Before heading down to a local Toyota dealership, my wife Sheryl and I had spent some time discussing and researching different models, before finally settling on a Toyota Sequoia. We set off for the nearest dealership—but upon our arrival, I knew we were in for trouble.

The salesperson left his strategic perch facing the customer parking lot and glided toward us like a hawk. He started in with some shallow engagement, not bothering to introduce himself or ask our names. I told him we were looking for a Toyota Sequoia and wanted to test-drive one.

His response surprised me: “We don’t have any. The Sequoia is very popular, they fly off the lot the minute they get here.”

Was he telling the truth or just setting me up? I asked if there were any in the service department we could look at and sit in, just to see how we liked the feel.

“We’re not allowed to do that,” he replied.

I was beginning to wonder how the guy ever made a sale. Sheryl and I were not a hard sell; we came into the dealership to buy. But we expected the salesperson to be willing to help us, or at least make an attempt to relate to us.

“If I could locate one for you at another dealership,” he pressed, “would you buy it now?”

He was interested in getting the sale—but not in earning it. I firmly told him no, we wouldn’t. He asked for our name and phone number so he could call us when a Sequoia came in. I gave him our information. He never called.

Beggars Can’t Be Sellers

If you were like most kids, at one point or another your parents probably told you, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” And chances are, like most kids, you probably didn’t have a clue what that meant (other than the fact that you weren’t getting exactly the toy/sneakers/outfit you’d hoped for). Too many salespeople never do figure it out. Maybe they just haven’t grown up.

By “begging,” I mean trying to close a sale without first earning the customer’s trust. It means looking for handouts, expecting your prospect’s business without first earning his vote. And it flat-out doesn’t work.

Even when your particular market is hot or your product is flying off the shelves, you still have to earn your keep. There is still competition. Customers still have the final say.

Begging is an impatient approach to selling that puts the onus of success on your ability to close rather than to connect.

The salesperson at the next Toyota dealership Sheryl and I visited that day understood this well. Upon our arrival, we felt no pressure, and were given plenty of time to survey the lot. When we were ready, we were taken care of by an unassuming, friendly

salesperson named Bill. After a casual introduction, we told Bill we were interested in purchasing a Sequoia and he wowed us with his salesmanship.

Here are the five ways that Bill earned our buy-in before asking for our business:

1. Say Something New

Never let it be said of you, “I’ve heard it all before.” If you can’t market or offer your product in a fresh and innovative way, don’t offer it at all.

Make it your goal not to be like the rest. Find unique ways to set yourself apart, to appeal to your customers and meet their needs. That can be as simple as being completely authentic in a dubious industry—as Bill was with us.

2. Be the First to Add Value

Don’t ever expect something from a prospect unless you have already added value. Do something up front to let your prospects know that it is your primary goal to add real value to their lives, not only through your product but also through your service.

Bill made this very clear to Sheryl and me from the outset. He allowed us some breathing room and did not shove his agenda down our throats. He sought to ascertain our needs before making so much as a peep about the sale.

3. Be the First to Say Thank You

Bill left no doubt in our minds that he considered it a privilege to meet us and have the opportunity to meet our needs. Without assuming we were ready to buy his product, he made it clear that even if we ended up choosing to “think about it,” he would treat us with the same level of appreciation and respect.

4. Respect Your Prospects’ Time

Not once did Bill presume that our time was his to waste. Not once did he burst into a feature-dropping rant. Not once did he move forward with any step in the transaction without first asking us if that was what we wanted. Bill demonstrated a genuine respect for our time, and as a result, we had no problem spending more than an hour with him.

5. Don’t Stop Once the Sale Seems Imminent

If things look good, don’t become overeager and forget yourself. Bill must have known things were going well with us—but he never assumed that we’d buy, or at least he didn’t show it. He never stopped setting himself apart, adding value, being appreciative, and respecting our time. And because of that, he earned our trust.

You and I would rather buy from people like Bill than from anyone else, because they treat us like fellow human beings—not like a piece of meat, as begging would suggest.

When your authentic actions create an environment that breeds buy-in with your prospects, closing sales becomes almost an afterthought. That doesn’t mean you won’t have to ask for a prospect’s business. It just means that asking won’t be a chore. It will be the natural conclusion to your interaction and the natural beginning to your relationship.

And by the way, even though we had to wait three weeks for delivery, we bought our car from Bill.

TODD DUNCAN has worked with such clients as
American Express, Pillsbury Foods and
Wells Fargo. He is author of
Killing the Sale
(Thomas Nelson Publishers).