From the February 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

If you've ever watched an Olympic competition, you've seen the faces of champions reflect not only the hard work and preparation that has gone into the moment, but also the confidence they have going into the arena.

That confidence is not just what carries them through, it's also what communicates their position even before the event starts. They can't win without this confidence. Their competitors can sense fear, insecurity and unpreparedness, just as a customer can sense these things in a salesperson who lacks confidence.

Here are three things you can do to build, maintain and project confidence:

1. Preparation: Before walking into any call, do your homework; study your customers' businesses; talk to their customers; and read their annual reports. Know what problems they have before they're even aware of them. Fill your presentation with extra details customized to their businesses. When you walk into an account with excessive preparation, you exude a quiet confidence and strength. Sometimes, that's all you need to close the deal.

2. Immersion: Bobby Fischer is one of the greatest chess players who ever lived. From the second he woke up to the second he went to sleep, all he thought about was chess. Like Fischer, the highest achievers I know live, sleep, eat and breathe their businesses. They're always thinking about opportunities and presenting them to other people. To be successful in sales, you, too, must be so immersed in your business that you walk it and talk it and build your confidence every day. When you walk in the door with that state of mind, you close the deal before you even ask the question. Are you going to get objections? Of course. But nothing keeps you grounded and allows you to handle curve balls better than having a solid passion for what you sell and its value to the customer.

3. Separation: What differentiates you and your product or service from the competition? Use your knowledge of the customer and your knowledge of your product and service to develop three key factors that separate you from the crowd. Doing so will enable you to make your presentation from a position of unassailable strength.

Selling with confidence all comes down to the three most powerful words in the English language: "Yes, I will." Years ago, on one of his audio programs, sales guru Earl Nightingale told this story: There was a team of six American mountain climbers at the bottom of a mountain. A psychologist doing a survey asked each of them one question: "Can you make it to the top?" Five of the climbers answered with variations of, "I've been training for this for years. I'll make the best effort possible." One climber, however, answered simply, "Yes, I will." Not only was he the first to the mountaintop, but because of bad weather, he was also the only one.

There's something about the power of confidence that can move mountains. Once we understand that, 90 percent of all the obstacles in selling vanish before we even begin to climb.