Being able to sell is one of the most important skills you can have. It’s amazing how many business owners don’t realize how crucial this is, because they don’t see themselves as being in sales. But if you’re going to be the leader of a business, the skill is essential.

When you think about it, everything you do in business involves sales. Either you’re selling directly to a customer, or you’re selling people on coming to work for you, or you’re convincing a supplier to carry your product. The sales skill is absolutely critical and you ought to have a clear understanding of the process. 

The good news is you can learn to sell. You’re not going to get everything you need to know about sales from reading this column, but there are four things you should investigate and understand:

Stay out of "MaybeLand"

A mentor once taught me that MaybeLand is the worst place to be in the sales process. "Yes" is the best answer and "No" is the second-best answer. You need to know you’re spending your time the right way, so you want to qualify customers and know when a prospect is real. You want to see buying signs that show they’re interested. Are they calling you back? Asking lots of questions? If they’re just asking you to send a brochure and saying they'll call you back, it might be time to move on.

Ask for the Sale

Just like my kids won’t make the play or the baseball team if they don’t try out, you very rarely will make a sale if you don’t ask for it. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will become and the more you will develop your own style and approach that works for you.

Understand the Timeline

If you’re selling basic office supplies, you may be able to walk in, give a short presentation and ask for the sale. But if it’s something requires more commitment, like accounting or consulting services, the client might want to get to know you better. That means your goal in the first meeting may be to get to the next meeting, not necessarily make the sale. You have to learn not to jump the gun. Instead, always end the conversation with an ask to go to the next step.

Listen to the Customer

The best sales reps have big ears and a little mouth. The more you’re able to listen and ask questions, the better you’re going to be at meeting the needs of the client or customer.

These lessons are true regardless of the organization. Whether you’re directly selling a commodity or doing fundraising for a nonprofit, the same principles apply. No matter what your business is, you need to know how to sell.