A homeowner in Seacaucus wants a price on a siding job. Actually, it’s only his garage that needs new siding. On the phone he complains that he’s had a hard time getting anyone out. There’s not a lot of money in it, which would discourage some salespeople. But for others, the fact that the prospect is an immigrant from South Asia is a discouragement.

So, still on the phone, here’s how I would handle it: I give the homeowner the same respect and attention I would if he were replacing the siding on his whole house.

Tough Customers

Some salespeople will comment that immigrants can be tough to sell. I remember when I first got into home improvement selling, other reps on the salesforce would get a lead with a South Asian surname on—they called it a “Patel lead”—and would throw it away or give it to somebody they were mad at. The reasons: They couldn’t connect with that prospect and they didn’t even want to try.

It was around that time that I read the book Million Dollar Habits by Robert R. Ringer. The author points out that people create and live in their own small worlds, which they mistake for the larger world. If you blanch at the idea of selling to immigrants, it’s because in your mind their values are too different. In the real world, immigrants to this country are here and they’re staying. And in certain towns, immigrants make up a sizeable portion of the population. Many members of these communities have high-quality employment—they’re industrious and they make money, the communities enjoy low-to-no crime, and scholastic scores are off the charts. Understandably, these people are also frugal and not willing to give their money away. So I thought it was worth my time to figure out how to sell them.

Sales Tips

What I quickly realized when selling to a group that’s not so familiar to you, is that similarities are far more important than differences—though you’d better be prepared for the differences.

The first key difference is that you need to be prepared for negotiation. Some nationalities come from cultures where everything’s negotiated. They’re used to it and they like it. If you’re not ready for that, you could easily get thrown. So get used to the idea that they will bargain and will likely try to get the job for less than your price—it’s part of their culture to do so. Learn to stay the course and sell them on the quality and merits of the job and of your business, just like any other homeowner.

Second, I’ve found that—particularly for immigrant homeowners—overexcitement and hype is a complete turn-off and a huge red flag. . The second the homeowner gets the sense that he’s being sold, the relationship breaks down.

Third, have all the facts; don’t just hit them with a sales pitch. They want information. So when I get out to the house where the garage needs to be re-sided, I tell the guy he also needs a new roof. I point out that the shingles are curling and the roof’s worn away in places. It’s on the verge of failing. He says he was hoping to get another year out of it. I liken it to driving a car at 80 mph with bald tires. Good idea? Not so much.  Because, I point out, on his home, if the roof fails and there’s a heavy rain, there’s no question that it will be a problem.

Beyond Stereotypes

After I made the effort to broaden my understanding, guess what? I found I was selling to more immigrant customers. I remember looking at my customer list one day and being pleasantly surprised by the variety of names there. A whole page of them!

But there are a few things to remember, many of them just common courtesies. When I go to the home of a prospect from another culture, I put the old Confrontational Mike on the shelf. The first thing I do is take my shoes off. After all, I’m in their home as a guest. I let them be in charge. Sometimes you have to give up control in order to gain control.

I make direct eye contact.

And I level with them. So if we reach the point where they want the $12,000 job for $7,000, it feels perfectly natural for me to ask: If you go in a retail store and pick up an item marked $12, would you expect to be able to bring it to the cash register and pay $7? I explain that the price is the price and I give the reasons why. And if I make a claim about something, I’m prepared to back it up.

Here’s one other thing about many recent immigrants to the U.S.: They’re no different from the many immigrants who came to this country before them, in that family is everything. So now, the day after I’ve been to the house and priced out a re-sided garage and a roof replacement, I have the guy’s brother on the phone wanting me to come out and talk about a siding job.

—Sales veteran and trainer Mike Damora has been the sales manager at several large home improvement companies. Reach him at [email protected].