To be a successful salesperson, you need to have a particular set of skills.
As your sales process evolves, it's important to keep your skills relevant and up to date. Plus, it can increase your sales.
That's why professional development is essential for salespeople. To continue progressing in your sales career, consider developing and refining the following skills.
- Effective Communication
- Product Expertise
- Customer Service
- Problem Solving
- Business Acumen
- Sales Demoing
- Social Selling
- Following Up
- Active Listening
- Emotional Intelligence
- Data Analysis
- Challenger Selling
- Framing Skills
- Technological Savviness
- Video Skills
1. Effective Communication
The ability to clearly and effectively communicate across mediums is a non-negotiable for salespeople. Between drafting enticing sales emails, nailing presentations, and keeping conversations with buyers of all communication styles flowing, sales professionals must continuously hone their written and verbal communication skills to perform well in their role.
2. Product Expertise
Why should your prospects buy your product? If you aren’t sure what value your product offers and what the key features are, it’s impossible to convey these elements to your buyers. Additionally, selling the wrong product to your customer is a faux pas to avoid if you want happy returning buyers.
Salespeople should know the ins and outs of the products they are selling to reach their sales goals and sell their products to customers who are a good fit and more likely to be satisfied with their purchase.
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. Buyers are eager to talk to them and are more receptive to discussing our paid products.
Overall, 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. As buyers get better and better at solo research, product knowledge will help you better convey your unique selling proposition.
3. Customer Service
Top salespeople are able to engage and build rapport with the clients and customers they aim to serve. For reps, this can look like taking the time to learn about your customers and how your offering can alleviate their pain points, and asking meaningful discovery questions during your initial calls to establish a meaningful relationship.
4. Problem Solving
As a sales professional, your ultimate goal shouldn’t just be to close the deal — it should be to solve for the customer. That’s why reps should be expert problem solvers.
Not only should salespeople be able to solve the problems directly in front of them, such as helping customers overcome objections, but they should also be able to anticipate future challenges that may arise and proactively prepare solutions.
5. Business Acumen
What is your current level of business acumen? If it’s low, don’t panic, but make plans to focus on improving it. When salespeople have knowledge and expertise that informs their strategic outlook and understanding of the business they’re in, they become unstoppable.
Reps with strong business acumen are able to make strategic decisions that serve their organization now and in the future.
6. Sales Demoing
Walking your potential customer through a product demonstration is a critical element of the sales process, and it should be done with care. Your goal should be to take your prospects through an easy-to-follow demonstration to introduce them to your product and set the stage for the deal’s next steps.
Wouldn’t it be great if your prospects immediately signed your contracts agreeing to all payment terms? You’re probably thinking “yes, that would be great.” However, that’s not always how deals work. Even after vetting prospects and laying out a thoughtful quote, many deals still end up in a negotiation phase before the dotted line is signed.
That’s why strong negotiation skills are a must for salespeople. When reps are able to effectively negotiate terms with buyers and decision makers that are mutually beneficial, they’re more likely to secure better outcomes.
If you reach out first, 82% of buyers will accept a meeting request. That’s what makes prospecting so critical and so effective.
Yes, prospecting can be a lengthy and time-consuming process. However, all of that work doesn’t have to be in vain if you’re focusing on qualified leads who are a good fit for your product. Successful prospecting requires research, clear communication, and discernment — skills that can be improved upon.
While it can be tempting for reps to solely focus on hitting their personal numbers, sales is truly a team effort and collaboration is a must for creating a frictionless sales process.
Whether a rep needs to work with their marketing organization to ensure a smooth hand-off during the sales process, or is focused on collaborating with their prospect to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, salespeople should be agreeable and able to effectively work with people internal and external to their team to reach business goals.
10. Social Selling
If you think social media can only be leveraged by the marketing department, think again. Social selling, or researching and connecting with potential buyers using social media platforms, is an important skill for sales reps.
It’s worth noting, however, that social selling is only effective when done properly. That means reps shouldn’t flock to social media spamming user inboxes with unsolicited messages and flooding their timelines with promotional posts. Instead, reps should start by optimizing their professional social media profiles to attract potential customers, and take a thoughtful approach to outreach on the appropriate platforms at the appropriate times.
The ability to build relationships is critical for all reps, and is especially important for those who sell higher-priced or B2B goods. The higher the value of a product, the more buyers want to establish trust with those they are buying from. When a rep is able to cultivate meaningful relationships with their buyers and decision makers, they’re more equipped to navigate the sales process.
12. Following Up
Succeeding in sales requires tenacity, and that is especially apparent when it comes to following-up with potential buyers. According to IRC Sales Solutions, only 2% of sales are made after the first contact, and 44% of reps give up after the first contact attempt.
By not following up with prospects, you’re sabotaging your chances at success. Be sure to refine your follow-up skills to increase your closed-won potential.
Each stage of the sales process is important, and the close is no exception. Effective reps should constantly be strengthening and refining their closing techniques to seal the deal.
Working in a high-impact, people-focused field such as sales, reps need to be able to adapt to a variety of situations. Whether that is anticipating objections or questions your potential buyers may have, or being willing to quickly adopt a new strategy or technique when what you’re doing isn’t working, flexibility is a key trait for goal-crushing reps.
15. Active Listening
Many of the tactics above — including communication, relationship-building, and collaboration — are not possible without active listening skills.
Your ability to listen to and understand your prospects can make or break your ability to win the sale. Not only does listening help you clarify what it is your prospect is truly looking for, it also establishes necessary trust with your buyers. When your prospect feels heard and listened to, it creates a sense of connection that can keep the sales process moving in the right direction.
As tempting as it can be to dominate the conversation and tell your prospect all the reasons why they should purchase your product, knowing when to step back and give them time to speak is a thoughtful approach that will serve you better in the long run.
16. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is an important skill to nurture if you want to make a lasting and profitable connection with prospects. Although technology and automation has made salespeople less dependent on their people skills, a high emotional quotient will differentiate them from the competition.
“Sales EQ is the ability to effectively read, influence, and control emotions,” says Shaun Crimmins, former Account Executive at HubSpot. “Being able to stand out above the clutter of sales messages prospects are hit with — that’s what EQ is all about.”
17. 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 their prospects — and they use it to decide who they’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. 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.
19. Challenger Selling
"One of the most important sales skills is Challenger Selling,” says Ben Cotton, a former Sales Enablement Manager at HubSpot.
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.
20. 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. This is more important than ever now that 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.”
21. 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, but it does mean invest your attention where it counts.
22. Video Skills
With the rise of remote work and remote selling, video will continue to 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.
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, a sales professional who has worked with giants such as Yelp and Discovery Inc (owner of the Discovery Channel). “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.’”
So, how can you improve your sales skills? Below, you'll learn how to develop your sales skills and improve your performance on your team.
How to Improve Sales Skills
- Attend sales training.
- Implement roleplay.
- Practice public speaking.
- Find a mentor.
- Ask questions.
- Become a lifelong learner.
- Improve prospecting skills.
- Review your sales calls.
- Listen to feedback.
- Stay connected to the customer.
- Prepare for objection handling.
- Play with your closing techniques.
- Iterate on your sales cycle.
- Track your progress.
- Enhance listening skills.
1. Attend sales training.
Sales training and professional development opportunities can keep your skills fresh. Being a lifelong learner gives you a competitive advantage in the game of sales. Besides purchasing in-person or online sales programs, you can take free certification courses through vendors like HubSpot Academy or Sales Engine.
Courses or certifications can specialize in sales skills such as sales presentations, sales methodology, social selling, or sales coaching. When choosing a sales training program, consider things like length of program, focus, location, and price.
2. Implement roleplay.
When you're on an exploratory call, you want to be prepared for every question, objection, or circumstance a prospect throws your way. Plus, it's important to practice the flow of conversation and learn how to ask questions authentically, instead of interrogatively.
Your team can practice roleplay on your own once a month, or you can find a sales training course that implements roleplay in the material.
- Dealing with extreme situations
- Getting comfortable breaking up with prospects
- Challenging prospects on why they're stuck
- Overcoming common objections
3. Practice public speaking.
According to Glossophobia, as many as 75% of the population has a fear of public speaking. Even salespeople, who may be extroverted, can experience this. As with most things, practice makes perfect. The more you practice something, the more you get used to it, and the less nervous you'll be.
For sales reps, it's important to be a confident communicator, so you can empathize and sell to your prospects. During the sales process, you'll need to give sales presentations, conduct product demos, and persuasively speak to several decision-makers. Confident communication is critical for success.
To practice public speaking, attend events by organizations like Toastmasters, which provides opportunities for professionals to practice and learn public speaking so they will become confident communicators.
4. Find a mentor.
Working with a mentor or receiving sales coaching can drastically improve your sales performance. Aja Frost, HubSpot Sales Blog contributor, writes about it in this blog post about sales coaching. She says, "Research from the Sales Executive Council (SEC) examined thousands of salespeople and found receiving quality coaching helped them improve long-term performance by upwards of 19%.
A separate study from CSO Insights reveals a correlation between quota attainment and coaching. When coaching skills exceed expectations, 94.8% of reps meet quota. When coaching skills need improvement, only 84.5% hit."
Work with your manager or ask them if they can provide the names of successful salespeople at your company to mentor you. You can ask your mentor for advice on sales strategies, ask them to roleplay with you, or even have them shadow a sales call for direct feedback. This relationship will help improve several sales skills and provide you an opportunity for feedback.
5. Ask questions.
Successful people ask questions. The same is true, of course, for successful salespeople.
When a sales call doesn't go the way you thought it would or you get a question or objection you aren't sure how to respond to, ask your manager or peers for advice. It's important to ask questions, so you can quickly solve those problems when they come up again.
In addition to asking questions in your role, it's also important to ask your prospect the right questions. Learn about their pain points and find out what their goals are. Only then can you truly begin to find a solution and understand how your product or service can solve their problem.
6. Become a lifelong learner.
If I haven't said it enough, being a lifelong learner will help you improve your sales skills. The sales industry is continuously changing due to updates in technology and culture. To continue being a sales expert, it's important to read articles and books, listen to podcasts, and be active and engaged in your work.
For example, if you're a salesperson at a software company, reading articles on the software industry will help you prepare for questions that prospects may ask and position your product or service in context.
7. Improve prospecting skills.
Although prospecting isn't the most glamorous aspect of sales, it's one of the skills that can increase your sales the most. It's also a task salespeople spend the most time completing.
That's why sales reps should enhance their prospecting skills. In order to effectively prospect leads, you can use several prospecting techniques, including making warm calls, hosting webinars, and spending time on social media.
8. Review your sales calls.
You can learn a lot from reviewing what you did well and what went wrong in recorded sales calls. Ask your sales manager if they host film reviews — and start one with your peers if nothing's currently available. Film reviews allow salespeople to listen to and provide feedback on a recording of a sales rep's call.
Aja Frost says, "The same question comes up again and again: ‘Why did this prospect take the call?' If the rep can't answer this question, it's usually because they've failed to identify their buyer's most pressing need. And that indicates they may lose the deal. Without knowing what's driving their prospect, the salesperson can't effectively explain their product's value."
Film reviews give you an opportunity to improve your sales skills so you can increase your sales. When you're participating in a film review, listen more and talk less. You might get feedback based on how personalized the sales call was, how well you understood buyer pain points, your overall attitude and authenticity, how well you set the agenda, or how well you knew the product.
Go into film reviews with a rubric or template in mind so you know what items you want to cover and will have specific action points. For example, you could ask colleagues to rank your questions, authenticity, and product knowledge on a scale of one to five. Then, you could ask for specific action items that you could implement to improve.
9. Listen to feedback.
In the same vein, if you are taking part in film reviews, listen to the feedback you receive from your peers and supervisors. It can be hard to hear critiques and criticisms on your performance, but feedback is critical to improving your sales skills.
Pay attention to critiques on the questions you're asking, the flow of the conversation, and your rapport. These are critical sales skills that sales reps need to master to achieve success.
For example, during a film review, you might get the critique that the conversation felt more like an interview than an authentic conversation because of how quickly you went from question to question.
In this instance, you might adjust your sales call to include more follow-up questions or small talk at the beginning of the conversation.
10. Stay connected to the customer.
In order to effectively make a sale, you must build rapport with your prospects. However, this isn't easy to do in a few minutes with a stranger on the phone. To improve your sales skills, consider your connection with your prospects. Have you done your research, thought of interesting questions, and practiced your exploratory calls?
The key to building relationships is authenticity. Having an authentic, productive conversation is one of the best ways to stay connected with your customers and improve your sales.
For example, if you've done your research, you can talk about something the prospect has posted online. Use dialogue like, "I saw on LinkedIn that…" or "I read your blog that...". These are personalized ways to strike up authentic conversation with your prospects.
11. Prepare for objection handling.
During your sales calls, you will get objections and questions about your product or service. That's why it's important to be as prepared as possible for those objections and have canned answers ready.
To prepare for common objections, learn about your buyer persona and take time to understand their pain points. Ask questions like "Do they need our help?" and "Can we help them?".
By putting care and attention into your prospect's pain points, you'll improve your sales skills and enhance your performance.
12. Play with your closing techniques.
Your sales process is constantly being iterated upon. To improve your sales skills, try different closing techniques.
Adam Wiggins, a marketing and sales professional, says you can use techniques such as:
- Now or Never Closes: This is where salespeople make an offer that includes a special benefit that prompts immediate purchase.
- Summary Closes: With this closing technique, salespeople reiterate the items the customer might purchase (stressing the value and benefits) to get the prospect to sign.
- Sharp Angle Closes: Prospects often ask for price reductions or add-ons because they know they have the upper hand — and they also know you expect it. If you have approval from your sales manager, try the sharp angle close technique to catch these prospects by surprise.
- Question Closes: It's imperative reps ask prospects probing questions.
- Assumptive Closes: This closing technique draws on the power of positive thinking. If you believe, from the first piece of email outreach, you'll close this deal, it can have an incredible effect on the rest of the sales process.
- Takeaway Closes: If you have kids, you've likely noticed taking a toy away from them makes them want it more than ever. Use this similar psychological practice on your prospects.
- Soft Closes: The soft close is a way to show your prospect the benefit of your product, and then ask a low-impact question to ascertain whether they'd be open to learning more.
By playing with your sales techniques, you'll continue to iterate and improve your sales skills.
13. Iterate on your sales cycle.
Your sales cycle is usually a tactical approach to the way you sell your product or service. Typically, this isn't something that's going to change. However, it's important to iterate at each stage of your sales cycle.
For example, if your sales cycle follows the trajectory of "prospecting, connecting, researching, presenting, and closing," you should consistently study ways to improve your prospecting skills. You should also read up on how to have a successful exploratory call, practice public speaking, and try different closing techniques.
By iterating on each stage of your sales cycle, you'll continuously improve your sales skills and reach higher numbers every month.
14. Track your progress.
The best way to improve your sales skills is to track your progress. To track your progress, set sales goals and record your performance every week or month. You can even implement a sort of A/B test.
For example, begin by working on one item from this list. Let's say you're going to try different closing techniques. Record your current close rate and then track your close rate using that technique. Has your close rate improved? A test like this can help you isolate what's working in your sales process and what doesn't have an impact.
15. Enhance listening skills.
In order to be an effective salesperson, you must hone the art of active listening. Typically, when a prospect is talking, you might be thinking of your response and generating answers to questions in your head.
Instead, truly pay attention when your prospect is talking. Repeat what they said and ensure you're understanding them correctly. This helps you understand what their problem is and if you can solve it for them.
To increase your sales and improve your performance, consider professional development opportunities. Always be on the lookout for ways to continuously build upon your sales skills and boost your numbers.
Grow Professionally by Improving Your Sales Skills
By continuously working on your sales skills, you’ll grow in your current role and effectively advance your sales career. It’s important to continue to learn not only as you face new challenges and nurture new types of buyers, but as you try to upsell current clients, too. Use the skills above to craft a selling technique that helps you stand out in your team.
Originally published Sep 13, 2021 5:00:00 PM, updated November 19 2021