Very early in my sales career I made a cold call on the CEO of a large homebuilder in my territory. I was selling accounting systems for what was at the time one of the larger computer companies. I was freshly trained in sales and computers, a newly minted sales rep ready to go out and conquer. Shoes shined and red power tie straightened, I marched into the lobby and asked the receptionist to see the CEO. I fully expected that I was going to be rebuffed so I was completely taken aback when the CEO, Bill, came into the lobby, shook my hand and escorted me back to his office.

Bill was very polite and completely old-school, even for that time. Silver hair, nice tan, expensive 3-piece suit. He took me into his office, which was empty except for his massive wooden desk with a phone on it. He motioned for me to sit down opposite him. Bill asked for my business card. I reached over the aircraft carrier-sized surface of the desk and handed him my card. He took it, slowly turning it in his hands, examining it back and front, and laid it on the desk in front of him. “So, young man, what can I do for you?”

I took a deep breath and launched into my pitch. Just as I had been trained to do. Bill let me talk for about a minute or two and then raised his hand for me to stop. He opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a stack of business cards bound with a rubber band that was literally two inches high. “These are all the computer salespeople that have been by my office in the last year.” He spread the cards across the top of his desk. There were dozens of cards from nearly every sales rep from my office as well as those of every competitor I could think of. “Tell me, how are you different or better than any of those folks?”

The answer was…that I wasn’t. Yet.

Give Your Prospect A Reason To Buy I learned later that Bill talked to nearly 50 salespeople just like me every year. Outwardly there seemed no question that his firm would benefit from upgrading their computer and accounting systems. Fifty salespeople were given an opportunity to speak right to the CEO on their first calls. He had simplified the task for every salesperson. There were no layers to go through, no BANT qualification to process because they were talking to the ultimate decision maker. And, yet, no seller had ever gotten past the first call with Bill.

Why? Because Bill was simply waiting for someone to give him a reason to buy. That reason was not going to be a new feature or its associated benefits. He was patiently waiting for a salesperson to create some value for him by providing a simple, cogent reason for him to invest his time and money in a new system. In short, he was waiting for a salesperson to step up and become the point of differentiation between similar products.

The lesson Bill taught me continues to grow in relevance for salespeople, both new and experienced. Today more than ever how you sell is as important as what you sell to create value, build trust and differentiate yourself from your competition. Bill had looked at the universe of product offerings that addressed his needs and yet he had never gone past the first call with a seller. It isn’t enough to show up at a prospect’s office or on a sales call and expect them to fall in love with your product or service solely based on its features and benefits. It also isn’t just about playing the numbers game. You could make a million cold calls but if you don’t give the prospect something of value that provides them with a return on the time they invested in you, then you are never going to earn their business.

Ask Yourself The Question Ask yourself a simple question before every prospecting call, sales call or existing account review. What value are you creating for the buyer, what content are you providing that will enable them to move further along in their buying process and allow the prospect to perceive that the time they invested in you was time well spent?

In the formative years of my career there weren’t as many resources available as there are today for salespeople to research industries, companies, individuals and to develop a better understanding of your prospect’s requirements for the products and services you sell. We didn’t have access to an Internet full of white papers, articles and blogs to serve as a rich source of content and context to enable prospects to make more informed purchase decisions in a shorter time. (There were no power outlets on the covered wagons and no wi-fi on the Oregon Trail.)

The approach I took to create value on a first call was to become skilled at using stories to illustrate how customers were using our products to manage and grow their businesses and the unique value our products provided in meeting their requirements. Through simple stories my prospects gained value by quickly being able to envision how they too would benefit by using our products. I had used their time wisely and earned the right to more of their time.

A little over a year, and more than 50 salespeople, later I went to see Bill again. I was a bit wiser and more experienced. We started all over again. But this time with a different conclusion.


Andy Paul is a leading expert on the speed of selling, an in demand speaker and the author of the award-winning book, Zero-Time Selling, 10 Essential Steps to Accelerate Every Company’s Sales. He is also the founder of Zero-Time Selling, Inc. a sales strategy, consulting and training firm that specializes in working with CEOs and managers to optimize sales results and maximize the return on their investment in sales. Visit Andy’s website at He can be reached at

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