The Problem Salespeople often attempt to prescribe the solution to a prospect's needs before really understanding those needs. For example, a prospect says they want a bigger, brighter, more modern kitchen. Your inclination is to discuss the job from the physical perspective — how big it could be, what features it could or couldn't have.

The Missed Opportunity Major purchases are made for emotional reasons, “and the most motivating of emotional reasons is pain,” says Jack Hauber, a sales coach with the Sandler Sales Institute. The prospect doesn't want a new kitchen just because of the old one's physical limitations, but because they're tired of being shut off from the kids while cooking, or missing out on socializing when entertaining friends. Hauber says that most remodeling jobs have three potential dollar levels: Level 1 is the amount the prospect says they can spend. Level 2 is the amount they can spend but don't want to tell you. Level 3 is the amount they would spend for you to take care of everything, including their worries — which could mean a bigger project, and it almost always sets the stage for powerful referrals.

Solution Feel the prospect's pain. When they say that their kitchen is too small, dig deeper. How long has it been an issue, what have they tried, what are their concerns about remodeling? Build the relationship. Then paraphrase your understanding of the prospect's frustrations, their wishes, and their concerns about working with remodeling contractors. The latter, Hauber says, is a great opportunity to lay those fears to rest. Conclude by asking, “Did I get those things right?” Only then do you ask about budget.

How One Remodeler Does It Mark Scott of Mark IV Builders, Bethesda, Md., often has clients who he says will “take up a CAD program and show me a little drawing they're real proud of. We talk about it for as little time as I can get away with. Then I put it in the back of my folder because they don't really know what they want.” Scott always tries to meet with both members of a couple, peppering them with questions “until I'm able to uncover one of their hot buttons. As soon as I can find out what they're most excited about, budget disappears” as an obstacle, he says. Scott might end the meeting by asking the clients to browse through shelter magazines and “start making piles. I want piles of stuff they like, but more importantly I'm looking for piles of stuff they don't like. Most people are very clear on what they don't like, and once you get them talking about that it becomes very clear” how to close the deal.

Jack Hauber, Sandler Sales Institute,; 301.590.8700, ext. 11.