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  • Writer's pictureDominic Testo




It was my first outside sales territory, a large one with few established accounts. I worked in a bureau office, selling advertising for the metro daily newspaper, and I was aiming for the largest single-location retailers in this geographic area.

The small weekly paper ran regular ads for three stores that sold guns and ammo in this area. I soon realized that two of them followed the lead of the largest one, so I set out to persuade its owner to put his advertising investment in my products.

He was a man of few words. He listened to my presentations and answered most of my questions every Thursday morning when I stopped by with coffee and jelly-filled donuts. But his answer was always the same when I asked him to buy, a simple "I can't do that" with no explanation.

Weeks went by, then months. I was determined. One day, when I walked in, he met me at the door, took his donuts, and said he'd meet me downtown at our main location at 3:00 to talk about advertising. I was elated, thinking I'd finally worn him down.

I drove back to the office, told my Sales Manager the good news, and spent the next few hours gathering every flyer, sample, and research piece I could find. I envisioned a long-term, large-scale campaign, and I was certain this was my big breakthrough.

On my way downtown, I got stuck in traffic. I was panicked, thinking I'd lost my chance. This was before cell phones, so I couldn't let him know I was on my way. When I finally exited off the highway, I was already 15 minutes late. Adrenaline pumping, I barreled down the street toward our building, praying a parking spot would be open in the main lot.

Approaching the parking lot, I noticed a large gathering of people. I realized all these people had probably used up all the parking. I was considering parking at the gas station across the main road and making a dash to the building... And then I saw him, my prospect, in this throng of people around the newspaper building.

He saw me, too. He elbowed the guy next to him, pointed at me in my car, and started laughing. He was carrying a sign... A protest sign. The group was picketing the newspaper because they didn't agree with the editorial position on gun control. Turns out that my prospect was president of the local NRA Chapter.

I was humiliated. I kept driving and went straight home. The next day, I had to tell my Sales Manager. It went from bad to worse because she told me to pull myself together and go into his store immediately to show him I wasn't phased by his stunt. I couldn't do it. On Monday, she told me again that I had to. On Tuesday and Wednesday, she just raised her eyebrows and shook her head when my expression of defeat let her know I'd chickened out again.

By Thursday morning, I realized I'd have to go in or quit my job. I couldn't leave things the way they were. So I took coffee and donuts, swallowed my pride, and forced myself through his front door. I told him that he should use the newspaper to tell his side of the story to a larger audience (this was before the Internet, back when the metro daily was THE way to reach people). I told him that protests would never make as much impact as an ad that reached just as many people as a columnist's opinion in the newspaper.

I earned his respect that day (along with some self-respect, too). It took another month, but I also sold him advertising, first for the NRA Chapter to express its views and later for selling his merchandise. In time, the other two gun stores followed suit, and my monthly sales goals were easier to meet one all three signed contracts.


Lots of lessons learned in this one, starting with the need to ask better questions and to probe for actual objections. I got good at asking questions, and that became a 25-year obsession with understanding how questions impact sales. I can look back and thank this customer for setting me on a course that resulted in my first book, DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected.


Deb Calvert, president of People First Productivity Solutions, works with companies to build organizational strength by putting people first. Her work in sales training, leadership development and team effectiveness is research-based and people-focused.

One of the ways Deb personally "puts people first" is by providing free resources for individuals. She hosts the CONNECT! Online Radio Show for Selling Professionals, writes the CONNECT2Lead and CONNECT2Sell blogs, serves as an expert panelist for Managing Americans, and manages the CONNECT! Community. Her company's website,, is filled with a wide variety of resources to help people develop professionally and personally. Last but not least Deb is the co-author of a great book titled Stop Selling & Start Leading. Check it out today!


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