In the past, when you walked into their homes, prospects might have known what three-tab shingles were. You probably would have had to explain that architectural shingles are heavier, can take more heat, and look better. And then they'd want to know if there would be a Dumpster and whether or not the plants would get ruined.

Today, people know a lot about home improvement. They ask about the wind zone and about recyclable asphalt. They read everything, including the warranties, before you get there.

But while they know a lot more, they don't know as much as they think they do. And that can make a big difference when you're selling. Anyone can sell a product; not just anyone can sell the expertise that comes with knowing how to correctly install the product.

IN GREAT DETAIL Thirty-five percent of my company's business is referrals. The rest comes from people who saw or heard our advertising. They're calling for quotes. They have no real reason to believe that I know what I'm talking about or to trust that I'll do the job the right way.

One thing that distinguishes the way I sell is that I explain, in detail, how we'll do the job. Whether it's roofing or siding, I don't assume that the homeowner doesn't care about, or won't understand, the particulars. It's their house and they're spending a lot.

So I go into as much detail as time permits. I explain why we use 30-pound felt paper instead of 15-pound. I explain why we install 3-inch drip edge instead of an inch and a half, and why we recommend a ridge vent. I let them know that we have our own vehicles and that we tarp everything off. After that I tell them about the warranty. Only after I'm done describing the job in its fullest detail do I go into price. Their first question might be: “Why is your price $800 higher than the other guy's?” My response: “Did any other company specify all this?”

BROAD SCOPE I also give them as complete a scope of work as I can fit onto the pages of the contract. My competitor might write: “Strip roof and install architectural shingles.” That's his proposal. I would write: “Strip existing roof to barnboard. Check all existing plywood and barnboard. Do all perimeters with 3 ft. GAF roofing material. Install 15 lb. or 30 lb. felt paper at homeowner's discretion.”

Not long ago I went to a home where the owner had already received a $30,000 price for a job installing 48 squares of roofing. My proposal came to $37,000. But when I looked at the other contractor's proposal, it didn't include felt paper, Dumpster costs, drip edge, or the cost of taking down the chimney.

I spell out the work we're going to do, as fully and completely as if I were preparing a how-to manual. I fill the page. My complete scope of work tells the client that this transaction has real value and that it is worth the investment.

I also make sure that it's legible and that anyone who sells for me has good penmanship. If clients can't read what's in the proposal, what good is it?

INSTALLER BACKGROUND HELPFUL One final point: When I hire a salesperson, I look for someone with carpentry experience — especially when it comes to siding. Homeowners have a lot of questions that can only be answered by somebody who's been out there and knows the product inside and out.

In today's market, prospects might say, “What kind of soffit material are you going to give me?” If they've done the product research, the homeowner will know. Will your rep?

—Randy Brown is the owner of Clearwater Home Improvement, in Mystic, Conn.