I recently learned a great deal about sales from a couple of consultants, and didn't have to pay a dime. All I had to do was sit through their sales pitches.

Tad Troilo The meeting started when the first consultant arrived 15 minutes early and asked to begin without his associate. "I'll fill in Phil when he gets here," Ralph told me. He pushed the empty chair where Phil presumably would sit to the back of my office, then adjusted his own chair so it was straight across from me.

I sat in silence as Ralph wordlessly handed me the firm's resume, his personal resume, a promotional brochure, his personal mission statement, the second page to his resume, and more papers I didn't bother to look at. After he was convinced a ream of paper was enough for me to handle, he cleared his throat and the onslaught began.

"I was drawn to the consulting field by an undying belief that I, in fact, know something about everything," he began. That was one of his more modest statements. My eyes glazed over as he reviewed his overachieving grade school years, and my lids were closing as I heard about his miraculous high school experiences.

I realized my only chance at staying awake during this boastful assault would be to somehow get into the conversation. I struggled for an opening as Ralph began an in-depth analysis of his college freshman year course selection.

"Understanding that all learning rests on the pillars built by the great thinkers, I decided to explore both Greco-Roman and Early Modern philosophy simultaneously–a bold choice, to be sure, but one I knew I could handle?"

"My parents have been to Rome," I said, grasping at the only thing close to common ground I could find.

Ralph stopped speaking just long enough to glare at me as if I had burped in church, then he resumed his blitz of verbiage, glossing over his business school education ("Wharton–enough said.") and then launching into a long list of past projects for clients all over the country.

Suddenly, salvation from the endless list of Fortune 500 companies–none of which were in the lumber, millwork, or building materials industry, by the way–came in the arrival of Phil, Ralph's partner.

Phil took in the scene: Ralph pontificating, me falling asleep. Phil's face briefly contorted in horror before he managed a smile and forcefully interrupted his colleague.

"I see you two have met," Phil said, grabbing his chair from the back of the office and all but ramming it into Ralph's chair to get him to move over. "I'm sure Ralph has given you some of our credentials?"

"I just wrapped up my personal history," Ralph told him, visibly upset that his monologue had been suspended, "and was moving on to the great heritage of our consulting firm."

"That's great," Phil said. "But let's hear from Tad a little bit. Tell me, why do you think you need a consulting firm?"

Phil asked about our company, our strengths, our weaknesses, and the project on our mind. He never said a thing about his education, experience, or high school advanced-placement course work. I immediately recognized him as a knowledgeable and practiced professional.

Phil took the time to explore and define our needs and to simply learn about us as a prospective client. Phil understood that, even in the lofty world of consulting, you don't get a sale without knowing what you are selling and whom you are selling it to.

In the end, we scuttled the project, so we had no use for the consulting firm's services, but I certainly would consider Phil in the future. Not Ralph, though–unless insomnia suddenly becomes a company problem.

–Tad Troilo is a manager for Cranmer's Kitchens by Design in Yardley, Pa. 215.493.8600 E-mail: tadtroilo@mac.com