Modern sales teams need competent professionals with a variety of talents, skills and abilities. But in a hyper changing landscape, which are the most crucial sales skills and traits that reps must possess (or develop) in order to exceed targets and deliver consistent sales success? We’ve done our research and compiled the top 30 sales skills you need to master if you want to achieve complete sales enlightenment.
The Complete List of Sales Skills and Traits Infographic <<< If you’d rather head to the infographic, check it out here!
What Actually Makes a Great Sales Rep?
Countless books, articles and studies have attempted to identify the characteristics of a high-performing salesperson, but a consensus has yet to be achieved.
Many agree on a few indispensable skills but otherwise recommend disparate skill sets and desirable qualities.
While we have some generalized notion of “selling,” contemporary sales organizations have grown in complexity and have evolved into a roster of functions — such as business development, closing, account management, and customer success — that require different specialized skill sets for their respective teams.
To set the tone for the forthcoming ultimate list of sales skills, check out this pro tip from Jeffrey Gitomer:
The Complete List of Sales Skills & Traits (Over 30+ Examples)
- Relationship Building
- Knowing When To Shut Up
- Time Management
- Research / Information Gathering
- Critical Thinking / Problem Solving
- Tech Savvy
- Product Knowledge
- Understanding of Common Business Softwares
- Business Communication
- Client Engagement
- Active Listening
- Conflict Management & Resolution
- Sales Presentations / Demos
- Social Selling
- Lead Qualification
- Contract Negotiation
- Policy Knowledge
- Referral Selling
- Closing Skills
- Customer Success
- Self Motivated / Ambitious
- Passionate About Selling
These are learned and applied abilities.
Soft skills – these are informal abilities that are learned over a person’s lifetime and usually relate to the person’s aptitude in performing common tasks and connecting with other people.
Hard skills – these are often formal and technical abilities learned from academic institutions, workplaces, seminars, mentorships, and training courses.
Role-critical skills – these are hard skills that are specialized for a specific function or role.
These broadly refer to a person’s mindset, attitude, and personal/behavioral tendencies.
While the boundaries between skills and traits sometimes become hazy, we try to avoid these cases to maintain clarity. Here are the top skills we believe tomorrow’s sales professionals need to excel in their fields and outperform competition.
Soft Skills For Sales Professionals
The ability to positively engage other people, build long-term relationships, and form mutually beneficial networks will find frequent use in any salesperson’s workflow. From meeting clients and gathering referrals to soliciting advice and achieving team objectives, relationship-building skills enable a salesperson to accomplish tasks easier and make better-informed decisions. Relationship-building involves trust, rapport, and a genuine desire to help other people. Relationship-building leads to relationship selling, so don’t think it’s just a bunch of fluff. This creates opportunities if you play your cards right!
2) Knowing When To Shut Up
That’s right. Shut up and listen! Listening is the best method to understand where clients are coming from, what their pain points are, and how you can effectively provide solutions for their challenges. Without listening skills, a sales professional risks compromising other stages in the sales process such as lead qualification and customer-solution matching.
3) Time Management
While selling involves money, something a lot more precious gets exchanged and utilized along the way — time. Your client’s time is important. So is yours. A salesperson’s ability to optimize time improves productivity and cost efficiency, creating the environment needed for high performance. This soft skill coupled with software automation, analytics and other technologies delivers significant ROI for any business.
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Selling not only requires showing the features of your product but also convincing customers that these features will solve their problems or will benefit them in some significant way. In most cases, you need to articulate your message by telling a story that deeply resonates with your target audience. A lack of baseline communication skills is a glaring red flag for anyone planning to enter the world of sales.
5) Research/Information Gathering
Accurate information about clients, market trends, rival solutions and other business intelligence enables a salesperson to make better decisions, engage the right customers better, and close high value deals while shortening the sales cycle. Your CRM, competitive analysis tools, rival websites, and social media are great places where you can start your research.
6) Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
Having an ocean of data is hardly enough to get you anywhere, however. You still need critical thinking skills to process information, analyze disparate data, and sift through the heap for relevant bits of information that will help you formulate solutions for problems your prospects or your team are experiencing.
7) Affinity with Technology
Tomorrow’s sales professionals must at least be comfortable around digital devices. This makes it easier to adapt to emerging technological advances in AI, big data, and other fields that will transform the way organizations run businesses and the way brands engage audiences.
Sales teams rarely operate as a one-person army. Hence, the ability to align one’s personal goals, workflows, and schedule with those of others is an important skill for sales professionals. Sales teams follow a game plan that assigns different roles and requires different outcomes from members. Most of these roles and outcomes are dependent on each other for collective success. That means the lack of teamwork and flat leadership will likely lead to unwanted outcomes and missed objectives.
Hard Skills For Sales Professionals
9) Product Knowledge
Inadequate product knowledge is unacceptable in the world of selling. Any sales professional who goes to the field without having an intimate knowledge of the features, benefits, and weaknesses of their product will have a hard time creating effective pitches and connecting customer needs to the best solutions available. Deep and extensive product knowledge is a prerequisite to high sales performance. In addition, demonstrating that you are a subject matter expert generates trust among your customers.
10) Strong Knowledge of Common Business Software & Sales Enablement Solutions
Sales ops and sales enablement technology — through products such as CRMs, document management software, and workplace productivity apps — makes selling easier and more profitable. Sales professionals should learn how to use the software, platforms and other tools their organizations use to run operations and engage customers.
11) Business Communication
Your talent at engaging prospects during the sales conversation or articulating a concept can still be honed for the business landscape. It is imperative that sales professionals learn the best practices in both oral (e.g., phone calls, presentations, pitches, etc.) and written (e.g., proposals, memos, referral requests, etc) communications. This will help you become more effective at connecting with clients and making a positive impact in how they perceive your brand.
12) Client Engagement
Getting along with people and having good communication skills are baseline traits. For high-performing sales professionals, there is a science and a method for establishing and maintaining excellent client engagement. For example, there are sales call techniques that can help you build rapport with a prospect, research methods that will help you glean valuable information about a customer, and communication techniques that will allow you to nurture long term relationships with clients.
13) Active Listening
There are different levels of listening but you need to operate at full throttle when it comes to your customers. Active listening in sales requires focus as well as occasional/follow-up queries. These allow you not only to glean complete and clear information from your clients but also to build rapport and demonstrate that you genuinely care about their concerns.
14) Conflict Management and Resolution
In sales, expect to encounter regular episodes of complaints, conflicts, and rejections. These incidents may involve just about anyone, including clients, peers, management and other parties. Because these can occur at any time, sales professionals need to learn and practice how to proactively handle objections and manage conflicts. High-performing salespeople have been known to use these incidents as a platform for converting new leads or an avenue for demonstrating a workplace solution to management.
15) Sales Presentations & Sales Demos
In the beginning, there was PowerPoint. Now you have Prezi, Keynote, and other presentation software. Whatever tool you use, being good at presenting and public speaking is a great skill to have in the world of selling. Excellent sales demos & presentations convey subject mastery and build trust around your brand. For B2B sellers, conducting a lively and compelling demo is also a requisite skill.
16) Social Media & Social Selling
Because social has become a major part of our digital lives, many companies now employ social media managers to oversee their brand’s online presence. You need not be as technically adept as these specialists but you need to know your way around social media. For B2B sellers, knowing the best practices and tricks for engaging prospects on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and other networks will help bolster your lead generation and conversion efforts.
Role-Critical Skills For Sales Professionals
Prospecting helps you fill your customer pipeline with entities that may be interested in your product. The selling process practically starts at this stage. This skill is a staple across all roles but is critically important for sales reps.
18) Lead Qualification
This skill allows sellers to gather and analyze information about a prospect that will show them which available solutions or product features directly addresses a prospect’s pain points. It may also indicate whether there’s a mismatch between your product and the prospect, allowing sellers to save time by referring the prospect to other solutions providers and focusing on the next lead.
19) Contract Negotiation
Selling is easily the art of negotiation. Because of its relevance to any field, negotiation skills may as well be classified in any of the categories we listed. However, contract negotiation is especially important for closers, account executives and managers. Contract negotiation involves establishing a climate where your company and your prospect can set mutual expectations and benefits.
20) Policy Knowledge
Sales directors, managers and other leaders are required to be extensively aware of their organization’s governance and policy issues. Policies are tied with a company’s vision and its strategic goals, serving as standards within which sales teams operate.
21) Referral Marketing
Collecting qualified referrals is one excellent way of keeping your pipeline humming with new leads. This skill is especially important for sales reps.
22) Closing Skills
This skill may well represent the essence of selling, encapsulating the moment when a prospect finally realizes, accepts and buys (literally) the rationale behind your product. Closing sales deals should be a staple across the sales organization but the task of closing is often assigned to more senior sales reps and account executives in larger companies.
23) Client Nurturing AKA Customer Success
Many businesses realize that making a sale doesn’t necessarily terminate the buyer journey. Depending on your product or service, you can still offer additional value and generate more business with existing customers. The trick is to provide VIP treatment and excellent customer service to your paying customers. While separate customer success departments handle much of the heavy lifting, some smart sales organizations assign post-sale relationship management tasks to account managers or customer success leaders.
Top Traits for Sales Professionals
Call it grit or toughness, self-motivated and ambitious sellers can work under pressure, take rejections gracefully, then bounce back and still beat expectations compared to less motivated peers.
25) Trainable, Coachable, Open to New Ideas
Sales is evolving and sellers who refuse to relinquish outmoded practices will fall by the wayside. Salespeople must embrace change and be willing to learn new ways of doing things in order to succeed in the business landscapes of tomorrow.
Adaptability is a survival mechanism not only in nature but also in the world of sales. Tools have changed and so have customer demographics. There are new engagement channels to explore. Smart sales professionals know they need to sail the currents of change to get to their destinations.
Gone are the days when lone wolves ruled. The workplaces and the sales deals of tomorrow will be driven by teamwork and collaboration. Smart sellers need to be sociable at all levels.
Top sellers own their mistakes and hold themselves responsible for their performance. They never make excuses nor point fingers when things don’t happen as expected.
Excellent sales professionals are motivated by the notion that:
- There’s an ambitious goal to be reached.
- It is an attainable goal.
- Achieving it feels incredible.
- There’s a reward at the finish line.
Given this mindset, these sellers will exert all effort to meet or surpass targets.
Top-notch sales leadership is the driving force behind building highly motivated, goal-oriented sales reps.
Successful sellers are almost always buyer-centric. They might be proud of their products but they’re more concerned about helping customers solve problems. These sellers have well-developed empathy that enables them to understand where clients are coming from and determine their pain points.
31) Passionate About Selling
Even more potent than grit or ambition, a passion for selling may well be the top trait for sales professionals. Doing what you love will simply compel you to excel in your field and achieve success consistently.
Technology Will Never Replace Sales Talent
Many companies are revving up their branding and marketing strategies and by adopting technology enablers such as CRMs, sales automations, and data analytics.
While technology delivers a positive impact, talent remains the primary and most valuable asset of any sales organization. From sales reps to sales coaches, talent ultimately keeps pipelines humming and revenues coming in.
Master These Sales Skills & Get Ahead of The Competition
Sales is a highly competitive field where rival brands try to outshine each other in the eyes of their consumers. In sales organizations, professionals also compete as teams or as individuals. With gamification becoming more fun and performance metrics becoming more accurate, sellers can better assess their strengths and deficiencies and make remedial measures to bolster their credentials.
You can identify which skills you need to learn or train to get to the next level. The right skills will advance your career and get you to the next success milestone.
There are many ways to learn new skills. You can check your organization’s knowledge base or inquire whether any of the upcoming training programs are good for you. There might even be a mentor willing to coach you into shape. You can also take an online course or enroll in a brick-and-mortar college.
Any which way you choose, the bottom line is this: never stop learning!
Also published on Medium.