Prior to blogging about cell phones, I was a successful retail sales manager. My success was due in part to training teams of sales reps to take the time to truly understand the needs of their customers and then sell to those needs.

I taught them about "The Complete Solution", the idea that a customer must be provided with thoughtful solutions to their original needs, i.e. a printer, a cell phone, a computer, by adding important accessories that will maximize their new purchase, i.e. printer ink, cell phone car charger, computer virus protection.

When this approach is executed honestly and with the interests of the customer first, it's a win-win. I emphasized that when you give the customer what they want, you automatically get what you want, i.e. high sales numbers.

Unfortunately many salespeople make the sale the most important focus, and when that happens, the customer is often pressured into buying the wrong item, the wrong accessories, and then you have a win-lose. An example of this is trying to sell you a discontinued item when a new item is a better solution for you.

The following information will help you command the sale, get what you really want and need, and marginalize the over-zealous salesperson...

First things first. Knowledge is power and you need to know that carriers do not want to lose your business. If you leave and go to a competitor, it is considered heresy! Carriers measure loss of customers as "churn", a percentage value associated with the number of customers that leave permanently. This is a carrier's worst nightmare and your ace in the hole.

So what does this mean to you? It means that when you go into a store to upgrade, renew, add a line, whatever, that your ace-in-the-hole is that you do NOT have to remain with that carrier.

How do you use this information to your advantage?

First, know that you are extremely valuable by simply being a customer. Second, understand that it costs much more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain and existing one. Third, the first two points I just made means that you should nothave to pay for activations, phone book transfers, ESN changes, an extra SIM card, etc.

Remember that to you it's just a cell phone bill, but to them you represent a 24 month income stream.

Here are 3 tips for getting something extra:

1. Do your homework

Know what you want before you walk into the store. In some cases, such as Verizon Wireless, their website they offers free activations. Use that. Why should you pay for an activation at a store if you can get it for free on their website?

Oddly, even though Verizon receives revenue regardless of how and where you purchase from them, the brick and mortar stores have their own sales goals, and knowing this can be used to advance your "something extra".

The manager of the store would much rather have you buy from him than go home and order from their website. A website order does not make him look good, but buying from him does. This is leverage and leverage is everything.

In actual practice, picture yourself on the salesroom floor, thinking out loud about how you should go home and just order off the website in order to save on an activation charge. This is generally enough to get a free activation. But wait. You don't want to be aggressive, but instead thoughtful. You are not trying to argue; you're just, um, thinking aloud. (By the way, an activation charge could be thought of in terms of a tank of gas, or a partial payment on your weekly groceries, so don't think this is nickel and dime stuff, because it all adds up and you have one shot every two years to get this right).

Also, don't be afraid to walk away. Remember: if the carrier offers a better deal online, it is your right to ask the brick and mortar store to match it.

2. Know that store managers can provide you with free merchandise

They call it a "comp" and they will do it if they feel that the outcome of the sale justifies the discount.

But you have to give them a reason. If you want something for free, the best way to get it is to allow the sales process to proceed naturally until you are at the point where you take out your cheque book. Once the cheque book it on display, a salesperson's confidence and perception shift with respect to where they believe they are at in the sale.

By picking the right moment you decisively shift the leverage to your side and give the salesperson every reason to provide you with any reasonable request.

In other words, because you've come this far, the sales rep is much more inclined to go to the manager and ask for accommodations than if you present an ultimatum at the beginning of the process.

Never use an ultimatum because that forces the sales rep to lose face, is disrespectful and rarely works.

3. Maintain control of the sale

Most people allow the sales rep to take full control of the sales process. You need to turn that around. But you can only do this if you know where you stand and if you know what you want.

Begin by presenting yourself as someone who has done their homework, has visited the company's website, understands some of the jargon and basically knows what they want. This is critical because by demonstrating a level of knowledge you force the salesperson out of their prepared presentation and into an environment where they are speaking with you personally.

In Summary

These tips should take you far in the process of purchasing a new phone: Do your homework, be aware that managers can give your something for free and maintain control of the sale.

In addition to these tips, here's a powerful question you can ask when the checkbook is out: "Is my history of being a long-time customer with a record of paying on time valued? If so, how?" This is a powerful question/technique and can yield great results. They may, for example, discount an item, or a bundle of items, beyond the amount they usually do.

Finally, keep in mind that if you appear genuine in your desire to get a new phone and knowledgeable in the products, the further you walk the salesperson through the process, the more they become invested in a positive outcome. Clearly they do not want a good customer to leave over something trivial, when they have their personal quota on the line!

So there you have it...

I hope these tips help. Remember that most salespeople are genuinely interested in serving your needs correctly, because it means that you will be a long-term customer. Still, it never hurts to be armed with a couple of techniques and a bit of knowledge that may mean a free car charger, a free activation, an overall discount or some other incentive for having put in the work.

A two-year cellular contract is an important financial commitment and you only get one shot at making the outcome the best it can be. Try these ideas and let me know how you make out.