1. Be definitive

Don't over qualify statements, make them definitive. Rather than saying, 'I was wondering if . . .', or, 'I was thinking that we should . . .' say what you want to say, particularly if it is contentious. Softening the blow of your opinions or demands is counter-productive, introducing an element of equivocation where none exists. Only if the outcome is genuinely up for debate should you offer it as a question. Even if you are making a request, make it direct - 'I need your help' rather than 'I was wondering if you could help me'.

In a similar vein, don't project your demands and needs into the future - 'I was going to ask you if . . .','When you get the chance, could you . . .', 'I want to tell you . . .' Make the demand, raise the point, ask the question; don't say you are going to do something which you are already in the process of doing.

2. Easing into a crowded room

Networking conversation starters

Networking can be a very rewarding business and relationship-building activity. However, if you're like most, you dislike going into a crowded room alone.

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Here are four excellent tips that will help put you at ease:
1. Smile and say, 'Tell me about your business.' It works like a charm. People love to talk about themselves. They're pleased, flattered and surprised that you've asked.

2. Robyn Henderson, a networking maestro, suggests you move from past, to present, to future questions. For example:

a. Past - 'So you've been with the company x years. What changes have you seen in that time?'

b. Present - 'What challenges do you face?'

c. Future - 'What challenges do you foresee?'

3. Read/skim the newspaper every day. You'll have something to talk about with everyone and you'll be able to quote articles by topic and industry in relation to that person.

4. Research the hosting company on the Internet. It will give you something to talk about with your hosts and other guests.

3. The greatest gift

When speaking to someone, look them in the eye and give them your full attention. In this time of ubiquitous distractions, putting down your cell phone, turning away from the computer or TV and really giving them your undivided attention is the greatest gift. People notice.

Attention to your web enquiries
You can make sure that incoming website enquiries or orders get the priority treatment they deserve.

You do this by using the Rules function of your email program. Create a rule/filter looking for certain words or email addresses and automatically:

• Send an automated template response.
• Forward on to the appropriate person.
• File it.

5. Adding on to a sale

The famous McDonald's add-on question, 'Do you want fries with that?' works for them, but you shouldn't try a similar closed-ended question. It significantly decreases the strike rate (the percentage of customers who buy the add-on product).

Instead, divide information about your products or services into three categories:

1. Feature: a physical part or characteristic of your product or service.

2. Advantage: translates the feature into a reason for the customer to purchase.

3. Benefit: what the advantage will do for the customer.

Why? Sales effectiveness research has identified that talking to the customer only about features has absolutely no impact on the likelihood of making the sale. Talking about the advantages that those features convey has a positive impact on the likelihood of making a sale. Talking about the benefits that are specific to that customer has a very positive impact on the likelihood of making the sale.

If you or your sales team don't have enough information to know exactly what the customers' needs are, then have them specify the advantages of the product to the customer they are attempting to add-on or cross-sell.

Sounds easy? Check what your salespeople are doing right now. If they're typical of the retail industry, 80 per cent will struggle to identify any advantages of the products they're attempting to add-on sell. And more than 90 per cent of them will lead into an add-on selling pitch with a closed question.