A universal truth of new-home sales is that the first five minutes with a prospective buyer can make or break the deal. With that in mind, you should have a plan to maximize the effectiveness of that initial exchange.

To make the most of that time, you need to be prepared with knowledge of your product, location, builder, competition, and buyer, says Boca Raton, Fla.–based sales trainer Bob Schultz. That preparation includes a professional appearance and enthusiastic attitude. You don’t want to launch right into a sales presentation when customers arrive, though. First things first; make them feel welcome. Casey Eycleshymer, community sales manager for Weiss Homes’ Ridgemont Crossing in Mishawaka, Ind., bakes fresh cookies every day for his customers. “We do that to set ourselves apart from other builders,” he says.

Conversation starters

With or without snacks, the first few moments are a time to find a point of connection. Don’t know what to say? “This is why God invented the weather,” says Jeff Shore, president of Auburn, Calif.–based sales training organization ShoreSelect. “Talk about the car they’re driving or the clothes they’re wearing.”

Another great opening question centers on their shopping experience. Both Shore and Schultz are fond of a question that goes something like, “So, you’re out looking at new homes. It’s fun, isn’t it?”

Once the chit-chat is over, though, it’s time to find out why the prospective customer is shopping for a new home. Stay away from questions such as, “So, what brings you out today?” or “What kind of a house are you looking for?”

“People buy a home because they’re dissatisfied with something in their lives,” Shore says. “My first question in the sales process is ‘Why are you moving?’ There’s a huge difference between a couple whose parents said, ‘You kids should buy a home; we’ll give you the down payment,’ a woman going through a divorce, and a person buying a third home.”

Kim Chitwood, sales and marketing department manager in the Las Vegas division of William Lyon Homes, and Marisha Ramsay, regional sales director for Melbourne, Fla.–based Holiday Builders, both use thoughtful questions to find out what’s most important to their customers. Ramsay likes to ask, “As you were driving in the neighborhood, what were you hoping to find?” or “What’s prompted you to think about buying a new home?”

Chitwood’s sales team members have been focusing on developing one question to ask buyers to quickly identify their emotional hot buttons. She likes “What do you want in your new home that you don’t have now?” and “Where is your gathering spot?”

Opening Maneuvers

What do you do if the first thing the customer says is, “What kind of deals do you have?” or “I’m not buying today. I’m just looking”?

Kitty Hawk, N.C.–based sales educator Myers Barnes calls those kinds of questions “opening maneuvers.” “If you’re not prepared to answer those questions in a positive response,” Barnes says, “you will lose the potential sale in the first five minutes.”

Barnes’ script for buyers who say they’re “just looking” acknowledges that position and explains that it’s your job to give customers good information so they can make an informed decision.

As for the dreaded “discounts” question, Michael Barsky, sales manager for Sharp Residential’s Olde Heritage and Lakestone neighborhoods in Woodstock, Ga., says he asks buyers to think about why a builder would slash prices. “If a builder is offering a $100,000 discount, you have to worry about the longevity of the builder,” Barsky explains to buyers. “There’s not that kind of profit built into a house.”

Leigh Staley Tarullo, president of Orlando, Fla.–based 3D New Home Sales Systems, recommends heading buyers off by bringing up incentives on your own with a comment such as: “We have some great homes value-priced to market and some special programs available. I’d like to tell you all about that in a little bit, but first, I want to find out a little about you. Is it okay if we talk about you for a minute?”

Barnes’ version is similar. When customers ask about incentives and offers, tell them something like, “Incentives vary and will depend on the specific home that’s selected and the time frame for purchase, so the first step is to select a home. Once you’ve found a house and a lot that meet all your needs, we can discuss the incentives that apply to that specific house.”

With those issues addressed and a level of trust established, you can move on to helping your buyers narrow down the available choices to the one house that is the best fit for their family and their budget.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Las Vegas, NV.