The initial meeting with a prospective client is too important to rush into your sales pitch. “It's all about bonding and rapport,” says Bruce Curtis of Washtenaw Woodwrights, Ann Arbor, Mich. He typically devotes 5 to 15 minutes to small talk before steering the conversation toward the real purpose of his visit.

Tried–and–True Strategies for Breaking the Ice

  • “Be comfortable and be yourself; be casual yet professional,” Curtis says. Put the clients at ease because, after all, you are a stranger in their home.
  • “Look for things that are fun to talk about,” Curtis adds. Ask about their kids, how long they've lived in the home, and what the home was like when they bought it. “There are no gimmicks,” he says, but it never hurts to be “really friendly with the dog. If the dog likes you, that can go a long way.”
  • Greg Antonioli of Out of the Woods Construction, Arlington, Mass., holds initial meetings in his office, whose walls are “strategically lined with prints and things that are an easy cue for the prospects to ‘break the ice' themselves.” These include music CDs, pictures of his kids, and framed posters of, among others, Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, Ella Fitzgerald, and John Cleese as the Minister of Silly Walks, from “everyone's favorite Monty Python skit.”
  • People's reactions indicate whether they have a sense of humor, which is a critical litmus test for Antonioli. Those who appreciate the Python reference are probably “fun people who don't get hung up over little issues,” he says.
  • When prospects are referred by a previous client, Antonioli and Curtis both ask about the person they have in common. “Then I can go into how much we enjoyed working with Joe and Mary and some nuance of their project,” Antonioli says.
  • Don't come on too strong, cautions Dave Bryan of Blackdog Design/Build/Remodel, Salem, N.H. “Ours is a consultative sell, not high pressure,” he says, “so it is sort of like a first date.”