Assumptions are often made about selling and moreover, what it takes to be a good salesperson. On one end of the spectrum, people in sales are thought of as overbearing, aggressive and pushy, while on the other, they are considered gregarious and demonstrative with "bigger than life" personalities. But these definitions are limiting, and even inaccurate, if you think about what good selling really is.

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So what is it? What does it mean to be an effective, and therefore successful salesperson not only at work, but in life too? Well it's not merely about convincing others to do what you want them to do in the short-term. It's more than that. Quality selling means being able to build relationships that ultimately fuel and support the growth of a business. Without them, sustainable results will prove to be tenuous at best.

Despite the fact that stereotypes say otherwise, selling boils down to three basic things: communication, education and the ability to affect others. Think about it, if you are articulate and express yourself well, and are able to reach people by teaching them something of meaning, than you can sell. Just don't forget that it is an ongoing process rather than a discrete transaction and depends more on perseverance than on any one given personality type or trait. It goes to the heart of what one of my bosses said to me early in my career. And that was, "The sale starts the minute you walk out the door."

The good news is that there are steps you can take to become a better salesperson regardless of what you are selling. And while it is conceptually very simple, it's not as easy as it sounds. It takes effort. So just like developing fluency in a new language requires work, so too can it be a similar challenge to master the art of selling.

So, for starters...

Assess Yourself:
Ultimately, your success begins with you. If you ask the greatest salespeople what makes them great, most will tell you that if they didn't believe in what they were selling, then they wouldn't be able to sell at all. The same goes for believing in yourself. If you don't have enthusiasm and conviction about yourself as the "product," no one else will either.

So take some time to evaluate whether you've got anything holding you back, because barriers such as self-doubt and fear are a surefire way to kill your confidence and a sale before you even get started. Again, overcoming them is simple, but not easy. Once you identify and face whatever it is that it is getting in your way, you can begin to control it so that it no longer controls you.

Finally, you have to ask yourself whom you are in it to serve. If you are thinking about your own needs before the needs of your customer, you are handicapped from the get-go. Professionally or personally, people feel the difference between givers and takers and tend to be more open and trusting to those who give.

Craft Your Message:
Again, whether you are selling yourself, an idea, a product or a service, it is critical that you identify and extract whatever key elements and attributes make your product good, useful and sellable. It's not unlike a typical marketing exercise, where you choose the right words and write them into a cohesive message that communicates features/benefits in a way that gives people a reason to "buy."

Verbalize and Practice:
There is no better way to improve and strengthen a muscle than to exercise it. So after you have found the right words and crafted your message, connect your mouth to your brain and practice, practice, practice. The only way to learn, improve and become "fluent" is by doing it.

Tactical Tips:

When you're on the ground and in the trenches, there are a few additional things you can do to improve the quality of your sale:

1. Provide options. Be ready to make alternative suggestions or recommendations.

2. Determine whether you are dealing with an indecisive or decisive customer. The former needs lots of information and help and the latter doesn't. That difference in approach can make or break the sale.

3. Ask questions to fully understand not only what your prospective customer/client needs, but what he or she wants as well. They are not always the same.

4. Strengthen your position, presentation or pitch by using numbers, words and pictures to tell your story.

5. Ask for permission to stay in touch, and then stay in touch.

Most importantly, remember that one size does not fit all when it comes to personality types and selling. The biggest danger in anything, including sales, is the notion that there is only one way to do it right. What I've learned after years of selling business-to-consumer, business-to-business and now as the owner of my own company, is that there is plenty of space for all kinds of people to be successful. However, what you do need is to be positive, open and able to persevere.

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About the Author

Donna Flagg

Donna Flagg is the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations and a New York City-based dancer.

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