For 30 years now, the positions that I held required me to do sales. Even as a small business owner, I am responsible for the sales that are generated for my company.

The sales profession moves faster than ever today. In the blink of an eye, new competitors emerge, products similar to yours are released, and before you know it, it’s a race to the bottom.

No matter what industry you are in, what worked well a few years ago isn’t good enough today. This is no time for trial and error or order taking; this is the time to sell. Here are some ways that you can improve your sales performance and increase sales.

Understand your business
What is your business niche? What do you do best? Who needs you? How do you best approach these prospects? How much are they willing to pay? Who are your competitors and what sets your company and you apart from them? You need to answer these questions which will help give you clarity and vision.

Set specific goals
Write down the activity goals (calls per day, appointments set per week, proposals per month, etc.) that you can control. Set results goals (sales per month, amount per sale, profit per sale, etc.) to measure your progress, and track them closely. Increase your activity and measure the results. Goals focus your attention and energize your action.

To increase sales, you must devote a significant amount of time to prospecting for new business. This prevents the peaks and valleys that many sales people experience.

Maximize your time
Focus on your goals. Test every activity for its importance and urgency. Get somebody else to handle your paperwork, expense reports, or whatever busywork is involved with making a sale. Use the extra time to get in front of customers. Remember, just one hour a day used more productively adds up to more than six extra weeks of productive time a year.

We all know that it takes more than one call, one letter, or one email to connect with decision makers. In fact, it’s been reported that it now takes up to 14 touch points to connect with senior level executives. Successful sales people know that it takes persistence and diligence to make contact and they use a variety of strategies to achieve this goal.

In today’s ultra-competitive environment, the ability to stand out from the competition is critical. Look for creative ways to achieve this. Use a creative approach in your prospecting methods, in your sales calls, voicemail messages and emails to ensure that your prospect will remember your name.

Hone your lead generation effort
Based upon your own experience, observe who’s just interested and who’s actually buying. Hone your lead generation efforts to find more of the ones who are actually spending money on your offering.

Work on yourself
Even the best of the best have room for improvement. Make a decision to improve your weaknesses, and set goals to force yourself to do the things you don’t like to do. Be more creative in your prospecting, fact finding and presentation skills. Listen to motivational tapes, attend some classes and read more literature that can help educate you more. Imagine the perfect salesperson and compare yourself to the ideal.

Develop your attitude
Your attitude is controllable. Conquer your fears. Change the beliefs that limit your success. Your thought habits control your commitment, enthusiasm, persistence, resilience, happiness, and confidence. Be aware of them, decide which ones are unproductive, and then make a commitment to change. With time and effort, you can become the person you want to be.

Terminate weak engagements — politely, but immediately.
The moment you find out that a customer really doesn’t need what you’re offering or is not a good fit, point him in the right direction, and then politely withdraw from the opportunity.

Ask great questions, listen and sell to customer needs
Always assume your prospects will buy only what they need. How can you convince them of that need? Many sales people don’t ask tough, probing, thought-provoking questions that make prospects think. Your listening skills must be highly developed. Listen carefully for underlying clues and hidden messages. Emphasize the features and benefits of your product or service that reduce costs, solve problems for the customer or achieve a goal.

Follow up
Many a sale has been lost due to lack of follow up. And given the technology we have at our fingertips today, this should be a no-brainer. However, too many sales people fail to follow up after sending a proposal mistakenly thinking that the prospect will call them if they are interested. News flash! It’s up to you to follow through afterwards and I guarantee that you are losing sales if you are waiting for people to call you back.

Asking for Testimonials
Most sales people don’t seek out and use testimonials even though they know the importance of doing so. The best time to ask is after you have closed a deal. You might even help your customer develop an appropriate endorsement.

By incorporating these ways into your routine, you will quickly notice an improvement in your results which will increase sales.

Cheryl O’Neill Gowen is president and CEO of Alternative Funding Options. She works with business owners seeking cash flow from non-traditional sources, drawing on more than 30 years’ experience in banking, financing and staffing. Contact her

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