Note: Upon her indictment on federal money laundering charges and her arrest February 8, 2022, Inc. dismissed Heather Morgan as a contributing columnist. As is our practice, we do not unpublish editorial content, and rather have added this note for full transparency.

There's no shortage of sales advice. And while sales can frequently be a tough profession, following random suggestions without first making sure they're legitimate can hurt you more than it'll help.

That said, figuring out what's useful and what's bogus can be difficult sometimes, given the sheer amount of selling tips and vague advice we get daily from newsletters, websites, and social networks.

So it helps to skip the guessing game and go straight to the known leaders for tips on how to survive the sales world.

After talking with some of the most successful salespeople in the industry today, as well as a few people entirely outside of sales, I realized there's a huge difference between listening to someone who has learned through experience and taking advice from some website that may or may not be credible.

With that in mind, here are five tips from sales and business leaders that will help you better connect with your customers and close more deals.  

1. Ask lots of questions.

Mark Roberge is a former Hubspot executive and current lecturer at Harvard Business School, where he teaches classes on personal selling and sales leadership.

As far as he's concerned, asking questions is the simplest, most effective way to understand your potential buyer. Unfortunately, many salespeople are taught to spend the entire meeting pitching their product or service instead of getting to know the other person. Roberge says this is not an effective strategy.

Instead, make the pitch all about the other person. Research to learn everything you can about their business needs, then keep that information in mind during the meeting. Not only will this help put the buyer at ease by cultivating a sense of empathy, you'll also better understand their perspective and be able to tailor your sales pitch accordingly.

However, it's not enough to simply ask questions; you have to ask the right questions.

2. Appreciate the power of open-ended questions.

Asking closed-ended or rhetorical questions that require little more than a simple "yes" or "no" is a weak--and often useless--sales strategy. "Would you like to generate more leads for your sales team?" doesn't get you the information you need from the buyer to tailor your pitch towards their specific needs.

Instead, ask open-ended questions that elicit more thoughtful responses from the buyer. Use your research on the potential customer to help you form more specific questions you can use in the meeting: "How much time would you save if you didn't have to spend it generating new leads?" That's a much more compelling line, and it touches on a problem your buyer is likely trying to solve.

3. Automate to better serve your customers, not avoid them.

These days, creating a positive experience for your customers means finding a balance between automation and actual human interaction. Jason VandeBoom, Chief Executive Officer of marketing and sales-automation provider ActiveCampaign, considers it absolutely imperative for companies to strike that balance.

It's no secret that automation can optimize many processes for companies. Monitoring large amounts of data, for example, requires a large degree of automation, since it's too expensive and challenging for an actual human to process that much information.

However, if you're implementing automation simply to avoid interactions with your customers, you're only damaging your relationship with them--not to mention your own success. Keep in mind that your customer's experience with your business should be your main focus. If the experience is enjoyable for them, they'll stick around to help build your business.

4. Simplify your emails.

Keeping things simple is always the best practice--especially when it comes to your sales emails. Just ask Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator and author of Never Split the Difference. In his book, he details negotiation strategies that can be applied not only to hostage situations, but to sales negotiations as well.

The problem, he says, is that people tend to state every point of their pitch (or negotiation) in their first email. In your mind, immediately walking them through every step of your product may seem like you're helping them. In reality, you're just overwhelming and confusing them, and hurting your chances of getting a response.

Instead, keep things short, simple, and conversational. Stick to one idea or benefit per email, instead of trying to cover every single feature or loading the message up with technical jargon no one really understands. When you keep things simple, you keep your negotiations focused and help move the conversations in the right direction.

5. Opt for patience, not pushiness.

Amanda Craven knows the value of patience. A former lab technician at UC Davis Medical Center, she's now a sales executive who closed $1 million in deals for the Associated Pathology Medical Group. But she didn't hit those numbers overnight. She built them up slowly, over time, by being the kind of salesperson potential buyers actually enjoy talking to.

In other words, she wasn't the kind of pushy, overbearing seller who tends to lack respect for any priorities besides their own.

Sure, there are times when a salesperson has to apply pressure to a situation; most have a quota they must hit to stay employed and/or in business. But Craven explains that it's about striking a balance, and knowing when to apply pressure and when to ease off. "There's a time to push," Craven says. "But it's not the first time you're talking to [the potential customer]."  

The big lesson to take away from all of this is that making better connections with customers requires empathy: you have to see things from their perspective and understand their situation, rather than focusing solely on the sale. Doing so will drastically improve your sales strategy, your relationships, and your reputation.

Read any great sales tips from leaders lately? I'd love to hear about them!