Selling requires that you have a good working knowledge of the products and services your company offers. The more knowledge you have on these subjects and the other products available to your customers, the better chance you have of closing the sale. Product knowledge is not where your expertise should stop - you need to know your company and how it is different than all others in the market you serve. Not selling your company is like trying to sail a boat without a rudder - you'll end up going in circles.

Do you really believe that all companies are the same and offer the same quality jobs? Are all the personnel in the other companies as qualified as your company's? Do they offer the service you offer? Then why can't we talk about these differences and sell their value? The answer is that most of us have never given much thought to the value of our companies and how it fits into the price we offer the prospect.

When we sell anything, we need to keep in mind that we are the company to this prospect. We are expected to know everything about our company and its policies. We need to be the expert on the product, the installation and the available service. But first, and foremost, the prospect needs to have confidence in you, the sales person. We must instill confidence and establish trust very early in the interview process. Once they buy you, they may buy what you are selling. The first "I don't know" or "I'll find out" and your credibility is suspect and trust is further away. You need to do your homework about such things as:

c The history and development of the company. There are several ways to obtain this information, including company brochures or from older employees.

c The size of the organization. Whether it's a large organization or a small company, you can build a story to show the customer the value of this size.

Reputation is important to any buyer. Have letters from satisfied customers of all sizes. Show some pictures of prestigious jobs you have done in the area. Show your business affiliations in the area, like the Better Business Bureau or the local chamber of commerce.

What sets you apart?

Discuss what sets you apart. Talk about the credit policies and terms that are available to this prospect. Talk about the training of the employees and how that affects the quality of the installation. Talk about the manufacturing you do in your shop to customize each and every job. Talk about the product and why your company has selected this line of equipment to stand behind. Talk about your service department and how important they are to customer satisfaction. Talk about some details of the installation that separate you from the others in the market. Talk about your use of a flexible connector at the supply plenum and why you use it. Talk about how the owner takes special care to make sure every job meets his quality requirements.

The list is endless but it needs to be compiled for your company and used in every sale. Think about all the things you do for the customer and begin to talk about them. Keep in mind that just because someone else may do the same thing or offer the same services, unless they are talking about them, you are perceived as the one who is offering such services.

When we sell, we sell ourselves first, the company second and the product last. It has been my experience that often the first two elements mentioned are never offered and then we wonder why the price is always what the customer wants.

(Dave Gleason has more than 40 years of experience in contracting, engineering and wholesaling. He has put these experiences into a comprehensive consultation and training company called Systematic Selling Inc., which offers customized sales seminars and workshops. Contact him at 1165 Antioch Campground Road, Gainesville, GA 30506; phone 800-447-7355.)