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Everyone is in sales. To me, job titles don't matter; every employee must think about sales. It's the only way any company can stay in business.

There are no jobs if you don't bring the business through the front door. That's why I have a sign on my office door that reads: "If you know where you can get us some business, come on in."

A while back, I received an e-mail from a loyal reader who used to be in sales, but switched to information technology as a help-desk technician. Even though he was now on the side of delivering service rather than sales, he understands the personalized approach with customers, be it computer operators, network administrators or engineers.

He wrote: "When it comes to identifying and resolving technical issues, it's important to remember the human side of technology. I only have the phone to work with, but quite often those little or long pauses while waiting for a procedure to cycle through or a test result to return can be used to build rapport, ease tension or otherwise get to know the other person(s) on the line.

"The important thing to keep in mind here in taking advantage of these opportunities is that these people talk to the people who ultimately buy the company's services. If the service they receive at any point along the line is poor, or if the vendors' techs are impersonal or worse, abrasive or condescending, the salesperson talking with the decisionmaker is going to have a rough time of it when it comes to renewing the contract."

From the moment we get up in the morning to the time we go to bed, we are negotiating, communicating, persuading and influencing. If we aren't selling products or services, we are selling ideas.

If you want to be successful in sales, remember the four Ws and the H.

• Who? Know your customers. Get into the mind of your buyer — what does he or she really want? What do they really need?

• What? Target a clear outcome. Before approaching a customer, be certain of what you want to achieve. In some cases, you may not be seeking an immediate sale, but more information about what the customer wants.

• Why? Listen to people. Successful selling isn't about talking to customers, but listening to their needs so you can find out how your product or service can help.

• When? Get to the point quickly. Once you determine that you have what the customer needs, resist the urge to launch into a lengthy lecture about what you have to offer. Pick one or two of the customer's most important needs and briefly demonstrate how you can help. Customers buy on their schedule, not yours.

• How? Solve customers' problems. Address their needs, large and small, and show how you can help them. And here's some advice that some might consider heresy: If you can't help them, refer them to someone who can. There will be times when your product or service isn't the best fit, and your customer will appreciate your willingness to put their needs first.

Mackay's Moral: Selling isn't rocket science — it's people science.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail