out

Set clear expectations and “smoke people out,” Mattson says. “You’re not in closing mode” in that first conversation, nor should you be in “hope and pray” mode at any point thereafter. “You’re in set-expectations mode,” he says.

A key Sandler tool is the “up-front contract,” in which you establish and agree upon five goals for the conversation that follows:

1. The purpose of the meeting;

2. Two or three things the prospect wants to learn from you today;

3. Two or three things you want to learn from the prospect;

4. How much time you’ll need today, and the homeowner’s time frame for doing the project;

5. The outcome/conclusion. Example: “When we finish today, you and I will decide whether we want to take the next step, which is for you to sign a design agreement in my office.”

This may turn out to be your only conversation with a prospect. That’s OK. “A call that begins poorly tends to end poorly,” Mattson says. Better to cut your losses quickly than to engage in a protracted and frustrating game of cat and mouse.

Selling is usually like chess, Mattson says. You move, they move, you move, they move. But these days you may have to move 10 times — even resorting to acts such as discounting your services — before the prospect moves. That’s not the game you want to play.

Stuck in Play?

Let’s say you’ve done everything right but the prospect still isn’t committing or even returning your calls. Mattson says that these two strategies are low-risk and will liberate you from sales limbo:

“I’ve got the feeling.” Next time you get through to the prospect’s voice mail, state that they have the drawings and the proposal, and that you think you’ve hit a home run in delivering what they want, but you haven’t heard back and you’ve “got the feeling” they’re going in a different direction. In your message say, “I’ll be in meetings most of the day, so would you be nice enough to leave me a voice mail about your plans, so I can move you off my schedule if you don’t want to move forward?”

Either they’ll be relieved to have permission to say no (without even having to talk to you), or they’ll want to commit fast. “People jump when they hear this,” Mattson says. He has offered this tip to remodelers at seminars, “and by lunch, you’d be amazed by how many had messages on their voice mail.”

Own your fear. Forget about exuding absolute confidence and slickness. If you struggle honestly, the prospect will rescue you, Mattson says.

Say: “Do you mind if I share with you one of my biggest fears?” For instance, that you’ll spend a lot of time putting together a great plan, but they’ll decide that they need to wait six or eight months. “So can we talk about that?”

This approach puts your dilemma in a “safe environment,” Mattson says. Own your fear, “and then shut up and let them solve it.”

Sandler Sales Institute, www.sandler.com. Exclusive to Remodeling readers: 60 days of free access to downloadable sales seminars from the Sandler Broadcasting Center. To receive your log-in information, e-mail Jennifer Willard, jwillard@sandler.com.