The 22 Sales Skills You Need to Advance Your Career
Great salespeople are defined by many skills and traits. Most sales teams have a well-differentiated roster of sales reps, each of whom brings a variety of talents and experiences to the table.
The sales process is generally greatly improved by having a multitude of capabilities on tap to get the job done.
That being said, there are a handful of specific skills and traits that consistently mark the difference between good salespeople and great salespeople. In this article, we’ll go over a few of the most critical ones.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Why You Should Focus On Improving Your Sales Skills
- Soft Skills to Help You Advance in Your Sales Career
- Hard Skills to Help You Become an Industry Expert
- Top Skills for Sales Prospecting
- The Skills You Need to Close the Sale
- Other Traits of Successful Sales Professionals
Why You Should Focus On Improving Your Sales Skills
One of the best things about a career in sales is that it’s accessible to virtually anyone. Despite industry slang, no one out there is “born to sell.” Effective salespeople come from all personalities and backgrounds, and selling skills can be explicitly taught, studied, and practiced over time.
For sales reps who understand this, and who are willing to put in the effort to hone their craft, the payoff can be enormous.
Ramp up Your Resume
Investing time and energy into developing important sales skills have direct, tangible benefits to your sales career in the form of your resume. Experience is wonderful, but typically not enough in and of itself to get you hired. Many sales managers look for specific training or skillsets when it comes time to add to their salesforce.
If you’re looking for a new or higher-ranking sales job, developing and highlighting in your resume some of the skills we’re about to outline will go a long way in making you stand out and be considered for the best compensation packages.
Improve Customer Relationships
On the less tangible side of things, improving your sales skills will have a dramatic effect on your relationship-building abilities. Potential customers are far more likely to buy from people they trust, so knowing how to navigate sales conversations in a way that builds rapport and makes meaningful connections is crucial.
Not only do these kinds of relationships help you close more deals, but they also typically lead to highly effective cross-selling opportunities and referrals.
Increase Your Revenue Numbers
Somewhere between tangible and intangible lies the bottom line: revenue.
At the end of the day, salespeople are judged mostly by the impact they have on a company’s revenue-generating ability. The skills and traits we’re about to dive into — both soft and hard — will all affect the size and number of deals you’re able to close.
Soft Sales Skills to Help You Advance in Your Sales Career
Soft skills are ones that are more informal, and can sometimes be more difficult to measure. They typically have something to do with how you relate to other people, or your efficiency in performing common tasks.
Soft skills are usually learned through exposure and practice over a long period of time, as opposed to hard skills which can be more explicitly taught through sales training or workshops.
Here are some of the most important soft sales skills to learn and practice.
Sales representatives can learn a tremendous amount from one another. Building a diverse and widespread professional network is a valuable skill for salespeople looking to improve their sales performance.
After all, as the saying goes — you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Knowing how to initiate and maintain mutually beneficial business relationships will go a long way in helping you climb the ladder in your sales organization.
If you want to sell to people, you first have to get them to listen. One surefire way to do this is through storytelling. Storytelling engages logic and emotion, both of which are necessary for a buyer to feel comfortable moving forward with a purchase.
It’s well-known that nobody likes being sold to. An overly pushy rep will be rejected before they can even begin their sales pitch; storytelling is one of the antidotes to that.
3. Communication Skills
Every salesperson needs to feel comfortable communicating clearly in a variety of mediums — phone calls, emails, social media messaging, and in-person contact will all invariably make an appearance on a salesperson’s schedule.
Knowing which method to use — and how to use each one skillfully and in a way that generates results — is a skill that requires practice and mindfulness.
4. Time Management
With salespeople being more and more burdened with non-selling activities, time management is of utmost importance.
Use automation wherever you can, and learn to prioritize the most impactful, revenue-generating activities.
5. Tech Savviness
Speaking of automation, here’s some good news — CRM systems and sales enablement platforms are more available and more powerful than ever.
The bad news? It can be next to impossible to keep up with the ever-increasing number of systems that are designed to make your life easier.
No one’s saying that you need to know the ins and outs of every program on the market, but a basic familiarity with the general components of most sales-adjacent softwares will go a long way in making your day-to-day tasks flow more smoothly.
Hard Sales Skills to Help You Become an Industry Expert
Hard skills are formal and/or technical abilities that can be learned from or taught by seminars, mentorships, workshops, and training courses.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the most important hard skills any salesperson needs to know. Check with your sales manager to learn more about industry-specific training or skills you need to perform your job effectively.
6. Product & Industry Knowledge
One of the first and most important things a salesperson needs to know is the specific features, benefits, and unique selling points of their product. Your product knowledge should be robust and flexible, and should enable you to speak fluidly and comprehensively about what your company can offer its clients.
The best salespeople go one step further, though; they should also be well-versed in their overall industry and subject matter. Product knowledge without industry knowledge can sometimes give the impression that the only concern is pushing product; in-depth industry knowledge can remedy that.
Aside from top-to-bottom knowledge about their product offering, perhaps the next most important tool for a salesperson to master is the full functionality of their CRM system.
The more salespeople can leverage their software systems, the more productive they will be. Most salespeople learn this during the onboarding process; if you don’t, initiate a request for training ASAP around the software your team uses.
8. Active Listening
Contrary to popular opinion, active listening is a hard skill that can be taught, practiced, and learned.
There are specific body language and verbal language cues that salespeople can practice that indicate to potential clients their understanding, as well as a deep desire to address their pain points.
9. Social Selling
Social selling is an approach to the sales process that leverages the power of social media. It’s both an art and a science, meaning that there are aspects of it that are on the “softer” side of sales skills.
Still, with its rise in popularity, social selling is one of the most popular seminar and workshop topics available to salespeople. If you’re not yet well-versed in this method of selling, see if your sales manager is willing to send you to a training session.
10. The Follow-up
The follow-up is one of the most important components of a salesperson’s communication.
Research shows that most customers require up to 5 follow-ups before they’re ready to proceed with a sale. Despite that, only 8% of salespeople complete all 5 outreach attempts.
But following up isn’t just important for closing sales. It’s also critical to maintaining customer success, which can generate valuable referrals and cross- or upselling opportunities.
The Top Skills for Sales Prospecting
It’s one of the more complicated and daunting parts of the sales process. Many salespeople avoid it, preferring to focus their energy on things like negotiating skills and sales presentation tactics.
But prospecting doesn’t have to be so difficult. In fact, it can be made much easier with careful attention paid to specific skills.
The better your prospect research, the better your pitch.
Learning how to effectively gather the most critical information about your prospects will help you sift through the noise and target your most qualified sales opportunities. This kind of research requires a bit of tech-savviness and even more critical thinking — it’s about reaching the right person, at the right company, with the right message.
12. Open-Ended Questions
Pay attention to the questions you ask during your next discovery call. If you find that your prospects are giving short, one-word answers — leaving you grappling with what to say next — you might want to reframe your questions to ones that leave more room for thought.
Without a system in place, prospecting can be chaotic. Check with your sales manager to see if there’s a process or checklist in place for how exactly to tackle your prospect list. If not, it’s time to create one.
The Essential Sales Skills You Need to Close the Sale
While some salespeople find prospecting the most challenging component of the process, others struggle to cross the finish line with a strong close. The following skills will empower you to close with confidence.
Pricing is one of the most common objections to any sales pitch. Before any sales meeting, make sure you understand the pricing tiers of your product, as well as how the pricing stacks up against the value you offer. Be sure to also understand the full scope and limitations of any discounts that you may be allowed to offer.
Negotiation is a skill that improves with time and practice, so don’t shy away from an opportunity if it presents itself. Just make sure you stay within the boundaries of what your sales manager has allowed.
Salespeople should also be prepared to overcome sales objections. There’s a fine line between pushy and persuasive, and it’s imperative that salespeople learn to walk it.
Spend time with more experienced reps at your company to learn more about the most common objections your prospects have, and how they typically overcome them.
16. Creating Urgency
“Create a sense of urgency!” is a familiar grab-and-go sales tactic, but it’s often misused by well-intentioned salespeople.
Urgency doesn’t always have to mean that you have to advertise a dramatic (or, in some cases, blatantly false) expiration date; instead, consider how you might present to your prospect what they stand to lose by opting out of a deal.
Urgency isn’t always about time; opportunity cost can create powerful urgency that can make it almost impossible for a prospect to say no.
Other Traits of Successful Salespeople
Aside from the soft and hard sales skills outlined above, there are a handful of traits and commonalities that show up again and again in the most successful salespeople.
Consider analyzing any of the following to see how you might go about developing some of these traits within yourself.
Across the board, the most successful salespeople are the ones who go out and make things happen for themselves.
As a salesperson, well-qualified and ready-to-buy prospects rarely will fall into your lap with pen in hand; great salespeople are self-starting and use their ambition to drive their growth.
18. Growth Mindset
Great salespeople also recognize that there is always something new to learn. Researchers call this a growth mindset.
People with a growth mindset look at challenges as opportunities to learn, which is a tremendous asset in the rapidly evolving sales landscape of today.
Another trait that goes hand-in-hand with the ever-changing sales landscape? Adaptability and flexibility.
It’s true that processes and systems are critically important to well-run sales operations, but the ability to think on your feet and change course if needed is equally necessary.
With no disrespect intended toward introverts, selling is a social career. Extraverted people typically shine in this role because they get their energy from interacting with others.
Luckily, this is a skill that can be practiced. While selling may not be an ideal career for the quietest of wallflowers, it’s certainly possible to practice socializing and build up a stronger tolerance and skill set for interacting with and selling to people.
Despite what some people may believe, effective selling is not based on luck. It’s a craft that can be honed and refined over time and should amount to a repeatable, scalable process.
The best salespeople know this and set goals to make the process work for them. Highly effective salespeople use the SMART goal framework to push through challenges and drive their success.
Just as important as knowing your product’s features is also knowing how the product and your company relate to others. Understanding how people relate to and engage with the world around them is also known as empathy. Good salespeople sell products, but great salespeople sell products to people.
Empathy is a soft skill, one that can be improved with time and practice. It means being able to step into someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective, even if that perspective is different from your own. And it’s critically important for salespeople, knowing that people are more likely to purchase from someone they trust.
Do you recognize any of the skills or traits on this list as ones you currently feel strong in? What about ones that you’d like to develop?
Try approaching a conversation around this article with your sales manager to see if there are any training or coaching opportunities available to you to further develop your sales skill sets.
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