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. Dana Bartholomew, of Slade-Gorton Co. in Boston MA, tells how he won an account from a well-entrenched competitor.

“I appreciate your calling, but I really don’t want you to waste your time.”

That was my prospect telling me, as tactfully as possible, that he didn’t want me to waste his time, either. He was president of a food distribution company doing nearly $200 million a year and a long-time friend of our company’s president.

That friendship was why he’d taken the call. And why he was being nice. But he was looking for any reason to discourage me.

Yes, he explained, they did distribute some seafood (which is what we sell), but it just wasn’t that big a part of his operation. And, besides, he had a seafood supplier and saw no need to change.

I understood, I told him. But would he mind if I just kept in touch?

Delicate balance
He agreed, but I knew I had to walk a fine line here. If I were too aggressive, I could put our president’s relationship with him at risk. But if I weren’t aggressive enough, my president would be wondering if I’d dropped the ball.

I was mindful of the prospect’s comment about wasting time. I wasn’t that worried about my time, but I wanted to make absolutely sure that my calls would never waste his time.

Always bring a gift
Instead of making “just checking in” follow-up calls, I resolved that every call would deliver some value to the prospect’s business. For example, I’d pass along news he might not have heard: “Word on the street is that your biggest competitor is about to launch a new product line.” Or, “We just got new sales figures in from Japan and lobster consumption is surging. It probably won’t be long before you see sharp price increases in domestic supplies. Now’s the time to lock in pricing with your suppliers.”

The buyer must have been grateful for the news and inside information I passed along. He always found time to take my calls.

One day he had news for me. He’d just learned that his current supplier was out of a product he needed right away. Could I help?

Absolutely. We overnighted him exactly what he needed and absorbed the shipping costs.

You might say it was a lucky break and I was in the right place at the right time. But I think I made my own luck.

As quickly as that, we replaced our competitor as his exclusive supplier. The customer had been absolutely right advising me not to waste my time, or his, when I first started calling him. But the point is that I never did, even though I went for three years without getting an order.

I wasn’t wasting his time because, when I called, I made sure I had something of real interest to tell him. Those calls won his trust, and that trust won us his business.

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