Let’s face it — for most salespeople, getting into a new prospect is a tough job. It takes persistence, requires lots of phone calls, and typically puts the seller through an emotional wringer. Discussions with hundreds, if not thousands, of distributor salespeople indicate this is one of the most difficult parts of their job. First, it takes multiple (actually, our research shows seven) phone calls and email messages just to get to the right person. Sadly, sellers, who are faint of heart, give up before the actual contact is made. Many would rather put the task off and procrastinate for weeks. Some, with established territories, simply refuse to make this kind of call until their managers apply massive pressure to open new accounts.

The point is, lining up this kind of call is not on anyone’s top 10 list of things to do. There are dozens of articles on the topic of getting the appointment; my intent is not to provide a tutorial on the topic. Instead, let’s assume through hard work and “true grit," an appointment is secured.  

Let the selling start? Not really. Salespeople who come into the prospective new customer’s office with six guns blazing and a hundred catalogs under their arm are destined for failure. I recommend a different approach.  


As weird as it may sound, you’re not here to sell anything. Instead, the first time call is an opportunity to find out where we might be able to harness our products and services to provide something of value to the customer. Just taking this customer-centric approach differentiates you from the dozens of other “drive-by salespeople” who have probably wasted the customer’s time in the past.  

Previous experience has conditioned the customer to politely give you a few fidgety minutes then start looking for an excuse to get you out of their office and back into your car heading down the highway. You’re going to throw them off by not selling. I recommend starting the conversation off with this statement: “I promise not to try to sell you anything today. Instead, I want to learn a bit more about you and your company.”


Nothing can turn off a potential client more than a seller who has not taken the time to learn about the account. Back in the old days, this was a pretty hard task. Today, the internet contains dozens of resources for discovering more about the potential customer. Things like products, company history, and industries served are right there for the taking. Asking dumb questions labels you as a time waster. Good questions, however, are still the key to success. 

Why leave success to chance? Since selling is an emotional sport, nerves often get in the way of identifying great questions “off the top of your head." Prepare for the call by developing a list of questions you would like to have answered by the customer. These are both personal and professional in nature.  Here is a short list:

(Not too) Personal questions
• Can you give me a quick overview of your career? Where have you worked? What kind of education prepared you for the job?
• In what areas do you work? What are your responsibilities? Are there other areas in the company with people doing similar tasks?
• What kind of information is important to you? Are there areas where you might benefit from training?

The Company
• Who are your end customers? What do they like about your company?
• What is the company best known for?  
• Can you describe the processes used within your organization?  
• Are there areas where you are working on improving the process?
• What types of engineering issues do you face?
• What do you look for in a supplier?


Here is a short couple of sentences to jump start your efforts with this kind of a call:

“Thanks for taking time to see me today. I appreciate and value your time. I represent a distributor who provides a number of products and services that I suspect may be of interest to you and others in your organization. I’m not going to try to sell you anything, or bore you with a long list of the things we do. Instead, I would like to learn more about you. This gives me an opportunity to think about your situation and then, if it makes sense, come back with some thoughts and potential recommendations. I am going to leave you with a single company brochure that shows the many things we have to offer, but that’s not my main purpose today.”

Once you’ve set the stage, get started with the questions you have already prepared. Try to stay conversational, it’s not an interrogation — instead think interview.  


Regardless of how you might be tempted, stick with your no sales pitch promise. There will be times when you are tortured by this commitment, but the only time to talk products or services is if the customer asks you. Otherwise, wait until a later time.

Take notes. Nothing shows your interest more than taking a few notes. Further, I have discovered that customers actually say more when you ask them if they mind if you take a few notes. It reinforces the importance you place on their answers.

Let them know you want to think about their situation. Ask if it might be possible for you to pay a short visit in a couple of weeks to talk about a couple of opportunities for your companies to work together.

For more information, contact Frank Hurtte.

Publication date: 7/5/2017