Like most elementary school kids, I sold chocolate. I suppose you could consider this my first job and my first stab at doing sales, but the reality was World's Finest Chocolate had sold me a dream, a dream they sold other kids, too: a dream that we could own the latest television or video game system … all by selling as many chocolate bars as possible. Without hesitation, I signed myself up and began to plot my path to success.

After I received my inventory, I got straight to work. Overhearing my friends pick and choose neighborhoods to go after, I laughed. There was no chance to win the big-screen TV by going door to door speaking with suburban moms. I knew there was a better way: head to a spot where a lot of people congregate to buy things. I could hit as many people as possible in a single location and save a ton of time. Hello, grocery stores and shopping malls.

Thanks to my strategy, charm, and hard work selling chocolate, I welcomed my big screen TV with open arms. What was decidedly an exciting moment for someone in elementary school applies to the grown-up world of sales, as well. In fact, it was the blueprint for generating quality sales opportunities.

As the Director of Social Marketing for ToneDen, I focus on sales and partnerships. It’s my responsibility to generate business for the company and not just any business: quality, top-tier business. There may be more at stake than candy bars and big screens, but some of the underlying principles are the same. Good sales involves a well-thought out process, which includes research, strategy, and an understanding of the buyers on the other end. Here are three ways I'm able to land top-tier opportunities at ToneDen (no trips to the mall required).

Stay Creative

All too often, sales organizations forget the concept of creativity. A crucial part of what we do as salespeople is securing business for the company. If we aren’t getting creative in that sales process (start to finish), we aren’t setting ourselves apart.

Let's consider prospecting: the act of trying to reach your target buyer(s). In most cases, your customer is being sought out by at least 20 other people like you. Imagine receiving the same long-worded email that starts with "hope you're well" every single day. One area of our sales process that begs for creativity is messaging.

Between subject lines and the copy in the body of your email, you have hundreds of characters to work with. Do your research, find something personal about the target buyer, bake that in. It will show you cared enough when the 20 other people did not. Who do you think is getting a response now?

When you are creative, you rise above the noise.

Not Everyone Qualifies

A key component of what I do to find top-tier opportunities is learn. I try to absorb as much information as possible about my prospects’ business beforehand. This helps me understand if it makes sense to reach out to the C-Suite to set up a meeting. Not everyone will qualify—that’s ok. The last thing you want to do is waste your time and effort on a poor deal.

When you create a stringent qualification process, you set up your pipeline for success. This all boils down to what you learned before a meeting and what you will learn during your first meeting. The key to qualification is asking the right questions.

By asking the appropriate questions, you open the floor for your target customer to do the talking. And when they do the talking, you gain insight into their business. You can spot their desires, their pain points—and understand how your product can help them.

Stop Selling, Start Consulting

When I focus on top-tier opportunities at ToneDen, I tailor my approach. Instead of selling that customer our product or its tools, I act as a consultant.

The end goal is the same but the path that leads me there is much different.

The decision-makers you interact with will help guide you into what role you should take. Since I interact with the C-Suite (CEO, COO, CFO, etc.), I try to put myself in their shoes. Understanding their goals, what makes them tick, what keeps them up at night guides me: I'm able to step into a consultant role and act as a partner. This builds trust and shows them that I care about their goals rather than simply wanting to sell them something.

Every sales organization will be as unique as the customers it's serving. The key is to stay creative, find the right customer to engage, and build trust by acting as a consultative partner. From there, your pipe should grow and the numbers you close should increase.

Zachary Walker, Director of Social Marketing and Owner of Lord Bazel Jewelry