From the October 2007 issue of Entrepreneur

"One of the biggest things companies do wrong is leave everything up to the salespeople and not set minimum standards of sales performance," says Chet Holmes, a sales consultant and author of The Ultimate Sales Machine. Instead, integrate these elements into your selling program for high-powered results:

  • Plan for your negotiation. Paul S. Goldner, CEO of Accent on Results, a global sales training and consulting firm, teaches his clients that they should spend far more time preparing for a sales negotiation than completing the actual negotiation. In his book Red Hot Sales Negotiation, Goldner says salespeople should focus on information gathering. Pose questions to the prospect, conduct online searches and use database and information-tracking sources like Hoovers and Google Alerts to better understand your prospect's priorities.
  • Create systems. Holmes, who helps companies systematize the sales process, advises asking your best salespeople what works for them, then sharing that information with others on the sales team.
  • Customize your style. Most prospects make decisions based on either facts or feelings. So determine whether you're dealing with someone who makes decisions based on facts or who acts more on "gut" feelings. Adapting your style to be more fact-based or more empathetic can help you be more effective.
  • Look for influencers. In 2006, Kevin Schwartz, founder of Healthy Home Products in Oceanside, New York, created BabyGanics, a line of organic cleaning products for homes with pregnant women and small children. Finding influencers in the medical community has had a huge impact on sales for the more than $2 million company. "Our salespeople go to [obstetricians] and tell them about our products," says Schwartz, 31. They give doctors lists of chemicals and other substances pregnant women should avoid to give to their patients. The lists are imprinted with BabyGanics product information as well. When physicians distribute the information, BabyGanics gets an objective, third-party endorsement.

When looking at a deal, it's important to consider where you can be flexible, says Goldner. Usually, you're selling a combination of product, service, payment terms, training and customer support. All these should be considered. By being creative and flexible (e.g., giving longer payment terms in exchange for a higher price, or shifting part of the charges into another financial period), Goldner says you can often reach an agreement that meets both the customer's and your company's needs.

Gwen Moran is co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans.