Three years ago, I sold windows for manufacturers. Then I decided to go into the retail window business. I figured that after 12 years of selling to distributors and home improvement companies in the Pittsburgh area, I knew what it took to be successful. I had business experience and product knowledge, right?

IT'S PERSONAL In the early going, my biggest mistake was thinking it would be easy. I took for granted that if I had fair pricing and presented my product as a likeable person, people would buy. I thought I'd sell 80% of my leads.

I found out that selling in the home is about a hundred times more personal than selling business-to-business. When you're selling to a business, those companies know what they're buying, and the personal end doesn't come into it. But if you're trying to sell a product worth thousands to a homeowner, it's their money and they need to like you and feel comfortable with you on a personal level. If the homeowner isn't comfortable, there's no chance of putting a deal together.

So I made a point of always approaching the home respectfully. I walk in and treat the house as if it were my own. I always wear a logo-embroidered button-down shirt. I always keep a nice, clean vehicle — a big white Durango with the company logo on it.

I also realized that to succeed, I had to differentiate. So, after the first few months, I've never taken deposits. I want people to know that I don't need to use their money to fund my business. I also tell them, when I first come to their home, that I'm not going to ask what I can do to get their business that day.

HOME RUNS, STRIKEOUTS The approach I take as the owner/operator is different from the home improvement house with the high-powered commissioned salespeople. If the homeowner gives me the chance to explain my story and takes the time to understand that my approach is not that of the typical salesman, I have an advantage. I don't play the games our industry plays. I don't start out with a big retail price. I don't insist that all buying parties be present. I've sold roofing jobs where I never actually even met the homeowner. I've even sold window jobs that way.

I wanted to create a sales approach that's as far from the typical home improvement company as I can get. And I deliver a very detailed proposal in four colors with our logo on it. Once the homeowner meets with three other companies, they see that everybody else is going for the jugular. Or they compare me with the guy who asked 13 times: Can we sign tonight?

DO YOUR RESEARCH Today, three years later, I'm closing in the 40% to 50% range. I still have the same excitement and passion for a new lead or a sale that I did when I first set foot in a customer's home. If you like your job — as I do — that eliminates a large part of any hurdle to success.

We all are chasing the same types of customers, and there are only so many of them out there for us to work with. As homeowners continue to become more educated and wise about how to use their hard-earned money, the old-school techniques of selling will become a way of the past. Many times, I explain that I simply want them to make a smart decision based on the research they do. I am rolling the dice, hoping that they're comfortable with me and that they'll see the value of what I've learned and shared. —Brien Murphy worked in sales for two different window manufacturers before becoming co-owner of EZ Home Exteriors, in Pittsburgh.