What does it take to be a successful sales professional? It’s a question we get asked a lot on our Sales Training. Our answer is always the same. It’s a case of having the skill and the will to succeed. Having and mastering key sales skills is important but if you’re not motivated or have a bad attitude then it will be a waste. On the flip side, if you have someone who is extremely motivated but doesn’t know what to do then you’ll never make your sales target.
Let’s look at the habits, the sales skills and the approach needed to be a successful modern-day sales professional and then we’ll list 100 top sales skills and ways that you can improve.
Professional Sales Skills List
It’s impossible to sell to everyone you meet – not all will have the need or want for your products and services right now. Concentrate on those who are most likely to need your services and spend less time on those who don’t. Don’t let your pipeline get blocked with prospects who keep you waiting too long or cause more trouble than they are worth.
Create strict qualifying criteria that your prospects have to meet in order to earn your valuable time dealing with them.
Problem Solving Skills
Get away from the idea that you are selling products or services. Apprentice and recognise the fact that you are solving prospects’ problems. Many of our prospects will not be aware that they have problems until we show them how life for them could be like if they made the decision to go with us. And you can motivate your prospect to choose you over your competition when they discover that you can do it better than everyone else.
Work out what problems you solve
Spend your time searching for companies who have those problems
On our Selling Skills Training we find many people who believe they are very good communicators, but this is a very broad area. They can master one area only to fall on another.
The 3 areas with the biggest pay off include the ability to ask quality questions, listening and rapport building. If you master those 3 areas, you will be a top sales professional.
Think of 5 questions you can use to build rapport when talking with a prospect
Improve your listening skills by making lots of notes as others talk and really focus in on what they are saying rather than thinking of what to say next
Sounding good on the telephone is a given. I want to focus on voicemails and getting through gatekeepers. You would cringe if you could hear some of the voicemails we get left at our office by salespeople. At worst, they are dire and create a terrible impression for their company and services; at best, they are not well-prepared. Getting your voicemails returned requires a unique approach so you sound different to everyone else as does identifying and getting past those gatekeepers.
Have 5 prepared scripts you can use if your decision-maker is unavailable
Make your message focus on a prospect-specific reason why they should talk to you. Show you’ve done your homework on them.
Keep statistics per message on the number of returned calls. Use the best performing message and then repeat the process
Learn how to identify a gatekeeper screen and how to get through it
When you get to the point where you can present or talk about your solutions, remember that they have recognised they have a problem, so here’s your chance to impress. Don’t talk on and on about your products and services. Instead, talk about how their results will change as they reap the benefits of using them.
Be clear on the problems your prospect faces and how your product and services solve them
What are the benefits of your products and services?
Gather case studies, testimonials, and examples of how you have helped others
Use these sales pitch tips to ensure your presentation is engaging and inspiring
Social Selling Skills
We are getting more and more requests for Social Selling Training on how to use LinkedIn in the right way to prospect and sell. Ensure that you’ve got an up-to-date profile with a professional photo and that all your career history and summaries are relevant. Your prospects and customers will more than likely check you out on LinkedIn so make sure your profile gives them the impression you want them to see.
Audit your LinkedIn profile. What would a new prospect think to your photo and contents?
Take an hour or two and ensure that it is on point and covers how you help your prospects. Unless you are looking for a job it should appeal to your prospective customers and not to headhunters.
I’m always surprised when I hear that the vast majority of salespeople have not attended any formal Sales Negotiation Training. Negotiation is all about agreeing the terms of the deal and they can surface as early as at the sales objection phase. Negotiating is all about giving to get and focusing on an outcome that is a win for all parties.
It’s easy to close a deal if you discount all the time and the buyer takes the shirt off your back. That’s why I recommend improving your negotiation skills to protect your margins and your integrity.
Some sales cycles can be a long, drawn-out process and you will need to keep your cool as well as your nerve at times as the customer changes their mind and as their circumstances change. It’s important to learn customer care skills, empathy and sometimes even complaint handling.
Think about the customer journey and the touchpoints you have with them – are you giving them the best possible customer service?
When faced with aggressive sales objections how do you handle them? Do you get defensive, or do you focus on the customer and helping them?
Top Salesperson Qualities
So far, I have touched on the skills you need to become a top sales professional. I’d like to look at the qualities you will need to demonstrate. This is more of a mindset and approach to your craft rather than any hard or soft skills.
A Commitment To Learning
You need a sense of growth in everything you do. When you develop your skills over time, you become a more valuable person in sales and in general.
It requires you to make time to improve and invest in your future career. Only then will you see rewards for the time you put into your work. If you think that the road paved with gold will miraculously build itself for you, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary.
This quality allows you to ask the better and deeper questions, to become the source of knowledge and wisdom and highlight the ways a company can improve. Curiosity reduces the tendency to judge and builds an attitude of inquisitiveness rather than one of criticism. It makes you want to dig deeper and find out the reason ‘why’.
Instead of simply condemning a decision that a prospect makes, a curious salesperson will develop a keen eye and keep a watch on what would make someone change their mind or create opportunities for growth. A curious mindset is a great quality to engender and develop.
Embed Yourself In Their Company
Rather than viewing yourself as a salesperson you should look at yourself as a trusted advisor. Someone your customer can call for advice and guidance on all matter of topics. This means getting under the skin of the company and really understanding what is going on. It’s much more than any Account Management Training can cover. This is all about becoming an extension to your customer’s business.
Become A Change Agent
The only constant in sales will be change, so you need to develop the mastery of dealing with change and its incumbent results. Learn how to become more resilient and how to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty.
Agility can be defined as ‘the power to move quickly and easily’.
With an agile mindset, a person can respond quicker to situations and challenges that come their way. How do we define an agile mindset?
Leanne Howard, an Agile Practices Consultant, defines five components that make an agile mindset:
Thirst for knowledge
Goal of team success
Willingness to fail
Those ten skills and qualities will help you become someone who will be welcome in your clients’ businesses.
If you’re looking to take your game to the next level, try our 2-day Sales Skills Training course. It will cover the concepts learned in this blog in greater detail and in turn will help you to close more sales.
100 Top Sales Skills To Improve
We’ve covered a lot in this guide to answer the question; what makes a successful salesperson and overall, they can be put into 4 main categories:
• Hard work
The best salespeople expect to succeed. They always see the glass as being half full, not half empty. They have excellent communication skills and really care about their clients.
They see selling as a problem-solving process where their role is to help their customers and build solid, long-term relationships. They know about their products and their market.
Also, they work hard, especially when times are tough.
I was challenged to come up with the 100 ways to improve sales results and here they are.
You will notice they are all simple, practical, and sensible. Sales is not Rocket Science.
The basic principles are what matter and like the top sports people, the high performers in sales are successful because they understand and put into practice, the basic skills.
Ready? Here you go.
Attitude & Mindset Skills
1. Begin with your attitude. The best salespeople think positively. Beware of negative thoughts. Thoughts like, “I could never do that” and “What if I fail?” can seriously impact the way you behave
2. When top salespeople catch themselves thinking a pessimistic thought about their situation, they evaluate the evidence. What are the facts–not the fears—but the facts?
3. The best salespeople are aware of the importance of the image they present to clients. Invest in the way you look. You don’t want to be perceived as just another rep!
4. Online research. Find out about your client’s future. Keep up with technology.
5. Don’t use high pressure selling techniques on your customers. They don’t work. Treat your customers as you would want to be treated.
6. Develop a style of selling that is relaxed and friendly, while still being professional
7. Never sell anything to a customer that they don’t need, or can’t afford
Goals, Plans & Targets
8. Set yourself goals. The most successful salespeople have clear goals and can tell you what they are
9. Set SMART goals. Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound
10. Put together a sales plan.
11. Discuss your sales plan with your manager. Use your manager as a resource
12. What is happening in your market? Set yourself short, medium, and long-term goals that reflect the way the market is changing
13. When you write yoursales plan begin by defining your objectives. What do you want to achieve over a defined period? Write your objectives down and make sure they are SMART
Self-Development & Your Career
14. Read a serious newspaper (online or offline) at least once a week. Be aware of current affairs so you can have a sensible conversation on any topic. Read blogs and publications that can keep you up to date. This was one of the best bits of advice I was given as a young salesperson
15. Read books on selling. Listen to audios on selling and watch videos on selling. Use inspirational sales quotes to keep you going when times get tough. Invest in your own long-term development
16. Find out the long term aims and goals of your company. Where do you see yourself going in the next 3, 5 10 years? Set yourself a career plan
17. Find a mentor or sales coach. This is someone who is already successful, either in your organisation, or elsewhere. This is someone you can talk to and who can give you the benefit of their experience
18. Solve problems in your own organisation. Most people just sit back and complain. Come up with solutions. You never know, they may promote you!
19. Get the right balance between work and the rest of your life. Take care of your health and fitness
20. Learn new skills that may not directly contribute to your job. Learn a language or attend a night class. The brain is a muscle that needs to be kept active
21. Network – online and offline. Build your LinkedIn network and become a thought leader by contributing regular content
22. Think. Set aside some thinking time to review progress and the direction you are going in. Most people say they are too busy, but it is a useful exercise
23. Find someone who is already successful and mirror what they do
24. Plan to hit your target. Break your overall target down so that is becomes more achievable. If you have a target of £250,000 a quarter this makes no sense. If, by breaking it down you estimate you need to make 10 sales visits a week, this becomes more achievable
25. Manage your pipeline. We only convert a percentage of potential customers into actual customers. Plan prospecting activity into your schedule. Keep topping up the pipeline
26. Analyse your customer profile. Who buys from me? Where are they based? What is the best way to identify and contact potential customers?
27. Put together your hit list of prospective customers; targeted at people most likely to buy your products or services. Keep the list manageable. If you are going to contact 50 people a week every 4 weeks, you need 200 prospects. Quality is better than quantity
28. Keep targeting them. Most people don’t buy first time, especially if you are selling the idea of an appointment to meet you.
29. Set aside time for prospecting. It works best if it is, say, every Tuesday morning, or whatever day you prefer. The key is making it every week without fail. This is what the top salespeople do
30. If you are phoning your prospects write yourself a script and practise it with colleagues. When preparing a script always follow a statement with a question. This keeps you in control. “We specialise in sales and management training. Is this something you have purchased in the past?”
31. Disqualify poor quality prospects. This keeps your prospect list fresh and full of the kind of people that you really should be doing business with
32. Understand that prospecting is a numbers game. Set yourself targets for the number of people you contact each week and stick to it
33. Sending an email upfront is a great way of prospecting. It takes less time and can be very effective. Just make sure that you use a catchy sales email subject line that gets the email opened. Send information, or free stuff which will add value even if they don’t buy. When they are ready to buy you will be at the top of their list
34. Keep accurate records of your prospecting. This is what the top salespeople do
35. Remember the Pareto Principle. 80% of our business comes from 20% of our customer base. Focus first on repeat business. How to keep it and grow it. Most lost business happens because of neglect. Build into your plan a strategy for your existing customers
Know Your Numbers
36. Understand your key ratios. This is about using historical data to plan forward. Measure everything. If your target is to book 5 appointments and you know that, historically, you have had to make an average of 6 telephone calls to get an appointment in the past, you need to prepare 30 prospects. The ratios don’t always work every time, but do work overtime
37. Top salespeople measure everything. If it can’t be measured it can’t be managed.
38. Lead times. Understand that sales activity today will generally lead to results in weeks or even months ahead. Even when you are doing well you need to be planning for future results. If you want more information on improving lead times check out this guide on sales velocity
39. Keep reviewing your market. What is changing? What will the market look like in 3 years’ time? What can you be doing now to stay ahead of the game?
40. What resources are available to you to help you sell more? This could be anything productivity apps and software, to an opportunity to receive some training, or a sales manager who has lots of experience that you can tap into. Seek out opportunities to help you sell more
42. If you are cold calling, why not try a 3-stage process that professional telemarketing companies use. Phone call-email-phone call. This approach pre warns the potential customer they are about to receive information and checks out that they are the right contact. Information is then emailed with a follow up phone call to book the appointment
43. When you call someone for the first time think about how you are going to introduce yourself.
44. Speak slower. We say our names 3 times faster than other bits of information. If you sound relaxed it will relax your customer
45. Sell the appointment. Don’t say that you are in the area next week and would like to pop in for half an hour. These people are busy. What have you got to talk about? Is it worth 30 minutes of their valuable time? What’s in it for them?
46. People will naturally try to say no unless you have struck lucky and rung at exactly the right time. Give them time to explore the issues you want to discuss. Minimise the risk of agreeing to an appointment but sell the benefits to them.
47. Deal with objections in a positive may. Most people will say no. That’s a fact. Look for the longer term. Send information. Agree a call back. Don’t beat them up to gain a short-term advantage. If they want to think, that’s okay. Just make sure you agree the next steps once they have done their thinking
48. Practice dealing with the most common objections with your colleagues. There are relatively few objections. Two things to remember. Don’t interrupt and don’t attack your customer’s belief system.
49. For more information on dealing with objections go to our blog. Here’s an article on objection handling
50. If you are sending out information don’t leave it too long before following it up. Follow up once you feel they have had a chance to read the information. Don’t leave it 3 weeks!
51. When asking for the appointment, ask for a specific time and day. This way you are in control of your diary. Go for an early appointment. This frees up time in your diary for later in the day
52. Confirm the appointment by e-mail. Remind them about the reason for the appointment and send an agenda for the meeting if appropriate
53. Once you have confirmed the appointment begin your planning and preparation for the meeting. Things you need to consider are your objectives, your agenda, the questions you need to ask, visual aids and finally your attitude.
54. Set objectives for the meeting that is ambitious, but realistic. Have more than one objective. “If I don’t make a sale, what else could I achieve from the meeting?”
55. Prepare your questions in advance. Areas you need to cover, especially at a first meeting are: contact (the person I am meeting with), organisation (their business), decision making processes (how they make decisions, who gets involved and their timescales), current suppliers (who they buy from now), competition (who else are they talking to?), problems (what issues are they facing at the moment?), needs (what are they looking for from us?) finance (what financial issues are appropriate?)
56. Building rapport. It is necessary to have some social time before we get down to business. The amount of time we spend here should be led by the customer. Different cultures have different ideas about this subject.
57. Agenda. Once you have settled down reaffirm the purpose of the meeting. Here is an example: “Thank you for seeing me today, Jane. I’d really like to get a thorough understanding of your requirements so I can see how we can help. I need to begin by asking you a few questions. Would that be okay? “
58. The agenda statement is designed to achieve 2 objectives. To get control of the meeting and to earn the right to ask questions
59. It gives the customer the chance to contribute to the meeting. The first question we recommend is this: “Is there anything specific that you would like to talk about at this meeting?
60. Relax. At this stage the customer is trying to work out if there is something in this for them. Try to avoid presenting too quickly. Ask questions. Get them talking about themselves and their business. People like to talk about themselves. Encourage this
61. Ask open questions early in the meeting. Examples of open questions: What key areas are causing you concern with this? What have you tried so far to sort this problem? How did you first hear about us?
62. Closed questions give us specific information. Examples of closed questions: Did you have chance to read my proposal? Are you looking to start this project straight away?
63. Follow up questions explore areas in more depth. Examples of follow up questions: So, you changed suppliers last year. What made you do that? You say you weren’t happy with the service. What happened? You mentioned efficiency. How important is that to you?
64. Plan and prepare your questions in advance. Work out which questions have the biggest payoff for your business
65. Make your questions more effective by using prefacing techniques.
May I ask you…
Could you tell me…
I would be interested to know…
Can we establish when…
These phrases can make your questions more acceptable
66. Label sensitive questions by introducing them. This eliminates surprise and sounds more professional. Here is an example: “When people review their IT solutions it often involves different departments. This being the case, would this be your decision, or would you be consulting with other departments in the organisation?”
67. Linking questions. Another way to get acceptance for questions is to refer to a previous statement made by the customer. Here’s an example: “You mentioned earlier that your company is expanding. How are you going to manage the extra volume of information being processed by your accounts department?”
68. When you ask questions you will get answers. We often hear buying signals. One example could be a customer saying something like: “I have had a few problems with deliveries from my current supplier” Most salespeople respond by presenting information. Resist the temptation and ask more questions
69. Listening is an important skill in selling. Practice your active listening skills. Use a range of verbal and non-verbal techniques. Show you are interested, but try not to interrupt
70. Verbal listening skills. Asking questions, summarising, and responding by making appropriate noises.
71. Non-verbal listening skills. These are the signals that show we are listening. These include eye contact, smiling, nodding, making notes, looking relaxed and making notes. Your body language is important in sales
72. The main learning point here is don’t interrupt!
73. When we ask questions, we are looking to identify certain things; Facts, opinions, needs, problems, and feelings. Sales are an emotional process. The sequence of our questions is the key to sales success and building rapport.
74. When people purchase things, they have buying criteria. Usually there are 2 or 3 reasons for buying which are important. Think about major purchases you have made in your life. What were the really important issues that influenced your decision to buy? These are your buying criteria
75. People have logical and emotional buying needs. Logical needs include issues surrounding finance, image, and performance
76. Finance needs include value for money, return on investment and profitability
77. Image needs relate to how things look, the value of branding and the benefits from buying a recognised brand
78. Performance issues relate to productivity, efficiency, and measurable standards of performance
79. Emotional needs relate to how people buy on a personal level. This means that some people buy quickly, some slowly, some like to consult with others, some like to compare alternatives, and some like to make buying decisions after having done a lot of research
80. Emotional needs include power, achievement, order, safety, affiliation, and recognition.
81. Emotional needs influence the speed of decision making and the amount of information people need before making a buying decision
Presenting & Discussing Solutions
82. When presenting and discussing information, we need to focus on the issues which are important to our client. People don’t buy lots of features. They have a preferred set of features that are important to them.
83. Common features we hear are things like: “We are the market leader”, “We give a great service”, “You have a dedicated account manager”, “We spend 20% of our turnover on new product development”. Many customers respond by saying “So what?” in their mind!
84. We need to talk about advantages. “Because you have a dedicated account manager you can call and speak with a named person who understands your business” This is becoming more persuasive
85. Benefits relate to our emotional buying behaviour. People like to hear words like reassurance, confidence, and peace of mind. “Because you have a dedicated account manager you can be confident you have someone to talk to if a problem arises”
87. Every presentation you make to your clients should be different. Every buying decision is unique. By asking questions and listening we can make our presentations totally relevant to the needs of each customer
88. Presenting price. Look and sound confident when presenting your price. Here are some tips for dealing with price: Make eye contact, be specific, and present the actual price with confidence. Only reveal the price when you have built up sufficient value in your product or service. If you don’t then the decision will most likely come down to price. It’s a key area that we cover in our consultative selling courses
Closing The Sale
89. Closing the sale. 70% of salespeople don’t ask for an order, or commitment. They lack confidence. Don’t be afraid to ask for the order. What is the worst thing that can happen? Here are 3 killer sales transition statements to help you
90. At the time of closing the salesperson fears rejection and the buyer worries about making a mistake. The role of the salesperson is to ask for the order. Remember that!
91. Don’t worry about closing techniques. The only close I use is the direct close. At the appropriate time I ask: “Would you like to go ahead?” There are only 3 answers. Yes, no, or maybe. The worst response is “No”
92. Accept rejection. It is very frustrating, but is a part of selling
93. Negotiation. “A process of bargaining by which agreement is reached between 2, or more parties” Salespeople fear negotiations because they entail risk. We need to become more assertive and defend our pricing structure. Here’s some sales negotiation training
94. Don’t worry about being liked. If you have a good working relationship with your customers, it can handle a bit of conflict from time to time.
98. Most of what gets given away in negotiation is given away in the last 5% of the time. Be careful during the closing stages
99. Always congratulate the other side when agreement has been reached. Don’t tell them they could have done better. It’s not what they want to hear.
100. Finally, enjoy yourself. Selling has got to be the best job in the world.
If you’re looking to take your game to the next level, try our 2-day Sales Skills Training course. It will cover the concepts learned in this blog in greater detail and in turn will help you to close more sales.