As the economy continues to sputter, expect as well a continued slowdown in decision-making. Actually, it has been part of your life for the past couple of years. If you're like most salespeople, you probably attributed the slowdown to buyers playing negotiation games. But the reality is that macroeconomic worries have created microeconomic stalls. Lending remains tight and housing prices continue to decline. Thus, builders are cautious while homeowners remain worried about their jobs. Everyone continues to be guarded about financial commitments.

According to a recent New York Times article, Americans are shifting their spending patterns for small-ticket items such as food, clothing, and travel costs. The article noted that Wal-Mart "reports stronger-than-usual sales of peanut butter and spaghetti, while restaurants like Domino's Pizza and Ruby Tuesday have suffered a falloff in orders, suggesting that many Americans are sticking to low-cost home-cooked meals."

If Americans are this conscious about their little expenditures, it is easy to understand a fear of long-term budget commitments like a new home or remodeling project. The result of this hesitation by the ultimate customer is a slowdown in builders' and remodelers' production schedules.

Salespeople misinterpret a deferred sale as a lost sale, but that's not the case. I have taught for years that salespeople need to learn that, in most cases, "no" actually means "not now."

Eventually, that bathroom must be remodeled and the new addition constructed. Eventually, a home will be purchased by the growing family. It is a matter of time. The belief that you have lost a sale is frequently inaccurate. You have not lost a sale, but instead are experiencing a deferred decision.

Here are four suggestions to help you adapt:

1. Change your mindset. Even I have to catch myself at times and remind myself that a "no" I receive is only a deferral until a client can later invest with confidence. Thus when I lose a sale today, I remind myself that I should remain optimistic about future opportunities with every client that is unable to commit investment dollars at this time.

2. Keep in touch. The next time you call a client to ask him about a proposal that is on the table, be prepared for the rejection. Then with a smile (which can easily be heard over the phone) tell the client: "No problem. I understand that you're not ready to move forward. But I am only doing what you want your salespeople to do. I'm following up." Thus you position yourself as a persistent Sales Leader rather than a nuisance.

3. Remember: It is not about you. The current economy provides an excellent opportunity for you to thicken your skin and take rejection professionally. The sale is also a purchase and should be understood from the client's perspective. You must be able to truly understand what benefit you would see in you if you were the customer.

4. Quantify the value of your offer. If you are not able to define how your offer produces real results for your client, then you need to re-think your approach. Too many salespeople are still trotting out terms like "value, quality and service" as a justification for action. These trite terms do not possess a quantitative value until you calculate it for your client.

Recognize that decisions are being deferred and you must adapt. The right time to close the deal is when your client is ready. Therefore, you must develop an approach that creates tangible value for your clients and prospects. When the timing is right, you will be the right choice for your clients.

Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders Inc., an LBM advisory firm specializing in sales management training. He is an international speaker and author of Strategic Sales in the Building Industry, a BuilderBook publication. 773.769.4409. E-mail: [email protected]