‘Get lost,’ the prospect told me
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‘Get lost,’ the prospect told me

Editor’s note: Greatest Sales are true accounts of how successful salespeople closed the deal despite sales objections, buyer inertia, cutthroat competition and other obstacles. Veteran salesperson Mark Chilnick tells how one sale early in his career taught him what it took to get past the buyer’s “no.”

“Please leave,” the prospect said. “I like my current supplier. I don’t even want to know your company exists.”

Early in my career, I sold advertising for a major telephone directory company. It was a tough, prospecting-intensive job, and I got my fair share of no’s.

But there are bad no’s – and then there are not-so-bad no’s. And despite the harsh words, I thought this was a pretty promising no.

For one thing, the prospect was anything but indifferent. People only use language like that if, at some level, they care. For another thing, this was a customer who was loyal to his supplier – just the kind of customer I wanted! All I had to do was get him to be loyal to me instead.

But how could I win him over when he wouldn’t even meet with me?

No, no, and still no
I used every technique I could think of to get a meeting. For three years, I got nowhere.

Finally, the prospect agreed to hear me out. Maybe he figured it was the only way to get rid of me for good.

When we met, I showed how much we’d saved other customers. He wasn’t interested. He wouldn’t even tell me what he was spending.

Was I frustrated? You bet. But the guy’s unwillingness to discuss his costs got me thinking. I was out there every day negotiating with customers, so I knew cost trends in my industry very well. My prospect hadn’t talked to anyone but my competitor for years, and he was likely to be way out of touch with reality. So I decided to gather every detail I could about the prospect’s operations, without asking him directly. With this information – as well as my best estimate of what my rival was charging him – I put together a presentation that laid out what he was spending and how much he could save.

‘Wow, you’re right’
I asked for one more meeting. The prospect was skeptical but agreed.

I opened the discussion with a dollar figure. “Here’s what you’re spending now,” I said.

“Wow, that’s pretty close,” the prospect said.

“Here’s how you’re spending it,” I continued, pulling out a poster I’d made up before the meeting.

He stared at my chart. “You’re exactly right.”

Then I pulled out a second poster. “And here’s how you can make your budget go a lot farther.”

“Let me see that,” he said.

That’s when I knew I had the sale.

Now my loyal customer asks me how he should allocate his budget. Not long ago, I asked him why he finally said yes after so many years.

“It was when you put that first budget number in front of me,” he said. “If you knew that much about my business without my telling you, I figured I should listen to you.”

Mark Chilnick, based in Frederick, MD, was a top-selling sales rep for a major publisher of telephone directories. He now sells online marketing services.

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