Recently I wrote about the Sales Funnel and suggested to you that If You've Cut To the Bone, Stop Cutting and Start Selling. After receiving lots of responses from readers like you, I realize we need more work in two areas: filling the funnel with prospects and closing the sale. Both require sales skills.

Chris Rader If you manage a sales staff, or you're out on the road or at the sales desk fulltime, ask yourself: Am I showing the right skills for this job? Here are 10 areas to examine, correct, and nurture:

  1. Focused Listening. It took me 40 years to figure out that you must learn to listen to customers. When you are speaking to prospects about their issues, focus on them. For example, a builder may call with a door that requires a special size jamb. Don't just hear the builder. Focus on taking a mental picture of the walls and the place in the house with the jamb. It may take the builder multiple sentences to explain this to you. ProSales' October cover story, Top Gun, profiles Jackie Allmond and explains why the magazine believes he just might be America's best LBM sales rep. Jackie is No. 1 in part because he listens.
  2. Patience. Industry consultant Bill Lee taught me to not answer questions until the person asking the question completes the sentence. I feel the best leaders don't say much, but when they do, subordinates listen. Think about your next conversation with your prospect and don't interrupt every sentence. Try this exercise during a sales meeting: Even when you know the answer--which you usually do because you are a professional--be patient and listen for a pause in the prospect's voice before you respond.
  3. Asking Questions. Stop vomiting on your prospects with all the facts about your company. Try a different approach and ask questions of the prospect that do not have yes-no answers. For example, don't ask, "Are you happy with your current supplies?" Instead, say "Tell me about your relationship with your current supplier." My pet peeve is when somebody calls me on the phone and they start spewing information about their company when they can't even pronounce my name. When are we going to learn that we should find out information about a prospect before we dive in?
  4. Following Up. You might say: "Chris, you are joking. We follow up." Don't be so sure. I once wrote about a roofing company that had courted me in measuring my roof, explaining options, and developing trust with me. Yes, they asked questions first, but, the key was the cover letter attached to their quote. It moved me and many readers who have requested copies. If you have not received a copy, let me know. Well, the roofing company never called me to see if I receive the cover letter They never called me to close the sale. They never came back and touched me in any way. They get an A in selling me and an F in following up and closing.
  5. Following Up--10 TimesIf you have not heard from a prospect I would not call them 10 times in a day. That is too aggressive and will probably turn them away. But before you give up on a prospect, you need to touch them 10 times in some way over a short period of time. Use different avenues to reach the prospect, cell phone, office phone, e-mail, text, subordinates, family, or friends.
  6. Building Trust. The No. 1 issue in selling new customers is getting them to trust you. A three-minute phone call does not do it. It takes more calls and more time on each call. It takes site visits and unplanned meeting places. It takes seeing a prospect at a dining event, baseball game with kids, or the health club to build a relationship of trust.
  7. Asking for References. Use your current base as a reference. I call this Pyramid Selling. A salesperson can only make a limited number of contacts per day. On the other hand, if they have customers constantly selling their services for them, the sales potential may be unlimited. By asking your existing customers for a referral, you are becoming more engaged with their business. It is not acceptable to tell a prospect about how good you are, but it is acceptable for an existing customer to tell your prospect how good you are. If you would like an example, of the pyramid, e-mail me.
  8. Finding the Decision Maker. Don't waste your time selling to the person who does not make the final decision on the sale. For example, if you are prospecting for a commercial job and you are constantly in contact with the superintendent, make 100% sure that he or she is the final decision maker. The key question to answer here is: Who signs the checks?
  9. Arriving Early. The era of missed appointments has to stop. If an event out of your control happens, like a traffic accident that delays your arrival for a meeting, call or text the prospect immediately.
  10. Social Networking is On! What? Yes, can you imagine a salesperson that tweets everyday to prospects and existing clients, delivering news about new products, existing products, training sessions, and other value activities? Who is doing this in our industry? We have about 25,000 LBM Dealers and fewer than 100 tweeting. Not many. Start Tweeting; I do. You can follow me at

Selling is like pricing in that there is no right way to do it. But until you start filling your Sales Funnel, your competitors will continue to take business that you might otherwise have.
Chris Rader is a consultant based in Lafayette, La. Contact him at