A recent Gallup poll on the honesty and ethical conduct of business professionals found that insurance salespeople and car salespeople ranked at the bottom of the list. Bet you're not surprised to hear this. But did you know that it's not just car salespeople who have a bad reputation? Bill Brooks of the Brooks Group estimates that more than 85 percent of customers have a negative view of all salespeople.

But it doesn't have to be that way: You can prove the masses wrong, and learn to develop the skills that will have people thinking differently about the selling process. In fact, selling can be one of the most rewarding tasks you'll undertake as a business owner-but only if you follow these 10 tactics:

Law #1: Keep your mouth shut and your ears open. This is crucial in the first few minutes of any sales interaction. Remember:

1. Don't talk about yourself.
2. Don't talk about your products.
3. Don't talk about your services.
4. And above all, don't recite your sales pitch!

Obviously, you want to introduce yourself. You want to tell your prospect your name and the purpose of your visit (or phone call), but what you don't want to do is ramble on about your product or service. After all, at this point, what could you possibly talk about? You have no idea if what you're offering is of any use to your prospect.

Law #2: Sell with questions, not answers. Remember this: Nobody cares how great you are until they understand how great you think they are.

Forget about trying to "sell" your product or service and focus instead on why your prospect wants to buy. To do this, you need to get fascinated with your prospect; you need to ask questions (lots and lots of them) with no hidden agenda or ulterior motives.

Many years ago, I was selling CDs at a music festival. It didn't take me long to figure out that it wasn't my job to sell the CDs-it was my job to get the earphones on every person who walked by my booth!

I noticed right away that whenever people sensed I was attempting to "sell" them a CD, their walls of defense immediately went up and they did everything in their power to get as far away from me as they could.

So instead, I made it my job to introduce new music to anyone who wanted to put on the earphones. Once they heard the music, they either liked it or they didn't. I didn't do any "selling," and I made more money that week than any other CD hawkers at the festival.

Back then, I didn't know anything about sales, but I knew enough about human nature to understand that sales resistance is an oxymoron: The act of selling creates the resistance! Which leads us to the next principle:

Law #3: Pretend you're on a first date with your prospect. Get curious about them. Ask about the products and services they're already using. Are they happy? Is what they're using now too expensive, not reliable enough, too slow? Find out what they really want. Remember, you're not conducting an impersonal survey here, so don't ask questions just for the sake of asking them. Instead, ask questions that will provide you with information about what your customers really need.

When you learn what your customers need and you stop trying to convince or persuade them to do something they may not want to do, you'll find them trusting you as a valued advisor and wanting to do more business with you as a result.

Law #4: Speak to your prospect just as you speak to your family or friends. There's never any time that you should switch into "sales mode" with ham-handed persuasion clich�s and tag lines. Affected speech patterns, exaggerated tones, and slow, hypnotic sounding "sales inductions" are never acceptable in today's professional selling environments. Speak normally, (and of course, appropriately) just as you would when you're around your friends and loved ones.

Law #5: Pay close attention to what your prospect isn't saying. Is your prospect rushed? Does he or she seem agitated or upset? If so, ask "Is this a good time to talk? If it's not, perhaps we can meet another day." Most salespeople are so concerned with what they're going to say next that they forget there's another human being involved in the conversation.

Law #6: If you're asked a question, answer it briefly and then move on. Remember: This isn't about you; it's about whether you're right for them.

Law #7: Only after you've correctly assessed the needs of your prospect do you mention anything about what you're offering. I knew a guy who pitched a mannequin (I'm not kidding)! He was so stuck in his own automated, habitual mode, he never bothered to notice that his prospect wasn't breathing. Don't get caught in this trap. Know whom you're speaking with before figuring out what it is you want to say.

Law #8: Refrain from delivering a three-hour product seminar. Don't ramble on and on about things that have no bearing on anything your prospect has said. Pick a handful of things you think could help with your prospect's particular situation, and tell him or her about it. (And if possible, reiterate the benefits in his own words, not yours.)

Law #9: Ask the prospect if there are any barriers to them taking the next logical step. After having gone through the first eight steps, you should have a good understanding of your prospect's needs in relation to your product or service. Knowing this, and having established a mutual feeling of trust and rapport, you're now ready to bridge the gap between your prospect's needs and what it is you're offering. You're now ready for:

Law #10: Invite your prospect to take some kind of action. This principle obliterates the need for any "closing techniques" because the ball is placed on the prospect's court. A sales close keeps the ball in your court and all the focus on you, the salesperson. But you don't want the focus on you. You don't want the prospect to be reminded that he or she is dealing with a "salesperson." You're not a salesperson, you're a human being offering a particular product or service. And if you can get your prospect to understand that, you're well on your way to becoming an outstanding salesperson.


Len Foley, a renowned sales and sales management trainer, is the creator of the bestselling program "Sales Without the Sucker Punch!" Foley's technology has been used by dozens of corporations, and offers simple, cutting-edge strategies applicable to any business that sells directly to the end-user. He is also co-author of the book, Your Successful Sales Career.