The success of your business will depend on the success of your sales. Whether you’re closing deals with a client, selling to groups of customers, seeking investors or bringing new employees on board, you’ll need to be able to sell: sell both your idea and yourself.

Some people don’t feel cut out for sales, as if it’s a gene they’re missing, but in truth, being a good salesperson is a learned skill. Sure, you might have a leg up if you’re naturally charismatic or well-spoken, but the characteristics of a good seller (like persuasion) can be taught.

Where to begin? You could take an online course, such as Docstoc’s Sales Techniques: From Pitch to Close, or invite successful colleagues and salespeople out for a cup of coffee and pick their brains. Formal and information education are both great ways to expand your selling skills.

In the interim, here are seven of the most time-tested selling techniques that have proven successful for decades.

1. Listen

You’ll never hope to close a deal if you aren’t listening, really listening, to what your potential client has to say. What are you listening for?

  • Their needs
  • Their concerns
  • Their fears
  • Their impression of your business
  • Their potential

By keeping your ears open and asking questions, you can easily learn more about your client than they’d ever willingly divulge in a meeting. People want to feel like somebody is truly listening and finds their concerns important. Chances are you’ll be selling to other small business owners or professionals who have similar daily concerns that you have. Wouldn't it be great if someone listened to what you had to say, and not just because they were waiting to speak or to immediately jump in with reasons why their product can solve your issues? How would you regard a person who simply listens and understands you? How would you remember them? Chances are the answer is favorably.

2. Learn

Even if your product/service is the answer to every business owner’s prayers, very few people will set aside time to hear about it. However, if you are a knowledgeable resource, offering more than just a litany of features and benefits about your own product, it’ll be much easier to get and keep your foot in the door.

So learn everything you can about your business and industry, about your client’s business and industry, about the market, about customers, about everything. How can you provide people with this information? Through industry reports, email newsletters or simply by sending them to people personally? By becoming a source of information, you become a valued contact in your potential client or customer’s address book.

3. Focus

It’s easy to get excited about the product or service you offer, but sometimes that enthusiasm can overwhelm your client. Instead, use the above two techniques, listen and learn, to craft your sales pitch to this client’s specific needs. Often, the more options you present, the least likely a client is to buy; too many choices can lead to decision paralysis. Spend your time preparing for the meeting by crafting a message that really speaks to the heart of the client and what they need.

If you don’t know where to start, take the first few minutes of the meeting to ask some targeted questions. Get to the root of what this person really wants, fears and prioritizes in their personal and professional lives.

4. Practice

No matter how well you think you know something, practice it. Many salespeople develop “elevator pitches” – a three-minute pitch that succinctly answers the question: “What is the real problem and how can you help?” or some variation thereof. These concise pitches are practiced day and night by new and experienced salespeople alike, so that when the opportunity presents itself, they nail it.

Additionally, if you are making a presentation to a client or potential partner, you should practice your approach. Make notes, highlight points you want to be sure not to miss, work on your body language, your tone of voice as well as your speed. Most people don’t realize how quickly they talk until someone points it out to them, and you don’t want that someone to be a client.

5. Share

Make your presentation more about show, then tell. Invite the client to discover all of the wonderful benefits of your product or service right along with you. Let them play with the product, test it out, use it or feel it. Open up about lessons you’ve learned as you’ve worked in the industry or sold the same or similar products to others just like this client. By grounding your sales pitch in previous experience, you become instantly relatable to the person sitting across from you.

Also, by treating the meeting as more of an open dialogue, you are more likely to get questions from the client. However, keep in mind that most people will not ask you to clarify something even if they don’t understand it. Pride prevents us from looking foolish, and they will not ask if you have not garnered their interest yet. Make sure to pause frequently, especially after describing proprietary information or services, so that the client can digest what you’ve said. Ask them early and often if they have any questions. This is also where listening will play a key part. Listen to what the client is saying (or not saying) throughout your presentation. Are they looking away a lot, or do they seem engaged? Do they have questions or seem curious?

6. Demonstrate

An interactive lesson is often the best way to illustrate a point. If it’s feasible, bring along an example of your product or service. Make a short demo video or ask your marketing team for some graphics or materials and load that information on a tablet or laptop computer. If possible, give the client the opportunity to try out the product or service him or herself.

7. Acknowledge

Whether it’s a face-to-face sale, an online purchase process or sales copy, remind customers that you know how busy they are and that you respect the preciousness of their time (you can also tie this into an explanation of how your product will save them time).

If you’re working with a client, thank them for their time, listen closely and reiterate something they said during the meeting that ties directly into why your product or service is perfect for them.

Leave the meeting with a confirmed follow-up time and an indication that you are aware that, while their decision may not be an easy one, you are confident they will make the right choice regardless. Follow-up is important with online customers as well; checking to make sure customers are satisfied with your product and enjoyed your sales process can help you improve your approach with future customers.

There are many other steps and variations that you can take on the sales process (see Jason Nazar’s 5-Step Sales Process for another example). The most important elements of sales are adaptability and resilience. Remember that not all approaches work for every product or person; you will need to adjust your approaches constantly, be prepared for rejection and come up with creative ways to meet the client’s need above all else.