How to sell more, better and faster: It's what keeps salespeople awake at night, no matter what they sell. And in an economy that's still soft around the edges, selling well is more important than it's ever been.

So how can you and your sales team excel in turning prospects into long-term customers? Here are 17 how-to secrets and words of wisdom from sales experts and entrepreneurs for mastering the entire sales process.

How to make a cold call
A cold call is not a time to make a sale. It's [a time] to give something. The first question is, "Is it OK if I share with you what we do and why people use us? Then, we can decide whether it makes sense to go further." Be as discerning of the prospect as they are of you. No one's going to do business with a beggar.--Bill Caskey, author of Same Game, New Rules: 23 Timeless Principles for Selling and Negotiating" and founder of Caskey Achievement Strategies, a B2B sales training and consulting firm in Indianapolis,

How to get past the gatekeeper
Voice mail is today's gatekeeper. The [most important] part of an effective voice mail is establishing your credibility by referencing a referral, your research or some newsworthy event in their company. The secret is to not talk about your product or service; focus on results. Talk like a businessperson, not a salesperson.--Jill Konrath, founder of Selling to Big Companies, a St. Paul, Minnesota, sales training firm

How to write a sales letter
The secret to a successful sales letter is making it look just like a typical business letter. You want to position yourself as a peer who has a great idea and a helpful offer. In working with sales consultants at IBM, we coach them to start where the last conversation left off--something like, "After your comment to me on the phone last month, I've been thinking about a way to X." Your opening shot can't be a misfire.--Dianna Booher, author of E-Writing: 21st Century Tools for Effective Communication and CEO of Booher Consultants Inc., a Dallas/Fort Worth-area communication training firm

How to generate repeat business
Our customers aren't customers; our customers are owners. That sets a certain bar. If one of our owners is going to take a flight, a sales vice president may be helping with the luggage and the catering. We feel like if we get in front of our customers and we hustle, at the end of the day, it will be translated into repeat business.--Kenny Dichter, founder of New York City-based Marquis Jet, an 80-employee global leader in private jet cards whose Marquis Jet Card Program has a 90 percent customer renewal rate

How to upsell your current clients
I asked a client if they were thinking about redoing their website. They said, "No." I didn't tell them, but I was going to work on something because I had a vision for it. I presented it to them, and they loved it. I had a $10,000 sale for that website. The biggest secret is just taking the time to think, "What does my client need that he's not asking for?"--Paula Yakubik, founder of MassMedia, a 7-year-old Las Vegas PR and advertising firm with 18 employees and $3.5 million in annual sales

How to hire a good sales manager
Successfully hiring a strong sales manager is a balance between science and art. All strong sales-manager candidates exhibit three behavioral traits: a high energy level, tenacity and competitiveness. The biggest mistake companies make is that they try to find someone who will change the process because sales are not at the desired level. The majority of the time, the process isn't broken; what they didn't find was someone who has sold in that process before. Finding a manager compatible with the process is crucial.--Jim Kasper, author of Creating the #1 Sales Force: What It Takes to Transform Your Sales Culture

How to offer great customer service
The big secret is to passionately believe in your people. It's easy to say and difficult to execute unless you're in a culture that supports and encourages great customer service. Everyone's going that extra mile. Behind every transaction is a personal relationship.--Jack Mitchell, author of Hug Your Customers: The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results and CEO of Mitchells/Richards, a high-end Connecticut clothing retailer with $70 million in annual sales

How to close a sale
At the end of a sales conversation, the customer knows everything [he or she] needs to know to make a decision. The key is to ask the customer to take action. Simply ask, "Why don't you give it a try?" Don't sit there hoping that somehow, sometime, somewhere, the customer will take action on his own. Like a dentist's job is to pull the tooth, the sales-person's job is to ask for the order at the end of the presentation.--Brian Tracy, author of The Psychology of Selling: Increase Your Sales Faster and Easier Than You Ever Thought Possible and founder of Brian Tracy International, a Solana Beach, California, sales consulting firm

How to sell when price is the determining factor
If you're selling something on price, you'd better start learning how to declare Chapter 11, because you're on your way. Look at what's going on with the airlines and department stores. Everyone gets confused thinking it's all about price, but it's about relevance. Get away from price, and get to value.--Sergio Zyman, founder, chairman and CEO of the Zyman Group, an Atlanta management consulting firm

Quick Presentations, Surpassing Quotas and More

How to meet a prospect in person
This is your big chance to make an impression. Don't have your cell phone and your pager on, and don't have anything in your notebook that doesn't have to do with that customer. Ask follow-up questions, clarify that you understand what they're saying, and give them feedback that you're listening. You don't want an hour to go by where [the prospect] didn't feel it was valuable spending time with you.--Seleste Lunsford, co-author of Strategies That Win Sales: Best Practices of the World's Leading Organizations

How to give a great sales presentation in five minutes or less
Whether you have six minutes or 60 minutes to make a presentation, always organize your content, adapt to the moment, and dialogue with your audience. Reveal your core statement early and clearly, and support it with no more than three main points. If pressed for time, leave anecdotes and stories on the sidelines.--Bob Lipp, president of Better Business Presentations, a Great Neck, New York, firm that helps executives improve their presentation and public speaking skills

How to surpass a sales quota
People sit back and relax when they've made their quota. But that's when you really pour it on. At 5 o'clock, make 15 more calls. When you have a lot of business coming in and you're doing well, that's the best time to make calls to surpass your quota. Your actions are much more powerful when you're doing well than when you're trying to get started.--Barry Farber, Entrepreneur's "Sales Success" columnist and president of Farber Training Systems, a Livingston, New Jersey, sales management and motivational company

How to schedule your week most effectively
Every weeknight I would complete my Day-Timer with contacts I needed to make and proposals I needed to present the next day. I always had a complete plan written down. Map out your sales calls so you minimize drive time. Log all details about each appointment, tracking all steps of the sale until it's closed. This prevents redoing or forgetting scheduled items and will keep your day on task.--Henry A. Penix, author of Unwrap Your Gift and a former salesperson who ranked in the upper 2 percent of all salespeople for The Pitney Bowes Corp.

How to create customer loyalty
The hardest thing is getting somebody to trust you. After you build a relationship, the trust comes. Going the extra mile, being a good communicator, letting them know if there are problems--that makes people feel good. Be consistent. Do what you say you're going to do. When I see a parent with one child bring a second child to me, that's when I know I've created customer loyalty.--Kara Vample Turner, president and CEO of 7-year-old Primary Colors Daycare Center in Durham, North Carolina

How to relate better to your prospect
Ninety-five percent of what's sold in the world isn't an end unto itself, it's a means to an end. Nobody wants to buy computers; what they want is the ability to transfer information more quickly and accurately so groups can work together better, so they can put products out to market faster, so they can capture more market share. What does the client want to achieve? When you ask that question, it changes everything.--Bill Stinnett, author of Think Like Your Customer and president of Sales Excellence Inc., an Evergreen, Colorado, sales training and consulting firm

How to follow up with a prospect
I learned the importance of follow-up early on. I probably lost several projects because I was shy. [Now], we look for reasons to call back. If we get a sense of what they want, we'll sketch something, call them and try to get them back in. If you don't care enough to [take the initative and] call, I can't imagine people wanting you to build their dream home.--Lambert Arceneaux, owner of Allegro Builders, an 8-year-old Houston home builder with eight employees and projections of $12 million in sales for 2005

How to reduce the sales cycle
There is little magic to this, but a lot of work. Reps are loath to ask tough questions. [Does the prospect] have a committed budget? What's the process for releasing funds, and who has final authority to do so? What is the event driving this initiative? [If you] want to reduce the sales cycle, target prospects better, and qualify them rigorously.--Barry Trailer, partner with CSO Insights, a Corte Madera, California, sales effectiveness research and benchmarking firm

How to increase market share
To truly grow market share, a company must not only increase overall revenues but must also increase new customer acquisition rates and average deal sizes. The 2005 "Miller Heiman Sales Effectiveness" study revealed that less than 5 percent of companies accomplished this goal. The interesting thing about the winning companies is commonality in the key strategies they pursued. Most of their new product initiatives were aimed at providing additional value to their current clients rather than trying to create new markets. These top companies also had a much more evolved process of sharing best practices; they understand the benefit of quickly communicating and implementing successful strategies. --Sam Reese, CEO of sales consulting and training firm Miller Heiman in Reno, Nevada