- Educate prospects with new ideas and perspectives
- Collaborate with prospects
- Demonstrate potential return on investment
- Listen to prospects
- Understand prospect needs
- Help prospects avoid obstacles
- Craft a compelling solution
- Accurately depict the purchasing process
- Connect with prospects personally
- Differentiate based on value
“What can I do to get ahead?”
“How can I differentiate myself from the competition?”
“What are buyers really looking for in a seller?”
Do these questions run through your mind on a regular basis? Salespeople know that as buyers become savvier and products and services are increasingly commoditized, sellers need a leg up in the marketplace.
In order to answer these questions and find out what separates sales winners from second-place finishers, RAIN Group, a sales training company, studied over 700 B2B purchases from the buyer’s perspective to find out what really happened in their buying experiences.
Below are the 10 essential selling skills you need to succeed in sales today -- all extracted from the study's findings. These selling skills are what buyers indicated were the top factors that separated sales winners from runners up.
Sellers who put these skills to use will be most likely to end up in the winner’s circle.
Top 10 Sales Representative Skills
1. Educate prospects with new ideas and perspectives
Today’s buyer brings value to the table. Salespeople don’t just need to sell, they should expand buyer’s horizons and give them new ideas that change their thinking. In fact, RAIN’s study found “sales winners” educated buyers with new ideas and perspectives 2.9 times more often than second-place finishers.
For example, if you’re an automobile salesperson, you know the buyer is coming in with research on the model, make, and even color of the car they want.
They’ve done competitive price analysis and likely know what features they’re willing to pay for or do without. Your job becomes less about rehashing what they already know. If you do that, they’ll likely get bored and go somewhere else to make a purchase -- maybe even online.
Your job is to educate them about what they didn’t find online. Tell them about the features of next year’s model, share “case studies” of how others have used and enjoyed certain cars, and show them other models or manufacturers offering similar but varied cars they might consider.
By educating your buyer instead of regurgitating information, you’ve provided value they can’t get elsewhere.
2. Collaborate with prospects
Buyers want to be part of the solution. That means salespeople must work with them to develop solutions to achieve mutual goals. In fact, at 43%, high-performing salespeople rate their ability to work collaboratively with accounts higher than the rest.
In the car-buying example above, you wouldn’t show your buyer a variety of larger, more expensive cars just because you think you should. You’d learn more about their needs, their desired use for the car, and their plans for the next few years.
Only then can you ask things like, “Since you’re planning to start a family next year, what would you think about a mid-size SUV? The manufacturer you’ve been shopping offers one that’s still within your budget but might give you more versatility in the coming years.”
You’ve collaborated with the buyer instead of railroading them with your opinions and ideas.
3. Demonstrate potential return on investment
Salespeople need to paint a clear, persuasive, and believable picture of the results an investment will yield. If you’re selling expensive software with a lengthy implementation time, it’s important to share the potential benefits of making that kind of investment.
Case studies, data from your client base, and your own estimates (based on information your prospect gives you) can help you paint a more vivid picture than simply saying, “This is worth it because it will save you time.”
It’s also helpful to connect current customers with your prospects for an unvarnished opinion of your product/service. A recent study by BrightLocal showed positive reviews make 73% of consumers trust local businesses more.
4. Listen to prospects
You must listen to your buyers. By asking engaging questions and following up in ways that demonstrate understanding, you’ll build trust and a more valuable relationship. Adopt the mantra of “Always be helping.” It’s a pillar of the inbound sales methodology. In it, salespeople:
- Prioritize buyers that are active in a buying journey
- Build trust by participating in the buyer's online conversations and lead with personalized messaging and advice
- Transition into exploration mode when a buyer expresses interest
- Personalize the presentation to each buyer and adjust the sales process to the buyer's timeline
Each of these steps requires you to listen to your prospects. If you don’t pause for reflection and thorough answers, you’ll find it difficult to move through the inbound sales process.
5. Understand prospect needs
Even though buyers today are sophisticated and good at diagnosing their own needs, winning salespeople still need to demonstrate that they “get it” when it comes to their prospect’s goals, pains, and desires.
Once you adopt the “Always be helping” mindset, it’s important to ask questions that will move you toward that goal. Here are a few to get you started:
- “Tell me about your company.”
- “Tell me about your role. What do you do day-to-day?”
- “What metrics are you responsible for?”
- “Tell me about your goals (financial, customer-related, operational).”
- “When do you need to achieve these goals by?”
For a more comprehensive list of discovery questions, click here. When you ask these questions, keep a few things in mind:
- Start broad and get specific
- Build on previous responses
- Keep questions simple
- Focus on desired benefits
- Never ask “Yes” or “No” questions
If you’d like more tips on asking effective sales questions, we’ve got you covered.
6. Help prospects avoid obstacles
Salespeople should be honest with buyers about the pitfalls that can occur both before and after they buy -- and how they will help prospects avoid them.
If, after asking questions and listening, you don’t believe you can help your prospect -- or they don’t have the budget or resources to buy your solution right now, it’s best to end things amicably.
For example, if you’ve been discussing your software with a prospect for several months and they still have concerns or objections, it might be best to ask, “Usually when a company still has this many concerns several months into vetting, it means it’s not the right time to buy. Is it fair for me to assume that’s the case here?”
By using the negative reverse selling strategy, you’ll encourage your prospect to make a difficult decision: move forward with the deal or call it quits, for now.
You can always revisit their business in six months. But knowing when to throw in the towel can give you the freedom and time you need to work deals that are ready to close.
7. Craft a compelling solution
Your buyer must be convinced. Salespeople should show prospects how their solution will help achieve their desired outcomes. Remember, your solution shouldn’t be to discount your product. If that’s how you solve for the customer -- you’ll struggle in sales and you’ll devalue your offering.
Take the answers you’ve heard and conversations you’ve had to craft a personalized offering. If your prospect asks for a discount, instead of saying, “Let me see what I can do” and taking it to your sales manager, ask, “What needs to happen for you to see this offering as worth the price we’ve quoted you?”
This illuminates areas of weakness left in your argument and shows where you need to dig in further to provide value to your prospect.
8. Accurately depict the purchasing process
If you don’t set and meet expectations with buyers, it will be difficult to build trust. 66.7% of winning salespeople reported accurately describing the purchasing process to their prospects, in RAIN’s survey.
This ties back to the “Always be helping” mentality. Winning salespeople help their prospects by telling them the truth about what they will receive when they buy from them.
If you promise your software has a feature it does not you lose trust and set both sides up for failure.
If you tell a prospect your engineering team will build such a feature once they sign -- when you know your team doesn’t have the bandwidth or skillset to do so -- you risk closing the business but having it churn immediately.
Worse, you risk an unhappy customer or former customer that will hurt your business and your sales reputation down the line.
9. Connect with prospects personally
People buy from people they like. Salespeople need to make personal connections with buyers to maintain and strengthen their business relationships.
HubSpot Sales Director Dan Tyre says building rapport is important but so is knowing when to switch to a sales conversation. “Building rapport is not relationship selling,” he says. “The days of Johnny Prospect buying from you because you’re friends and took him for a round of golf and a steak dinner are over.”
So, what does Tyre recommend to keep the balance while connecting with prospects? “I usually spent six minutes rapport-building, but with some people and in some markets, I spend double that. It’s all about reading your prospect.”
Tyre warns too much rapport-building can make you seem like an insincere glad-hander. When you ask your prospect a question, “hit the mute button” and let the prospect speak while you simply listen.
When you’re in-tune with what your prospect is saying, Tyre says you’ll know when the moment arrives to make your pitch or close -- whether it’s asking for a discovery call or their business.
10. Differentiate based on value
Salespeople must provide maximum value compared to their competitors. That doesn’t mean having the lowest price. Value is in the eye of the buyer and often comes in the form of insights and expertise salespeople and their companies can provide.
By following the previous nine steps listed here, you should easily differentiate your offering. You’re a salesperson and a company that listens and genuinely wants to help their customers. You’re honest with them and won’t stretch the truth to earn their business. Because you’ve listened to their needs and pain points, you’re able to craft a compelling solution for them and the return on investment is obvious.
This collaborative sales process should set you apart and make you the easy choice. And that’s why these 10 selling skills are crucial for salespeople today.