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Success in business means being able to sell. You can have the best product, or service, or staff in the market, but if you can't convince others to believe in you, or more simply, favour your brand over the others, it will all go for nought. This is true whether your trying to get hired, win a contract, secure financing or close a deal.

It's for that reason we've asked Shane Gibson, a Vancouver-based sales expert and author of Closing Bigger: The field guide to closing bigger deals to provide insights and advice on how to improve your sales skills. Mr. Gibson combines a background in sales, new entrepreneur development and leadership coaching. His clients include CMA Canada, The Ford Motor Company of Canada, UBC's Sauder Business School, Allied Van lines, and The Toronto Board of Trade.

Mr. Gibson was online earlier to take your questions. Your questions and his answers appear at the bottom of this page.

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Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

Rasha Mourtada, globeandmail.com: Shane, thank you for joining us today. We've got lots of questions, so we'll get right to them.

BeeRich III, Toronto: How would you pitch a 'service' to a Fortune 50 company when you are a small business? I have spent many years trying to sell a large company on something I know can give them all kinds of increased sales, into numbers most of us can't grasp. Their answer is that their current IT initiatives keep them from taking on such potential projects, but I think that's not the case. The project is indeed massive, but it has so much potential, I don't know why they wouldn't invest the minimum it would take to see how well this could work. Your thoughts?

Shane Gibson: Fortune 50 companies are indeed a challenge, especially when proposing an innovation to them. As entrepreneurs we celebrate innovation, in fact we get awards and industry recognition for it. The challenge is where "innovation" means progress, and productivity to us it often means something entirely different to someone within a bureaucracy.

The word to them generates all kinds of questions with internal stakeholders: How much work will I have to do to implement this solution? Who's going to pay for this work or disruption? What will it cost to train my staff to competently use it? Will this change affect how I do my job or how I'm evaluated? Is the vendor competing for my authority and could they usurp my power? If I take this solution to the rest of the team, and it doesn't work will it impact my career or get me fired? How can I justify buying this after I just spent $3,0000,0000.00 on something else that was supposed to do the same thing?

So as we passionately pitch our new exciting, innovative solution our prospect could literally be terrified (especially if we're talking to a middle manager and not an executive decision maker). When selling technology we have to take the F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real) out of saying yes. This means presenting our solution in a way that won't disrupt their productivity, we as a vendor must clearly communicate that we have a smooth strategy for implementation and that we're not there to replace anyone, we're there to partner.

As a final note, have you mapped all of the key stakeholders in the decision? Do you know who they are and what motivates them. Here are some Who's and What's:

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What person or group of people will make the final decision and what motivates them?

Who will use this solution and/or will be responsible for implementing it and what are their concerns?

Who will analyze this service and have the power to say "NO?"

Who could guide me, and navigate me through this?

Who would be against this idea?

Who can I access or influence that could help me sell the decision makers?

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Edward Vickers, Edmonton: I find that customers today , whether corporate or individual are the victims of information dump. The avalanche of information available and presented in a vain attempt to get more attention than other brands is actually creating more confusion and annoyance for customers. How should one attempt to eliminate the damage of info dump without starting the process over from the start and risk further annoying the customer?

Shane Gibson: Edward, it is my belief that we should never pick up the phone, send an e-mail, fax, newsletter or even drop by a client or prospect's office until we have identified how we are going to truly add value with the interaction. My first thought is stop dumping, and start connecting. Most companies will attempt to overwhelm the client with brand and information on products and services. People don't buy products or services, they buy outcomes, results, feelings, and relationships.

Here's some quick thoughts on how to outdo your competition:

#1) Delete the jargon and industry speak. Use uncommon methods and terms to communicate what you do. Have conversations in your marketing materials, phone calls, and meetings that are contrary to, or more in-depth than your competitor. This reduces the chance of being categorized as being "just like XZY Co" and then promptly sent to the Junk Box or Voice Mail during the next contact.

#2) Stop pushing and start pulling. We learn more from the questions we ask than the stories we tell. Have a series of questions or needs analysis that you can do with prospects, ask questions that lead them to new ways of thinking and that help them look at your solution in a different context. At the end of a good needs analysis on the phone with a potential prospect they often tell us what additional information they want, and will often give us a good idea of what the next step is in the sales process.

#3) Vary your mediums and reasons for calling. Brainstorm all the reasons you could call someone (most people in my seminars to their own surprise can come up with 20 or more reasons to call a prospective client), then look at all of the other mediums you can use for contact as well: e-mail, fax, small gifts, articles written by you or articles of interest, newsletters, in-person meetings, VIP functions, even Linkedin, Facebook, or posting an interesting comment or question on a blog they maintain.

Our goal is not just to have mind-share and wallet-share, it's to have the greatest relationship-share. Do all of these things with the intent to get out of the noise as another commodity pitch artist and move into being a trusted adviser and relationship developer.

Chris Ralph, Ottawa: Hi Dave, I work in the non-profit sector. Any tips on dos and don't when approaching businesses for sponsorship and funding? Is there a difference between 'asking' and 'selling'? Thanks! Chris

Shane Gibson: Hello Chris. Sponsorship and funding for most corporations is about "buy-in" not buying. They need to "buy-into" the fact that your organization is consistent with their corporate tithing strategy and will be congruent with their overall branding. Sponsorship and funding are endorsements of you, in essence they've invested and vested their brand with you. My thoughts would be to present the opportunity as a partnership and a long-term investment in their reputation in the business community and community as a whole.

Many corporate types think quarterly so we need to have discussions with them to look at their return-on-investment for the many quarters to come, let them see the positive ripple effect on long-term goodwill, branding, and employee pride and recognition. Too often we call "selling" a gold, silver, or bronze sponsorship package but we should be really getting them to "buy-into" a long-term investment in their reputation. I can recount at least a dozen times that different non-profits have called me selling a particular sponsorship package, and after I said "no-thanks" to that offer I have never heard from them again. Sew the seeds for partnership and over the long-term I believe you will have all the funding you need.

BI, Toronto: Thank you for your time. I am wondering why there is so much emphasis on sales in the description for this discussion but nothing about service. Isn't the most important part of sales today relationship building and providing a level of service to your clients that results in repeat business and referrals? From my experience service sells and that's something I find a lot of companies still don't understand, particularly large ones such as Rogers, Bell, CIBC (worst bank for service in Canada, in my opinion), etc. The intense focus on sales often takes away from service to the detriment of all parties involved. How do you advise clients to reconcile between the two?

Shane Gibson: What we're talking about here isn't really sales and service but LABELS. Service is part of the sales process, if I had my way we would sit sales and service together in the same office, remove the labels and call them both relationship managers. The sales cycle does not end when we get the cheque. When we sell services for instance we don't really earn the business until long after we get the client's money.

How my co-author Trevor Greene and I define selling is as follows: "Selling is about creating an environment where an act of faith can take place." This means looking at the whole person, the solution, and the long-term relationship and doing what it takes to establish credibility through trust building and genuine assistance. The labels make service staff feel that they're not responsible for revenues and sales staff feel that their job is done after they close the deal.

Most of these large corporations desperately need to redefine these labels, train the service staff in sales skills, train the sales staff in service skills and incentivize them as a team with commissions over the life-time of the client not just for one transaction. Top producing sales people already realize this even if they're no mandated to do so. I recently interviewed a top performing commercial/fleet sales person for a leading North American auto manufacturer who is always there for the delivery of his client's vehicles, not because he has to but because he genuinely cares, and it sets the foundation for the next order too. Sometimes the delivery is 45 minutes drive from his office, once again that's why he's a top producer.

KL Desmond, Canada: If you could only give a sales rep one piece of advice, what would it be? Thanks.

Shane Gibson: Get good at building instant rapport. People buy from people first. If I don't like you, don't trust you, and can't relate to you, I won't buy from you. Developing the ability to get in sync with people is the greatest sales skill. Rapport is about empathy and flexibility. Here's some quick ideas around being effective in building rapport:

1) This often starts with our own self-concept, self-worth, and confidence in ourselves, our company and our solution. Our body tells the truth, we telegraph how we're feeling through our tonality, facial expression, face, body language, eye contact and even breathing. Sell yourself first, be confident and very aware of how you present yourself. If you're at ease the prospect will be at ease.

2) Listen. Effective rapport in selling is about listening 70% of the time and make great points and asking great questions 30% of the time. It's easy to read a prospect and adjust our approach if we're listening. If we're doing all of the talking rapport is next to impossible.

3) Intent affects rapport. If we're truly empathetic in our communications with clients, and our intent is to provide real value and understand their unique situation the client will pick this up. If we're rushed, stressed, or anxious and thinking about ourselves that intent shows. Think "what's in it for me" from the client's perspective.

Robert Merlo, United States writes: What are some suggestions and tactics as to how to perform effectively in an inside sales position within a technology company? Most of the literature I have read pertains to field (outside) sales. Being devoid of face-to-face interaction, inside sales can be challenging in that you don't have the luxury to 'read' a person's body language (i.e., eye contact, body language, etc.). I'd be interested in learning more on how to engage a prospect (make 1st initial contact) to closing a deal without sounding like a 'used car salesman'. Our product (comprehensive learning solutions {e-Learning}) has generally a long sales cycle - several months - and is a customized solution. I'd also be interested in how to effectively build a relationship, establish rapport, and sell 'value' with a prospect when selling a product/service over the phone in a market that is fragmented, experiencing some consolidation and sometimes is treated as a commodity.

Shane Gibson: Wow, Robert, I could write you a book on those questions. Firstly inside sales can be too reactive. We get used to the phone ringing and leads trickling in off the net. Many of these people will call with an agenda. They'll ask what does it do? and then of course "How much?" At this point we're reacting to a barrage of questions and the caller is leading the process, but often they don't know kind of questions they should be asking. Even when we're making the outgoing call this can easily happen.

Your goal is to get THEM talking. Have a list of questions you can ask. Not questions like "Are you the person that makes the decisions?" or "Do you have an IT budget?" These questions are about you trying to get what you want. Better questions might be "Before I go into what our service can do, would you mind helping me understand your business better to make sure I'm on track with my recommendations?".

On a cold call my goal, especially with such a long sales cycle, is to SELL THEM NOTHING on the first call. My goal is to get permission to begin the relationship and get an agreement from them to begin the process of me educating them on how I can help their business. Then over the period of several months I contact the client every three weeks with some type of value add that has very little to do with me selling my solution this could include: free webinars, white-papers, congratulating them on a recent press release they have put out, demos, and anything else that could educate, inform or entertain them. In tandem with this I'm moving through my typical steps in the sales cycle but the message I'm sending is "Every time I call you it's not just to sell you something, I want to add-value and be a resource for your business."

As a final thought on your question in regards to telephone rapport. Tonality, tempo, and the words they use can tell us a lot. People like to be communicated to much in the way they communicate. Match their pace, match their tone, use words they use and it will help with the rapport.

Rasha Mourtada, globeandmail.com: Thank you, Shane, for sharing your time and expertise with us today. Any last thoughts?

Shane Gibson: I spend much of my time doing business with senior executives in some of the world's biggest companies. What I have learned and what I have observed is that decision makers are looking for resources, advisers and results, not product peddlers and pitch artists. To succeed in this very global and competitive sales environment sales people must ascend and become business people that sell. Develop a thirst and discipline for life-long self directed learning, become THE expert in your field. Lastly: "Some people build the relationship to get the deal... but the reality is the relationship is the deal."

You can reach me at shane@kbitraining.com, or visit www.salesacademy.ca .

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