We asked Bob Baker of Robert W. Baker Builder, Princeton, N.J., Lisa Schliff of On the Beam Remodeling, Oakland, Calif., and Bruce Bentley of Bentley Design & Remodeling, Hanford, Calif., what they do before a sales call. Here's what they had to say.

1 When you call to qualify the prospect, learn what he or she does for a living. "If he's a stockbroker, then from that day on, I see how the stocks are doing, and that's an icebreaker," Baker says. "I know how his day went, too."

2 Get some understanding of budget. But cost is touchy, Schliff says. On her qualifying calls, she asks about quality of finishes. Asking for budget makes people uncomfortable and conveys that's all you care about, she says.

3 If there's a problem going in -- a zoning issue, say -- have a remedy. Even if it's not the exact solution, it conveys expertise, interest, and preparation.

4 Remind yourself to listen. Bentley says he'd like to tie string around his finger but instead considers putting a coin or pebble in his shoe as a mental reminder to shut up.

5 Be prepared to look around. Schliff's husband, Steve, the company salesman, pokes around houses on first visits. "They love that," Schliff says. "A house is an extension of people, more than they realize. The fact that he puts his hands on it means he's interested and motivated by the process of making the house look beautiful. That puts them on the same page."