Those of us in sales are often consumed with one thing: the close. We've been trained to accomplish this by pushing those all-important features and benefits. From the moment we begin the sales process, our vision is focused on the end.

What if we've got it backwards? In my observation--and research bears this out--the outcome of the sale is determined within the first 30 seconds of a presentation. It's during this key period that decision-makers often reach for the "turn off" switch.

Does this seem rational? Of course not. But buying isn't purely rational; it's greatly influenced by emotion. That's why it's essential to build a sales process around your opening gambit rather than your closing techniques.

You might use small talk to develop a relationship or position a benefit claim. You might ask prospects questions, such as "What would you like to accomplish?" You might even boldly announce your own hopes for the meeting and say, "This is what I'd like to accomplish today."

But if buying decisions are made not in the head but in the gut, are these the best opening gambits?

In the book, You're Working Too Hard to Make the Sale!, researchers William Brooks and Thomas Travisano examine how a buyer's emotional triggers influence the sales outcome from the first meeting. After interviewing hundreds of decision-makers, buyers and end-users, they conclude that customers want to buy from people they believe understand them. Features and benefits barely enter into the decision.

Most salespeople encourage buyers to talk about their needs. But an insightful salesperson will also interpret buyers' subliminal wants. Across the board, it appears that customers who share the same job role--say entrepreneurs, purchasing agents or chief financial managers--share the same underlying wants.

Take selling to other entrepreneurs, for example. Many people assume entrepreneurs are driven primarily by the desire to make big profits. As you probably know, that's simply not true. Entrepreneurs are in business for themselves because they want to call the shots. Their true wants include being the boss, ensuring the company's security and perhaps passing the company along to a successor.

As a salesperson, if you can subtly communicate to an entrepreneur that you understand his or her true wants and that you can help achieve them, you stand a better chance of closing the sale.

So as you prepare for a presentation, think about the person you'll be presenting to and their role within the company. What are their wants? What's the fear or pain they try to avoid? Remember, wants aren't business goals. They're personal, emotional desires that tend to be universal among buyers in similar categories. It's to your advantage to prepare an opening strategy for each category of decision-maker you come in contact with.

Now, let's consider the purchasing agent. In general, purchasing agents need to get up to speed quickly on products and services that may be outside their realm of expertise. They live with the fear that they'll be overwhelmed with technical information they have no desire or time to master.

So when meeting with a purchasing agent, present your product or service in a way that's easily understood. Avoid technical jargon; don't try to wow 'em with your in-depth knowledge. Play to the purchasing agent's want--that your product or service is easy to understand and can be purchased safely--without delving into a mind-spinning education.

By immediately demonstrating to buyers that you understand their wants, you'll increase their comfort level with you, which is the first step to gaining their trust. Once a base level of trust is established, the buyer's inclined to keep an open mind, instead of closing the door.

A word of caution: This technique can be tricky at first. It goes against our habits. As salespeople, we're trained to unearth the prospect's need so we can solve the problem with our product or services. But needs are rationally based, while buyers are emotionally driven. So satisfy the wants first.