Effectively closing sales is the bread and butter of your business. Here’s how to hit a home run every time.

Elements of a successful sales pitchAccording to researchers at the University of Florida, 20% of all salespeople make 80% of all sales (also known as the 20/80 rule or the Pareto principle), which makes securing a spot in that top 20% crucial to running a competitive and profitable business. As such, a great sales pitch is key, but perfecting the art is an ongoing endeavor. Here are five essential elements to keep in mind as you hone your craft.

1. Striking Out

First and foremost, ditch the “sales pitch.” Instead, think sales conversation. Rather than a desperate bombardment of information (some of which will hopefully stick), a sales presentation should be a sales conversation, says Jacquelyn Smith of Forbes. Doing so immediately shifts the dynamic from a one-way, listen-to-what-I’m-selling fastball to a collaborative, solution-building home run (pardon the baseball analogies). Art Sobczak, President of BusinessByPhone.com, encourages framing your conversation as a “recommendation” so your prospective buyer knows that it’s a dialogue, not a monologue.

2. Preparation

To further facilitate collaboration, comprehensive preparation is a must. Possessing a deep well of knowledge about your buyer not only gives you an air of credibility, it also helps you develop a nuanced and highly targeted presentation. Every buyer is different, so gaining an intimate understanding of their particular needs will allow you to clearly communicate the specific benefits that your services will afford them.

To that end, developing a solid list of questions for your potential buyer is critical. Thoughtful and specific inquiries show that you’ve done your research and that you’re invested in solving a problem. This builds trust and positions you as a potential business partner, rather than simply a vendor. The golden equation, according to sales coach Wendy Weiss? Talk 20% of the time, and listen the other 80%.

3. Present Solutions

Once you’ve done your research, asked questions, and begun establishing a relationship with your potential buyer, it’s key to demonstrate that you have the unique power to solve their specific problems especially those problems they didn’t know they had in the first place. Showcase your in-depth knowledge of the buyer’s challenges, and then clearly outline the ways your product or service will address them. This is also a good time to toot your own horn with testimonials and a comparison of your products or services to those of your competitors.

4. Tell a Story

Storytelling is a quintessentially human, deep-seated part of our condition. This is probably why the most successful sales presentations tell a story — stories are more engaging and memorable than a simple display of facts and figures. They help your prospects truly understand the real-world value of your product or service.

5. Follow Up

This final (and luckily, straightforward) step is perhaps the most crucial. 80% of deals are clinched in the follow-up, so it’s imperative that you maintain consistent and deliberate contact with your prospects until you’ve gotten a definite “yes” or “no.” Securing a definitive commitment after making first contact — even if it’s just the promise that they’ll consider your product or meet with you again — lays the groundwork for the vital follow-up.

And with these tips in hand, you can be confident that every sales pitch will be a home run.