Editor’s note: Greatest Sales are true accounts of how successful salespeople made a challenging sale despite price objections, buyer inertia, cutthroat competition and other obstacles. Here, Mark Chilnick, Internet Marketing Consultant with ReachLocal in Woodland Hills, California, tells how he set himself apart in a tough market.

Over the phone, the prospect invited me to come in and make a sales presentation.

Thanks but no thanks, I said. “I don’t want to make a presentation,” I said. “I want an interview.”

“I don’t quite follow you,” the prospect said.

“I want you to treat this as if you were hiring me for your company,” I said. “Ask me the kinds of questions you’d ask a job candidate.”

I’d recently taken a new sales job and reconnected with a former customer. But I had to come up with a new approach. The product I was now selling was complex, so I needed my prospective buyer to see me as more than a vendor. I needed him to commit for the long term.

When I’d interviewed for the new job, I realized that’s exactly how employers approach a new hire.

They don’t sit back and wait to be dazzled by a sales presentation. They poke and prod. They ask tough questions. More than anything, they look for a good fit – someone they can work with over the long haul.

An unorthodox approach
When the questions started, a couple of things happened.

First, it became his meeting, not mine. His sense of ownership increased.

Second, his very first question told me exactly what he considered important: “What is your experience in our industry?” he asked.

That told me his top priority was that I understood his business, and his question gave me the opportunity to address it directly.

I asked him tough questions, too. Was the company loyal to its suppliers? When he’s unhappy with a supplier, how does he handle it? I even asked if his firm pays on time. I wanted him to understand that if we were going to work together, we had to have a relationship built on honesty and trust. And that if we didn’t both see a good fit, I was willing to walk away.

Changed his thinking
This was my greatest sale because I found a way to change how my prospect thought of me. In his eyes, I was no longer a salesperson, but a full-fledged member of the team.

I never presented. But I got the “offer.” Since then, our relationship has gotten even stronger.

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