The 8 Skills Salespeople Will Need to Be Successful in 2020

Aja Frost
Aja Frost



Imagine you wake up in 1958. Your job title hasn’t changed -- you’re still a salesperson, sales manager, sales director, etc. -- but of course, everything else has. Buyers are different; they don’t have the internet to guide their decisions. Sales tools are different; they’re basically the phone book and your business card. Processes are different, if they exist at all.

Your current skill-set is probably little help, if it’s not completely useless.

The point? The selling world changes. And faster it changes, the faster you must learn to keep up.

2017 was a huge year: It brought us AI sales tools, machine learning, account-based selling, increasing sales automation, and hyper-targeting.

2018 is going to be even bigger. So let’s dive into the expertise you need to develop now to succeed in the next evolution of sales.

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1) Video Skills

Video will be a major selling trends in 2018. It’ll play a role throughout the buyer’s journey -- reps will use it to connect with new leads, answer their questions, follow up and re-engage with prospects who have gone dark, give product demos at scale, make their proposals more engaging, and more.

Honing your video skills is a no-brainer. Practice your delivery, tone, and pacing. Experiment with different subjects -- which are most effective? Find the best lighting, props, and filming area. Figure out the optimal length for each type of video.

Mastering the video creation process early will put you far ahead of your competitors.

2) Ability to Be Honest

It’s challenging to walk the line between being yourself and connecting with dissimilar people. In the past, you could usually get away with pretending you were a major sports fan or using cut-and-paste techniques.

“These strategies are no longer relevant,” says Tyson Hartnett, Director of Business Development at MLC Digital Media. “People know when you are playing tricks on them.”

And while anyone can do what Hartnett calls a “closing trick,” far fewer can be genuine. Rather than pretending to like something because your client does, Hartnett suggests being authentic.

“Say, ‘I’ve never been a big fan of museums and art, but I know you like it, so I'm willing to check it out with you,’” he advises. “It may seem like a weird thing to say, but push yourself out of that comfort zone and they will respect you for trying to learn and do more, even if you don't like it.”

“Then, follow up with something you learned or found interesting from the experience,” Hartnett continues. “Your prospect will think, ‘Wow, they hated museums, but kept an open mind.’”

3) Technological Savviness

Every year, it seems like Sales Enablement rolls out a new tool for the sales team. And while technology can be a huge productivity booster, it can also be a huge productivity decreaser. Reps must be able to differentiate between shiny new tools that are fun but ultimately distracting and resources that actually improve their bottom line.

For example, maybe your organization invests in an app that analyzes emails and tells you a prospect’s language indicates they’re ready to buy. You use it a few times, but typically the notification comes after you’ve already decided to close. Probably not worth the time.

That’s not to say you should dig in your heels whenever your organization asks you to change your tool suite -- play by the rules or risk getting fired -- but it does mean invest your attention where it counts.

4) Framing Skills

According to “Pitch Anything” author Oren Klaff, our brains operate by four simple principles:

  • If it’s not dangerous, ignore it.
  • If it’s not new and exciting, ignore it.
  • If it is new, summarize it as quickly as possible and forget the details.
  • Unless it’s truly unexpected, don’t send it to the neocortex for problem solving.

The result? Not only do prospects miss 90% of your pitch (i.e. the details), they’ll ignore it unless it’s different and interesting. And anything complex will be treated as a threat -- because complicated information takes more mental energy to process, leaving less brain power for survival needs.

You can only avoid this outcome with framing.

“Framing is all about how, as a salesperson, you maintain control of the conversation throughout your pitch or sales process,” says Mary Burbridge, senior account executive. “This is more important than ever now buyers have the power.”

Review your pitch. Is it easy to understand? Are you telling a story -- or reciting a series of dry facts? Do you present your product as the answer?

If you answered “no” to one or more of those questions, pick up a copy of “Pitch Anything.”

5) Ability to Be a Challenger Salesperson

Not every trait on this list is new.

"The most important sales skill we’ll see in 2018 is once again Challenger Selling,” Ben Cotton, Senior Manager, EMEA Sales Enablement.

Cotton explains many sales reps are still tactical order-takers, rather than strategic consultants. They don’t offer genuine insights. Instead, they try to become friends with their prospects.

“The relationship builder approach is becoming less effective by the day,” Cotton comments. “Prospects want actionable insight.”

If you want to improve your Challenger Selling skills, read “The Challenger Sale” (the book that catalyzed the movement).

You should also look for recommendations and/or perspective you can offer prospects based on your unique bird’s eye view of their industry and space. Start the conversation with this information. You’ll gain credibility, teach them something new, and earn the right to their time.

6) Knowledge of Data Analysis

Gone are the days when you could rely on intuition to guide you. The modern salesperson has a nearly endless amount of information about her prospects -- and she uses it to decide who she’ll target.

“You can avoid happy ears -- and know who’s going to purchase before beginning a long and potentially fruitless conversation -- by understanding the actions your buyers take,” says John Sherer, Director of Sales at Appcues.

Perhaps CMOs at SaaS companies close at a 2X rate compared to CMOs at consumer goods businesses. Or your win rate is 30% higher for prospects who attended an in-person company event versus a webinar.

These insights are incredibly actionable: To boost results, reach out to more SaaS CMOs and aggressively pursue event attendees.

Of course, getting those insights requires accurate, thorough data entry and periodic analysis. Don’t wait for your manager or Sales Enablement to run reports for you; go to your CRM, apply the appropriate filters, and look for patterns.

7) EQ

The other side of the selling equation? Emotional intelligence. Although technology and automation has made salespeople less dependent on their people skills, a high EQ will differentiate them from the competition in 2018.

“Sales EQ is the ability to effectively read, influence, and control emotions,” says Midaxo sales manager Shaun Crimmins. “Being able to stand out above the clutter of sales messages prospects are hit with, will be super important next year -- and that’s what EQ is all about.”

8) Product Knowledge

Some of HubSpot’s top-performing salespeople are former support reps. They know the product inside and out, which allows them to give detailed help and recommendations to prospects. These reps are generous with their time when it comes to the free CRM. Buyers are eager to talk to them -- and then receptive to discussing our paid products.

Having deep product knowledge means you can answer any question that comes your way, devise creative solutions to customer problems, and offer consultations that’ll lead to opportunities.

And as buyers get better and better at solo research, product knowledge will help you maintain your unique value.

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