Most sales organizations make a distinction between their “inside” sales (reps that are closing deals without being face-to-face with their buyers) and “field” sales.
To hit their numbers, salespeople need to know a lot, from product and market expertise to messaging and value propositions. That means they need to develop the right sales skills to have meaningful conversations with every buyer.
That’s also where a sales readiness strategy comes into play. With training and coaching that supports development of key sales skills, organizations can equip their sellers to close more and bigger deals, all while ensuring time with buyers is well-spent.
But all of this begs a key question: which skills are most important for your sellers to master?
The answer, of course, varies based on role, industry and the buyers you’re targeting. (Selling to local SMBs is very different from selling to Fortune 100 executives, for example.) However, some skills are valuable in any situation. Here are 17 sales skills that every rep needs, as well as tips for helping your teams develop them.
Key Sales Skills Every Rep Should Have
- Business Acumen
- Social Selling
- Active Listening
- Territory Management
- Buyer Research
- Time Management and Planning
Customer-Facing Sales Skills
Strong communication skills are the foundation of building meaningful relationships with clients, setting expectations, and (tactfully) discussing a buyer’s pain points.
This might seem obvious, but it’s important to remember that communication is about much more than speaking clearly and concisely:
- Writing and presentation abilities are needed when it comes to interacting over email, social media, video conference or in person.
- Salespeople must also be able to communicate effectively throughout the sales cycle, from cold outreach and follow-up, to moving an opportunity along.
Unfortunately, we’ve all experienced poor sales prospecting. For example, the “spray and pray” approach in particular can rub buyers the wrong way.
For prospecting to be effective, salespeople need to develop a strategic approach for identifying new business opportunities – and then commit to working on it daily. That means having the ability to research potential buyers, conduct cold outreach, and create new opportunities.
Quick Tip: Consider organizing your onboarding or training curriculum so reps are focused on mastering skills for a specific sales activity (such as prospecting) before moving on to training for their next activity.
Can your sales reps ask intelligent questions, identify buyer needs and follow-up accordingly?
Today’s reps must be able to gain an excellent understanding of any prospect’s company, business challenges and current priorities. This means asking well-informed questions that can identify pain points, desired outcomes and give your organization a better sense of the buyer’s political hierarchy.
Quick Tip: If your reps aren’t uncovering enough of the right information on discovery calls, a peer learning strategy can help. You can document and distribute tips and tricks for discovery from your A-players and incorporate them into your training content.
4. Business Acumen
The basics of good business – whether it’s understanding an annual financial report or factors that affect the buyer’s customers – are always critical.
Salespeople should be able to use business-level information (like financial statements) to move a conversation forward around relevant pain points and ROI.
Quick Tip: Leverage subject matter experts – such as a finance team member or an experienced executive – who can provide you with the expertise needed to create related training content.
5. Social Selling
Your salespeople don’t need to be experts on the very latest social media trends, but they should at least know the basics of using major networks like LinkedIn (and tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator).
Reps should also understand what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to engaging prospects on social media. You want to make sure sellers aren’t copying and pasting your sales pitch into every direct message or posting on LinkedIn five times a day. Personalized outreach coupled with a steady presence is key.
Quick Tip: Create a training course that teaches reps how to deliver effective messaging on social media, identify ideal buyers, and leverage tools such as LinkedIn Sales Navigator. Your sales enablement strategy should also include a documented social selling plan that reps can reference as they learn.
You might think of storytelling as a component of good communication. But it’s a distinct skill because it requires reps to be clear and concise, as well as engaging and authentic. This is critical, because an authentic story will:
- Help your company stand out in the minds of buyers
- Appeal to buyers’ emotions and encourage action
- Help buyers see how “like” clients have solved similar challenges with your solution
“When you tell a story, you are educating prospects on a transition from where they are now to where they want to be,” says sales consultant, Matthew Pollard. “The moral of your story is, ‘we did this for that client and we can do this for you, too.’”
How to Develop It: Coach reps on how to tell stories, and especially how to use case studies, research, and other proof points that add to the story’s credibility. For instance, ask reps to deliver a relevant narrative to a prospect in a key market. Your feedback should point out whether your sellers used appropriate content and whether the delivery came across as genuine or “sales-y.”
7. Active Listening
It’s no secret that reps need good listening skills to connect with clients. But in today’s fast-paced business world, there’s always a temptation to formulate a response or follow-up question before the buyer is done talking.
Active listening is all about staying in the moment and ensuring that the seller clearly understands what the buyer is saying. This can involve reps paraphrasing what was just said, or slowing the conversation down as needed, to ensure they can truly position themselves as consultative sellers.
Quick Tip: Use role plays to help reps improve their listening skills. For example, have someone act as a potential customer describing their business challenges, and then ask reps to summarize the information to see whether they understand key points.
8. Objection Handling
Sales objections are a fact of life for reps, and when approached the right way, they provide sellers with a valuable opportunity to ask more questions. An objection managed poorly, however, can derail an otherwise good conversation.
The key is that your sellers, at minimum, understand how to respond to the major types of sales objections, such as skepticism (is your solution scalable at our fast-growing company?) or indifference (we don’t really need what you provide)
Quick Tip: Design coaching activities that allow reps to practice responding to your company’s most common objections on video, and then review them to provide feedback.
9. Presentation Skills
Sales reps deal with the unexpected every day, which makes it even more important that they nail what they can practice ahead of time. Sales presentations and demo calls certainly fall into that category.
Many sales presentations become too feature-centric, when they should really focus more on the buyer’s challenges and needs. The presentation content and the sales message delivery both need to be engaging and informative – or else you risk putting your buyers to sleep or worse, losing them all together.
Quick Tip: Managers can evaluate reps’ presentations via screen recording capabilities or by sitting in on calls and providing feedback afterwards.
10. Negotiation Skills
After building an effective proposal, reps must lead a disciplined negotiations process. That’s important because high-stakes negotiations can lead reps to make errors, such as offering a discount that’s too steep.
Quick Tip: Consider role-playing exercises that involve a hypothetical buyer who is pushing for price concessions or has deal demands that are specific to your industry. You’ll want to examine a rep’s ability to protect the value of a sale and highlight the advantages that only your solution provides.
Non-Customer-Facing Sales Skills
11. Territory Management
Reps’ ability to understand their target accounts and the market factors affecting them is critical, because the last thing you want is a high-potential territory that hasn’t been maximized.
Ensure that sales reps are engaged in the right messaging based on their territories. (For example, a territory full of growing tech startups would want to hear how your solution can help expand their businesses.)
Experience using new technologies has quickly become important for sellers, and that trend isn’t going away anytime soon. Reps must know how to take advantage of various sales tools, whether it’s a free productivity app, the CRM, or a sales enablement tool.
Of course, technical knowledge shouldn’t completely fall on the sales team. Your reps should know enough to ask the right questions of sales engineering and IT as needed.
13. Buyer Research
Knowledge is power, and it can be a true differentiator. That’s why reps need to be up to speed on different types of buyers, market trends, the competitive landscape and be able to research specific buyers, companies and any possible sales triggers.
A company that just doubled its headcount, for instance, is probably dealing with a lot of growing pains! Reps who do their due diligence by checking social media, news articles, public financial documents or even your CRM are positioned to deliver a sales experience that is much more personalized (and therefore more relevant).
Quick Tip: Show salespeople how and where they can find relevant research and news articles about your target industries and incorporate those tips into your training content. To ensure reps understand how to utilize those tips correctly, you can have them complete a video coaching assessment where they share how they used research to enhance a sales interaction.
Soft Sales Skills and Traits
14. Time Management and Planning
There’s only so much selling time in the day. Good salespeople can make the most of the buyer’s time and their own.
Specifically, reps should have a clear sense of the specific steps needed to close each deal, and how long each step typically takes. If a client is requesting product information or thought leadership content, they should respond in a timely manner. And as priorities change, they should know how to shuffle their day-to-day activities accordingly.
Quick Tip: Use one-on-one, informal coaching to go over the rep’s time management and planning strategies together. If you notice opportunities for improvement, coach the rep on how to make their plan more efficient and prioritize tasks effectively.
Curiosity sends a message that the rep is not solely focused on making a sale. Rather, they are actually interested in the buyer’s challenges. Imagine that! Great sales reps are inquisitive and possess a willingness to understand the “why” behind the client’s pain points.
Sales reps have to make quick decisions constantly. Ensuring that they’re savvy enough to make the right call is key.
If a call is in danger of going off the rails, for instance, can your sellers read the vibe the buyer is giving off? Are they catering to the client’s preferences in terms of communication style? Do they have a good understanding of where the buyer is in the decision cycle? There won’t always be someone there to hold your reps’ hands; they need the ability to make those judgments in real time, on their own.
Quick Tip: Although some reps innately have this skill, others may need some help. Sharing the best practices of your star salespeople through a formalized peer learning program can be a good starting point.
Complex B2B sales cycles require reps to be good orchestrators of people and resources. After all, many deals now involve multiple buyers and a handful of internal teams, such as sales ops, marketing, customer success and legal.
That’s why team players who can advocate on the customer’s behalf and get the right people involved in each sales process are more likely to achieve positive results. In addition, you’ll want to make sure reps can collaborate internally to plan and deliver compelling business proposals to your clients.
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