In sales, there is a big difference between finishing first and second. First-place finishers make the sale and pocket the money, while second-place finishers leave empty-handed.

To better understand what makes that difference, Mike Schultz and John Doerr, of the sales training and consulting firm RAIN Group, studied more than 700 business-to-business purchases made by buyers responsible for $3.1 billion in purchasing power for their recently published book, "Insight Selling: Surprising Research on What Sales Winners Do Differently"(Wiley, 2014).

"What we learned from these buyers is that winners sell radically differently than second-place finishers," Schultz told Business News Daily. "We also found that winners exhibit a specific combination of behaviors to achieve better outcomes than other sellers."

Schultz, co-president of the RAIN Group and sales expert, said in their research they discovered that the way winners sell can be characterized by specific behaviors at three different levels.   

In a recent exchange with Business News Daily, the author outlined the three levels and how sales professionals can incorporate them into their current strategies.

  Level 1: Connect

Winners connect in two ways. First, they are more effective at connecting the dots between customer needs and their company's products and services as solutions than second-place finishers. Second, winners connect with people. Buyers believe that winners both listened to them and connected with them personally more often than the rest.

Connecting with people and connecting the dots sounds a lot like relationship and solution selling to us. Connecting with buyers on both levels is still absolutely critical to winning the sale. While sellers used to win on Level 1 alone, now it's just the way to get your foot in the door.

Level 2: Convince

Winners convince buyers that they can achieve maximum return, that the risks are acceptable and that the seller is the best choice among all options. Many sellers are not good at convincing buyers, and large portions of sellers aren't even willing to convince. When they can and do, they win more sales.

Level 3: Collaborate

Winners are collaborative in how they work and what they do. They are perceived by buyers to be responsive, proactive and easy to buy from. And buyers believe winners actually collaborate with them during the buying process by working with them to achieve mutual goals. Buyers perceived collaborative sellers to be integral to their success.

"Those who apply these three levels as a systematic approach to selling — and apply it well— not only see themselves in the winner's circle more often, but also maximize client loyalty and generate the most referrals," Schultz said.

In addition to determining the three levels of sales, Schultz and Doerr also studied those factors, from the buyer's perspective, that most separated winners from second-place finishers. They discovered that out of 42 factors, the one that most separated winners from second-place finishers was this: "educated me with new ideas and perspectives."

Schultz said by educating buyers with ideas, winners share concepts and insights that can have a major impact on the buyer's goals.

"We call this opportunity insight," Schultz said. "Buyers typically don't know alternative opportunities exist until sellers take the time to share them, but once they do, it influences the buyer’s agenda for action."

Schultz said that doesn’t mean sellers should just throw ideas out left and right and see if something sticks, but that they essentially need to transfer their drive, passion and energy for the possibilities to their buyers’ minds.

While there has been a shift in the way buyers buy, the fundamentals that have been true for decades are still necessary," Schultz said. However, he believes sticking to the basics isn't enough to win sales.

"To win today, you must also focus on differentiation, ROI and collaboration," he said. "Do so while leveraging ideas and you’ll win significantly more often."

Originally published on Business News Daily