From the July 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

Sales is one of the most important elements of your startup--but if you're unfamiliar with it, it can also be one of the most intimidating. We checked in with a few sales experts to offer tips to help you get started.

First, says Jennifer Vessels, president of Next Step LLC, a business growth consulting company in Redwood City, California, spend time gathering research from potential clients before you finalize your product or service offering. "What are the deficiencies in the solutions they're using?" she asks.

When you're ready to sell, go back to those same prospects. Demonstrate to them how the product or service you've developed specifically meets their needs--and pump up how it differs from their current solution. Will it save them more money? Can it give them more specialized service? Is it faster and more efficient? Be clear on your offering's competitive advantage. And don't automatically discount prices to jump-start early sales. "If, in the sales process, you offer a discount too quickly, you reduce the customer's perception of the real value of your product," Vessels says. You can, however, focus on how your product or service will save them X dollars a year or will cost less in the long run. And if they want an extra incentive to be one of your first customers, keep the price the same but offer something extra for free, such as delivery or installation.

Also, don't overpromise what your product or solution can deliver, says Dan Strakal, founder of Success Positioning Systems LLC, an organizational consulting firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If a potential customer asks you to do something you're not really capable of, it's better to say something like, "This is my specialty, and I can offer you top-notch service here. For that other need, I can refer you to my network." They'll appreciate the honesty, says Strakal. But if you overpromise and fail, you'll get a bad reputation.

Finally, notes Vessels, redefine your image of sales. You're not a used-car salesman. She says, "Done effectively, sales is helping clients understand their problem and working with them to solve their problem."