Salespeople are critical to your marketing and selling process. But what kind of contact does your company have with that prospect before your salesperson shows up? After all, most prospects know nothing about what you sell. They crave information because they want to make the best decision. Your job is to help by educating them.

POINTS OF CONTACT Here are four ways to educate the prospect before your salesman arrives:

The advertisement. If you run a newspaper insert seen by 50,000 people, that's 50,000 chances to give a sales presentation. But most ads fail when it comes to educating. Typically, they say, “Here we are, buy from us,” then leave the “real” selling to the rep. Sure, some people will call — the ones with the highest urgency. But what about all the people who are considering buying what you sell and want more information?

The initial contact. What you say when someone calls can have a profound impact on the eventual outcome of that sale. You need a person with the experience and know-how to turn inquiries into appointments. But you also need someone who can educate and plant seeds about what you do, how you do it, why you're better, and why they should do business with you. The easiest way to accomplish this is to explain the contents of your prepositioning package.

The pre-positioning package. Say a prospect sets the appointment with you. For all they know, they've just made a date with the devil. Images of slick hair, fast talk, and arm twisting are common. Calm those fears by sending, via FedEx, a package with real information about how to choose the best window (or siding, etc.) and why you're the best contractor to do business with. Prospects will appreciate the information, and you'll have an opportunity to sell before your live person shows up.

Your Web site. Here's the catch: You must have a good Web site — good both in terms of visual quality and content. —Rich Harshaw, author of Monopolize Your Marketplace, is a marketing expert.