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Q: I think I am like most small business people when I say that I am pretty good at business but sales are not really my thing. That is, while I have sales experience (by necessity), and I think I'm doing it right, I don't know what I don't know. Does that make sense? What are some do's and don'ts I may want to follow? — Holly

A: That does indeed make sense, and I agree — you are like most small business people. Some of us love selling, others hate it, but there is no doubt we all do it, and often. Whether it's prospecting, schmoozing or closing, sales are part of our everyday business life.

While it is difficult to say what the average entrepreneur needs to know about sales (as we are all at different levels), I think I can safely say that there are some mistakes that are fairly common and also fairly easy to avoid.

Not listening closely enough: When you go to the car lot and the salesman walks up, what is the first thing he or she does? Usually, it is to ask you some seemingly innocent questions: What are you looking for, how much do you have to spend and maybe even a bit about your family. It's not just small talk. These uber-salespeople listen closely to your answers, knowing that doing so will help them find your sweet spot.

Look, of course sales is not about talking someone into something, that never works. Rather, it's about finding out what they want or need and then showing them that what you offer fits the bill. You find out what they need, and therefore what tack to take, by listening carefully.

Excessive talking: A corollary is that sometimes it's imperative that you show some self-control and stop yer yapping. People who love sales often are gregarious and garrulous, but that gets in the way when they like to hear the sound of their own voice more than that of their customers'.

Talking is good as it can create rapport and is used to explain key elements of your product, but talking too much not only can turn customers off, it prevents you from asking questions. When you are not talking, you are listening.

Trying too hard: Overselling, making grand pronouncements, using hyperbole and not trusting your product or pitch enough to leave the customer alone for a while make you look needy. No one likes needy people. It's like that boyfriend or girlfriend you once had who just couldn't leave you alone. You finally left them alone, right?

The same is true in sales. When you look, act or sound needy — or worse, desperate — potential customers are turned off. Trust yourself and your product enough to not oversell, and know when to back off. To bastardize a perfectly fine axiom: "When you love a customer, let him go. If he comes back, he's yours, if he doesn't, he never was yours in the first place."

Not knowing when to push: Whether it is helping the undecided to finally get off the fence or explaining to a prospect why they need to act now, you have to know when a gentle push can make a difference. If your push has their best interest in mind (rather than yours) it won't look like pushiness.

Not asking for the sale: Similarly, there comes a time to ask for the sale, to get a prospect to commit. Again, at the right time and for the right reason, it should be more welcome than threatening.

Resting on your laurels: There are three types of customers: New customers, existing customers and customers who are leaving for whatever reason. Too often, when things are good, we fail to replenish the stock because the customers we have are plentiful and bountiful. But sooner or later, existing customers become exiting customers, and if you haven't been prospecting and bringing in new customers, you will be in trouble.

By following these tips, not only will you make more sales, but you will also continue to create customers.

© 2010 Steven D. Strauss, America’s small business expert.”