When customers enjoy working with you, you improve your chances of making a sale. Here are seven skills CEOs and business owners should insist on developing in their sales teams to create a more positive customer experience:

1. Show empathy and compassion
You have to care about your customer (no matter how good an actor you are, faking it won't work). Ask questions, take notes and lean in to show that you're engaged.

2. Make eye contact
Eye contact lets people know you're interested in their well being. Make eye contact when you walk into a room full of strangers, and especially after you get to know people - it helps cement existing relationships. So few salespeople ever look their prospects directly in the eye. By simply smiling and making eye contact, you can set yourself apart.

3. Give first
Don't expect prospects to give you their business without you giving them something first. This doesn't mean that you should give away free product in the hopes they will buy more. Rather, look to give away things that increase your value. Perhaps they need a referral to a partner; perhaps you can solve their business problem by sharing an idea you heard from someone else.

4. Express your true intent
Tell customers upfront: "I don't know if there's a fit between what you need and what I have right now, but I'm hoping we can explore that in more detail during this meeting. Then we can mutually decide if there is a reason to move forward." This advice runs counter to 90% of the approaches used in the field today, but you'll be pleasantly surprised by the response you get.

5. Don't rush the client
All too often, salespeople jump way ahead of their prospect's buying curve. When the sales person is trying to close while the prospect is still evaluating options or determining risk, trust is broken, the prospect feels pushed and the sale can disappear. Get approval from the customer to move ahead in increasing increments. The first approval might be just to agree to speak openly with each other, as outlined above. The second could be an agreement on a follow-up call or meeting date. The third might be gaining agreement on the decision-making criteria, then a commitment to have the "big boss" present at the demo, followed by an agreement to a purchase decision date.

6. Be colloquial
When you use simple language, people respond better and trust you more. Never try to impress prospects with your extensive vocabulary - you may end up just sounding fake.

7. Use people's names - in good measure
There are just two rules to follow. First, be aware of whether your client is most comfortable with first name only or title plus last name. Second, never overuse their name - this only sounds corny and false. Although Dale Carnegie said, "nothing is so beautiful to a person as the sound of their own name," you have to use your discretion.

By Colleen Francis, PROFITguide.com, November 13, 2003

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Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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