Think you are misunderstood as a contractor? Well, salespeople are some of the most misunderstood and disliked people on earth.

With all the talk of a recession and many contractors struggling a little harder than normal, now seems like a good time to talk about selling — that mysterious trade that some contractors love and others despise. Think you are misunderstood as a contractor? Well, salespeople are some of the most misunderstood and disliked people on earth. Recently, I was conducting a sales program in Canada and a national survey came out which said that politicians were the most mistrusted people in Canada. Salespeople were number two.

Let’s start with a definition of selling that I have found particularly useful when speaking to contractors: Selling is communicating your trade and profession to the customer. Notice that I didn’t use the words coerce, cheat, force, push or swindle. Communication is the key. It is not your customer’s responsibility to understand the difference between you and the competition. It is your responsibility to clearly communicate your trade, what your company has to offer, and the kind of work you do.

The following tips are just tips, suggestions, ideas and phrases you can use when talking with customers. There is no rhyme or reason to their order.

Tip Number One: “Tell me more about that.”

Selling is about gathering information. Try using broad questions that force the customer to talk to you and tell you what they had in mind. Sample questions are:

“Tell me a little about the job you are looking for.”

“So that we can do our best to meet your needs, help me understand the kind of job you are interested in.”

When the customer offers some information, restate what they say and ask them to tell you a little more about that or some other phrase that flushes out more information.

“So you want an inexpensive job? Tell me a little more about that.”

“So you want this done right away? Tell me a little more about that.”

“So you already have one price and it is more than you want to spend? Tell me a little more about that.”

“You feel our price is too high? Help me understand what causes you to think that.”

I know this seems a little awkward but you can customize it into your own terms. The idea is to get the customer to talk.

Tip Number Two: Answer a question with a question.

Most of us were good boys and girls and learned to obey our teachers, big brothers, parents and other people of authority. This was a good strategy when you were eight years old. Being obedient kept you out of trouble and meant you were a polite child. Most of the authority role models in your life knew more than you and were only trying to protect you.

This logic does not necessarily work well for contractors when talking with customers. The customer probably does not know more about the job than you and probably needs some education. Blindly answering the customer’s questions may not be in your best interest because the customer may be asking the wrong question for the wrong reason. Answering a question with a question can help flush out more information.

For example, if the customer asks, “Do you guarantee your work?” You should say, “We obviously stand by our work but are guarantees an issue for you? Is there a particular reason you are interested in guarantees?”

I know this seems silly, but at this point you may not have enough information to give the right answer. The other contractor may have offered a guarantee that they want to compare yours to. Or maybe they bought a used car and the guarantee was worthless and they have a bad taste in their mouth. Maybe they had a roofer guarantee a roof and when they called in on a leak the roofer was out of business. At this point you just do not have enough information to start making assumptions.

Tip Number Three: Tag lines for objections

In the heat of battle, it seems like customers give you a million objections. In reality, fewer than 10 objections cover 90 percent of the objections contractors face. Price, third party authority, schedule and another contractor are just a few. It just makes sense to come up with some common lines you can offer to counter these basic objections. I call these tag lines, something you pull out of your pocket and say to the customer. Let’s practice with that age-old objection — price.

The customer says, “Your price is too high.” You would then say, “I know it is a lot of money. Here at Acme Contracting we decided a long time ago that we were better off to charge a little more than to deal with the problems that cutting corners causes. We have done more than 300 jobs in town and I want to make sure that if I see you in the grocery story, I am proud of the work we did for you.”

Practicing a little and having a strong tag line just makes sense. This can keep your from being offended and blurting out something like, “If you buy a crummy job, you get what you deserve.”

Now let’s offer one for higher authority. Customers are famous for passing the buck by saying something like, “I have to talk to my husband” or “I have to call the home office for approval.” Most contractors will tuck tail and run at this point. The more aggressive salesperson might reply, “Let me talk to them for you.” Neither are appropriate responses.

The best response at this point is to test the objection for validity. Indicate that you appreciate the need to communicate to a third party, but you want to make sure that the person you are talking to is happy because that is who you will be working with, not the third party. Say something like “I can appreciate you wanting to talk to your husband. I talk over major decisions with my wife. At this point, I have not met your husband and you and I are the ones who will be working together. Based on what you have heard, are you comfortable with us doing the job?”


I have no illusions that I can teach you how to sell in a monthly article. Selling is about communication and most of us communicate according to how our parents and other surroundings taught us as a youth. However, believing that you can simply write an estimate, drop it in the mail and get the job may be foolish. Learn to talk with the customer. Practice a little. Simple communication can be a powerful tool. Try some of these tips and see how they fit. Lots of contractors use them successfully. What do you have to lose? The whole process might surprise you.