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7 Ways to Up Your Sales Game

Not a natural born salesperson? Fortunately, sales is one of those things that can be learned, and improved upon over time. All you need do is copy what great salespeople do, learn their strategies, and practice.

According to a 2002 Harvard study, great salespeople have the following in common: They do not take "no" personally, they take responsibility for their results, they are empathetic, they are ambitious, they are very goal-oriented, and they find it easy to approach strangers.

Here are seven more ways to emulate the best salespeople:

1. Think of sales like golf: If you have ever golfed at all, you know the golf paradox: The harder you try, the worse you do. The same is true in sales. Try hard and prospects sniff desperation. But back off a bit and they are more intrigued.

2. Build rapport: Building rapport with prospects makes your job infinitely easier. Once they trust and/or like you, it's all downhill. How do you build rapport? Use humor. Find common interests. Be honest. Ask questions. Most of all, listen. Master salesman Tom Hopkins puts it this way: "Listen twice as much as you talk and you'll succeed in persuading others nearly every time."

3. Remember, it's helping, not selling: Looking at flat-screen TVs recently, I ended up with a salesman who loved to hear himself talk and sell. Had he listened, he would have discovered that I wanted to understand why I should pay more for plasma. Had he helped me understand that, instead of trying to sell me, he would have gotten my business.

Your job is to help the customer get what he or she wants, not sell them what you want.

4. Listen for clues: People interpret information in different ways. Some people are visual, others are auditory, and yet others are primarily kinesthetic (feelings). You can tell pretty quickly which method someone uses to process information by the words they choose:

  • Kinesthetic people say things like that doesn't feel right to me."
  • Auditory people might say "I don't like the sound of that."
  • Visual people might say "I see what you are saying."
These clues can help you tailor your pitch appropriately. Using a lot of words with a visual person doesn't make a lot of sense -- showing them would work better.

5. No does not always mean no: This gem comes from Hopkins. According to him, 'no' can mean many things, aside from simply no. For instance, it may mean

  • "I am methodical and need to hear more" or
  • "You skipped over something that was important to me," or
  • "I'm not ready to make a decision yet."
You get the idea. According to Hopkins, try not to hear 'no' when people say 'no.' Instead, "you should respond with courage and conviction, press on, and try another tack."

6. Testimonials work wonders: When other people say that your business is exceptional or your products are superior, it carries much more weight than when you say it. Testimonials written by other customers are the key. Use them in sales letters, presentations, on your website, tweet them, and put them in proposals.

7. Go for the big fish: I have a pal who used to sell duplexes but who now sells big apartment houses. Why? "Because although it is about the same amount of work, I make four times as much money." Prospecting for bigger clients can mean bigger paydays for the same amount of work.

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