IT NEVER ceases to amaze me that many companies still train their sales staff using methods from the Stone Age.

Let us revisit the classic sales cycle:

1. Building rapport

2. Fact-finding

3. Presenting

4. Overcoming objections; and

5. Closing.

Does it seem familiar to you? Which of these did your sales manager or senior colleagues focus on? Let me guess: Steps 3, 4 & 5? Or did you receive mainly product training?

The consumer of today has never been savvier due to one overwhelming factor called the Internet.

Prior to visiting you, he probably has done online research, read users' experiences (good and not-so-good), and perhaps even discussed your company's product/service in forums.

Such is the power of the Internet. Even my tech-challenged colleague is using Google to learn more about congenital heart disease, rather than pick up his trusty (and dusty) volume of medical dictionaries!

How then can you, the salesman, wow the customer? What can you tell him what he doesn't already know?

The key is to unlearn the traditional sales methods and relearn those that are applicable to today's consumer.

1. Make it memorable

Focus on the customer, not your company's product or service. Move away from the transaction and into the process. Make it an experience for the customer, not just a purchase.

Remember a wonderful buying experience you had: Was the salesman pushy and always talking? Or did you feel that she took time to understand your needs before suggesting something suitable? You can be sure it will never be the former.

If so, why do companies still focus their sales training on steps 3, 4 and 5 of the sales cycle, when it is steps 1 and 2 that matter most to the customer?

Spend more time on understanding your customer, his wants and needs. In some industries, you also need to find out his hopes and fears. You do this by asking questions.

2. Ask appropriate questions

Strange as it sounds, doctors are the best practitioners of this. Say you have a stomach upset and visit your family doctor. He will ask questions like: "How long have you had this? Where do you feel pain? Any vomiting?"

Only after asking questions and examining you, will he come to a diagnosis and prescribe the necessary treatment or follow-up.

Now imagine if your doctor did not do that. Instead, the moment you step into the consultation room, he sticks a needle into your arm and insists you take a red liquid mixture and some big white pills! I bet you will be out of that clinic before you can say "gastric flu". Unfortunately, this is what most salesmen are trained to do on a daily basis!

Forget the old cliché: "Salesmen must be able to talk very well". You learn nothing about the customer if you keep on talking.

3. Talk less, listen more

It is said that "the greatest salesmen in the world don't talk much, they ask questions and listen".

Many people who come for an interview frequently tell me: "Daniel, I think I can't do sales because I cannot talk well."

To that, I reply: "If you cannot talk well, I can teach you. But if you don't listen to and understand the customer, then there's a problem."

In today's competitive marketplace, knowing your company's products and services well is simply not good enough. Having a good sales pitch only puts you on par with your competitors.

4. Show you care

The most important sales skill is the ability to show customers that you care, by finding out what they want and helping them get it. Not product knowledge. Not overcoming objections. Certainly not a glib tongue.

This is especially pertinent in an industry where price isn't the major consideration, or your company's products and services are perceived to be "higher-end". Or perhaps your clientele is well-heeled and expect the very best service.

Peter M. Senge, author, scientist and an influential adviser on business strategy, says: "The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage."

Does that apply to your company and industry? Then it is high time to distinguish yourself from the rest. Learn to tell less to sell more.