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By Richard Barry

As a sales representative or manager, you certainly have first-hand knowledge of how competitive business is today. While you realize the importance of offering new products or services and value the name-recognition for a firm, you know more is needed.

Even with a good company reputation and a steady flow of referrals, it takes much more to gain a competitive advantage and increase sales. Here are a few strategies to help put you in the best position.

* Be armed with research before you approach customers and prospects. Research your market. The more knowledge you have on your prospects and the products/programs that fit their needs, the better prepared you'll be. Some experts go as far as to say that you have to know your customer's business as well as you know your own. Position your product as a clear solution to a customer's problem, and it will increase the perceived value of that product.

Research the competition. Be aware of what they are doing. Stay in tune with how they present their firm and their sales approach. Use that information to compare your strengths and weaknesses to theirs. During presentations, you can field questions and address key points without ever mentioning the competitors' names.

Be persistent in obtaining this information from your firm. If it's not available, find ways to do it yourself.

* View the new technology as an innovative way to be more efficient.Technology isn't buzz words and gigabytes. While many salespeople are looking for excuses to avoid tapping into the new technology, others take advantage of it by realizing how it will benefit their marketing efforts and customers.

It is an impressive fact that a CD-ROM disk has 400 times more storage space than a 3.5-inch disk. CD-ROMs are marketing tools that support your efforts and help you better serve customers' needs. New programs give you prospecting products such as demographic data on businesses and U.S. Census information that can be used in conjunction with spreadsheets, data bases and other applications. Training in software can help you practice sales techniques (as you sit in front of your computer screen, you interact with a hypothetical prospect).


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