YOU CAN'T SCORE points if you don't hang on to the ball. In the sales experience, it's easy to lose touch with customers along the way. The best way to maintain control of the relationship is to hold their hands and walk them through the sales process. Here are nine tips for keeping your customers from leaving the field:

1 Put your best foot forward. Once prospective buyers show up at your community, you need to knock their socks off. Consumers are shopping between eight and 10 projects, says Christine Lutz, senior vice president of Chicago-based Garrison Partners, a real estate sales and marketing consultant, and you have to stand out from the pack. “If I had a choice between spending $20,000 in print media or $20,000 to improve my models and a better presentation,” Lutz says, “I'd spend it on the presentation. People are choosing better quality, and they're judging that on finishes and nothing else.”

Also, always accompany your prospects to the models. Take the time to do a proper interview with the customers, asking about their family and their lifestyle. Do they have children or pets? Do they work from home? Do they entertain frequently? Get the answers to these kinds of questions and tailor the model tour to point out the features that will enhance their lifestyle.

While you're at it, make sure the sales center and the models are spotless. Check for trash on the sidewalks, dead plants in the landscaping, cigarette butts on the ground, and building materials lying around.

2 Be their cheerleaders. Perhaps the most dangerous time, in terms of buyers getting cold feet, is the first two weeks after a contract is signed, says Kelly Rae, director of sales and marketing for the Inland Empire region of Newport Beach, Calif.–based William Lyon Homes. That's the period of time when they tell all their family and friends that they're buying a new house. “Everyone is an expert these days,” Rae says. “We see people start to second-guess themselves.” To counter the nay-sayers, William Lyon staffers follow-up right away, congratulating them on their decision, and telling them how much fun they'll have picking out their options to personalize their home.

3 Give customers a guide book. Because the process is lengthy and complex, it helps to provide customers with a written manual to refer to. Not only does it help the customer know what to expect, it also helps everyone in sales, design, construction, and warranty share the same message with the customer. “We can say, ‘I'm sorry we can't entertain that request. Let's look on page 23 of the new-home buyer's manual,'” says Patti Grimes, vice president of community development and home building for Selbyville, Del.–based builder Carl M. Freeman Cos. “For [your people] to know you have their back is a great thing.”

4 Connect buyers with lenders. Financing a new home has gotten much tougher in recent months. The meeting with a lender is a critical point in the process that can often derail a deal. Sales agents can't offer advice on financing, but they can certainly provide general information to a customer who is filling out a loan application, says Bob Powley, area sales manager for Dallas-based Fox & Jacobs Homes. Even better, arrange to have a loan officer on site at least one day a week to make it easier for buyers to get their paperwork done.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Look at your models as if you're the buyer. Make sure the plants in the landscaping  are healthy, all the light bulbs work, and the walkway is swept clean.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Look at your models as if you're the buyer. Make sure the plants in the landscaping are healthy, all the light bulbs work, and the walkway is swept clean.

5 Build community. Many builders are boosting customer satisfaction and reducing cancellations with events that bring together buyers whose homes will be closing at about the same time. Most often, these events are “meet the builder team” get-togethers to explain the home building process. At Harvard Communities, a Greenwood Village, Colo.–based builder, average buyers go to three or four events before they move in. John Keith, Harvard's president, personally leads groups of buyers on pre-framing, wine-and-cheese tours to point out all the high-performance features behind the walls. “The end result has been staggering,” Keith says. “People can't believe so much thought goes into it. It makes our buyers into these incredible advocates.”

6 Welcome buyers on the site. The process of home building is very exciting to most people, and they want to be there to see it happen. There are a few ways to handle this and still maintain control over your site. William Lyon Homes welcomes buyers to the site, but asks them to wait until the late afternoon; the workday is essentially over and the builder can devote his attention to the buyer. Plus, it's safer for the buyer when the site isn't active.

At Darling Homes in Dallas, director of construction Troy Rohr asks customers to call and set up a time to visit. “That way, we can give more of our time to them,” he says. “We want them to feel like they're the most important person there.”