I have devoted 25 years to studying what top sales professionals and their leadership teams do to achieve exceptional levels of success, answering some key questions about what makes them so extraordinary at what they do. How do they develop such strong relationships, how do they build trust and convey the value of their products and services in a way that builds credibility and allows them to avoid last minute pressures on price?

One of the most interesting characteristics of exceptional sales professionals is that they often are doing the opposite of what most sales people are doing. The encouraging news is that while their behavior may be different than we expect, it's not super-human or destined for a select few. Furthermore, it's not rocket science and it can be learned.

Let's start with two examples of how exceptional sales pros break the rules of traditional selling and achieve success.

Exceptional sales professionals...

Protect their customer's self-esteem.

Exceptional sales professionals always protect their customer's self-esteem. They frequently begin sentences with what I refer to as "disclaimers." They will begin with something like, "You may have explored this and it may not be helpful, but I've noticed with other clients in your type of business..." or "One of the systems we have provided to other customers has reduced operating costs by 2 - 3%. I'm not sure how helpful it could be to your business, but in your case a 2% savings would amount to around $1.6 million dollars. Do you think it would make sense to explore it further to see what may be realistic in your situation?"

Don't present.
Exceptional sales professionals don't dominate the conversation by talking about themselves, their company or their solution. They focus on the customer and assure the conversation revolves around the customer's world. If you're using PowerPoint presentations for your introductory meetings, you could already be in trouble. Take another look at your presentation and its content. How many slides portray your company and your solution, and how many are about your customer and their business?

On a recent consulting project, we looked at a PowerPoint being used for an introductory 60-minute meeting. Forty slides were involved. Unfortunately, one slide was about the customer, 39 were about the seller. Contrast this with the company's top salesperson, who also uses PowerPoint. She prepares for her initial meetings with Web research and phone interviews with various people in the prospect's organization. Her calls are very straight forward: "I'm preparing for a meeting I will be having in two weeks with your senior management and would like to verify a couple of assumptions I am making about your business." As a result, her slide deck had 18 slides, three were about her company, and none were about her solution. Her slide decks facilitate conversations and a high percentage of her first meetings lead to lucrative orders.

In short, exceptional sales professionals do not think like salespeople; they think from their customers' perspective and look at the situation through a similar lens. They are not worried about making the sale or being impressive. They are focused on understanding their customer's view, their world, and the unique requirements their customer may have.