By Jon Kraushar Communications Consultant

Everyone is looking for a selling edge in our distressed economy. Whatever profession you're in, you can get that edge by asking prospects or customers three sales questions: What do you want? How do you like it? When do you want it?

Only after you get those answers should you ask the fourth question: How much are you willing to pay for it--pay meaning money and sacrifice; in effect, what is it worth to you? Even in these challenging economic times, people are often willing to be a little flexible on price (and on other terms they'll accept in a purchase) if they can get what they really value.

Always find out what people valuewhen you're selling. If you can wow them regarding their highest priorities (which may be very different from most people's) you've got a strong chance of making not just a one-time sale but also establishing an ongoing relationship. To get to the bottom of what people really value ask them,"What's important to you about..."As in "What's important to you about the benefits of this product or service and the features associated with it?"

The same question applies to you. "What's important to you about me--my personality, style, etc. that influences your comfort in doing business with me?" All other things being reasonably equal, people do business with people they like.

Some people will answer this question for you point-blank; in other cases you'll have to learn by experience and intuition. In any case, you need to know what people value about you personally (and how you might need to improve) if you want to be successful.

When you understand a person's values you understand their motivations: what makes them buy. You may find that overnight delivery or 24/7 access to a web site or the ability to deal with a person rather than phone prompts are features that people value so much that they'll buy from you if you can provide those services--even if you're a little more expensive than the competition. You may find that your patience, good sense of humor, common sense or some other personal characteristic is what a customer or prospect really values in you.

You can try to accommodate people's values, but if their values and yours are irreconcilable then it's not a good fit anyway. Say, "Thank you," smile and move on.

Once a month, assess your business (and personal) situation by slightly rephrasing the four sales questions two different ways, to determine if there are some changes you might want to make.

First ask What do the people I valuewant? How do the people I valuelike it? When do the people I valuewant it? After you get those answers ask the fourth question: How much are the people I valuewilling to pay for it--what is it worth to them?

Then, to assess what you're doing for a living (and a life) also ask What do I want? How do Ilike it? When do Iwant it? After you get those answers ask the fourth question: How much am Iwilling to pay for it--what is it worth to me?

Those are my four sales questions. What are yours?

Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net.

Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net. He is a consultant to corporate and political leaders including Steve Forbes.