You may have seen my column about a year ago where I showed a picture of the house my wife, Anne, and I are building? When we first decided to do this, we talked (interviewed) to a few small custom home builders.

That part was very frustrating to us because it seemed as if we disagreed with all of them. We also felt none of them were on the same page with our ideas. At the time, we had already subdivided the land the house was going on, worked with the city and even had a 200-ft. sewer pipe bored to get to the sewer mane.

So a great deal of what a builder would have to do had already been done. That’s when it hit me that Anne and I probably should become the builder ourselves. Knowing the frustrations I had seen over the years with my own customers that were acting as builders it gave me pause and made me feel we needed to research this endeavor in-depth before taking the plunge.

I was talking about this idea to a friend at work because he has a builder background and had built a few of his own homes. During the conversation I expressed my ignorance about the process and all the frustrations I could see us going through. Then he gave me some of the best positive reinforcement I had ever been given. He said, “Being a good builder is mostly about being organized. You and Anne are two of the most organized people I’ve ever met. You organize and write training manuals and teach step-by-step ways to help other sales advisors, and Anne is a high-end model home and sales office designer.”

With a little study and future advice promised from my friend, we decided to be our own builders. The house is now about half built and the process is running like clockwork. But without that positive reinforcement, we may not have had the confidence to tackle this venture.

When I started as a salesman over 30 years ago, my first impression about the other car salesmen on the lot was they were a bunch of phonies. They enjoyed tricking people, being aggressive, and basically treating customers like they were stupid. The worst trait I saw in all of them is they were quick to give positive reinforcement to anything the customer had to say because they had never done a thorough customer interview to find the person’s true wants, needs and means.

They had no way to give a sincere honest advisor’s opinion. Their positive reinforcement was fake. Buyers need to know you will give advice when they are on the right track and, more importantly, when on the wrong track.

By doing a true customer interview, you earn the right to give advice she can trust. You can let her know when she is on the wrong track and explain a better solution.

For example, often we get couples that disagree. One likes the carpet that will do the job, while the other wants a luxury end broadloom. Normally the wife wants the luxury and the husband wants it as cheap as he can get it. This scenario can be advised two ways, and you can help these buyers if you have listened well to the answers they gave you in their interview.

If I know by now that this purchase is only needed for a short time before they plan to move, I’d explain, “From what you’ve told me, an average carpet will do the job and save you some money to re-decorate your next home that you plan to stay in for a long time.” I’d also show the couple a carpet that is a little higher quality than the husband’s choice, but one that has some more style to it for her.

This is a positive reinforcement compromise. You acknowledge he wants to spend less, while at the same time giving her a compromise where she gets a little design for this short-term purchase.

On the other hand, if I see from the interview that this is a long-term purchase in an upscale home, I’ll explain that. Then, if I sincerely feel she has made a nice choice on the color and design, I’ll compliment the choice and give the husband at least two reasons why a long-term, higher dollar purchase is a wise investment.

In either case, the positive reinforcement needs to be real, and both spouses need to feel the compromise is in their favor. At this point, it’s not selling. It’s positive reinforcement from their new friend and now “Trusted Sales Advisor.”

In my opinion, to be a top sales advisor you have to like the people you work for and with, and also have a pretty big ego.

Here’s a tip for you sales managers. Top salespeople are proud, competitive and not always money motivated. To use myself as an example, I’ve always been a top sales advisor at everything I’ve sold. But I’m not as rich as many people I know that are at the top in other fields of work. Don’t get me wrong, I do well, but retail sales won’t get me into the doctor’s mansion. But being one of the best drives my big ego. Many of the companies I’ve worked for gave out awards for top salesperson. Many of them held sales competitions during big sales weekends. All the money I won from these contests was nice, but not as nice as the ego boost it gave me.

If your company has more than 10 salespeople, offer these yearly awards and cash bonuses. If your company is small, don’t forget a simple, “Job well done,” goes a long way.

Your positive reinforcement, when it is real, makes everyone a winner. Thanks for reading.