Being curious, I like to ask people how business is going. “Not what it was,” is a typical response. Circumstances have changed, with many companies still only a fraction of the size that they were before the recession.

Other differences have surfaced as well. Technology, for instance, has dramatically sped up the in-home sales process. Now, along with my pencils, pens, calculator, measuring tape, and notebook, I carry an iPad.

It wasn’t the easiest thing for a 59-year-old to get used to. When I first got the iPad, I didn’t even know how to turn it on. In fact, it took a week to get fully comfortable with the device. But imagine if I went on a call and all I had was a picture book—with before and after shots—and a catalog with various items crossed out because they’re no longer available. What kind of impression would that make?

Choose Your Weapons

Today, by the time we get to the house, many customers know almost as much about our company and products as we do. They expect us to be familiar with technology as it applies to home improvement—they’re grading us on it.

Some companies make iPads mandatory for salespeople; ours does not. Some of our salespeople carry them and others don’t. I know guys who own iPads and use them to read books or watch movies at home, but wouldn’t bring them to an appointment. I know others who dismiss the Apple gadget entirely because they’ve sold for years without it.

Best of Both Worlds

Renovating the home is a gritty, physical task and the best way to communicate that is to give people a glimpse at the process, as well as the end result. So for instance, when I measure a deck, I carry four driveway stakes and rope, which is something I learned to do 20 years ago. Now the customer sees where the deck is going and can imagine it there.

What I find works best is combining the old with the new. When I run a siding lead, homeowners see me with a pencil and graph paper drawing the house to scale. When I’m finished, I show them photos of before-and-after siding jobs on the iPad before pulling up videos of installers.

Companies supply salespeople with leads, but it’s up to the salesperson to boost closes by knowing how the game is changing. It impresses customers that I use an iPad—it also makes the call more enjoyable. If you’re not using one, you’re missing out on a big opportunity. The market landscape has changed. For instance, years ago, everybody had equity money. Today, it’s necessary to have payment plans and know how to sell one. How far would you get if you didn’t?

—Jake Jacobson is vice president of sales at Premier Window & Building, a Maryland home improvement company. Reach him at