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Top Secrets

Psst! Think you know everything about sales? Here's the inside scoop on mastering one of the most important skills you'll ever need.

Selling is perhaps the greatest skill of all time. The ability to persuade, communicate and influence has been the basis of personal and financial success throughout the ages. Learning to sell well, therefore, will open doors for you and your sales team, and will make it possible for your business to succeed.

Steps to Sales Success
Thousands of articles and books have been written on selling, and almost every one of them contains one or more nuggets of wisdom. Some are classics that convey ideas, techniques and strategies that salespeople can use in almost any market. Nonetheless, there are three steps to sales success that have stood the test of time: prospecting, presenting and closing. They form the three points of the "iron triangle" of selling.


There are three steps to sales success that have stood the test of time: prospecting, presenting and closing.

To prospect effectively, you and your sales team must first clearly determine what it is your company is selling. Most people only define their product or service in terms of its qualities, characteristics, features and the way it is produced, distributed and delivered to the customer.

However, the most important part of your product description is what the product does for your customer. People don't buy products or services; they buy the results (or "benefits") they expect to experience by using your product or service. You must therefore determine what your product or service really does for your customers. Find out what makes your product superior to other products or services. Only then are you ready to tackle the three key steps to sales success:

1. Prospecting: Of all the prospects in your market, which can benefit most from what your product does better than the competition? The rule is that although there are many prospects, they aren't all your prospects. You must be specific about which prospects you can sell your most important benefits to the most effectively.

2. Presenting: The ability to design and give a good sales presentation will determine your success as much as any other factor. Based on more than 30 years of experience, I can say every sales presentation could use some improvement.

A good presentation shows prospects that your product or service is the best choice for them. After highlighting a feature of your product or service that's relevant to the customer, ask a question to invite feedback, such as "Is this something you would use in your situation?"

If you've given a good presentation, the prospect should fully understand the offering and be ready to make a buying decision. If you don't get this reaction at the end of your presentation, rework your presentation until it is so overwhelmingly conclusive that the sale almost falls into your hand at the end.

3. Closing: It is absolutely amazing how many sales are lost because the salesperson fails to follow up and ask for the order at the end of the sales conversation. The best way to close a sale is to set up the closing question with the words "Do you have any questions or concerns that I haven't covered so far?"

If the prospect says no, you can then ask for the sale: "Well, then, why don't you give it a try?" If the prospect is unsure, say "I really think this would be ideal for you, based on what you've told me. Why don't you give it a try?" You will be amazed at how many people are on the verge of buying and simply need an invitation.

The iron triangle of selling has always been the same: prospecting, presenting and closing. Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 in each of these areas, with 10 being highest. If you score below a 7 in any area, that is what's holding you back more than any other factor.

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This article was originally published in the August 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Top Secrets.

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