Polish Your Sales Skills for Maximum Performance
You can put a hundred different selling techniques in your toolbox, but it still takes practice and attention to become skilled at sales. Musicians, athletes, race car drivers—you name it—weren’t born with their skills, they mastered them with practice and hard work. To rise to the top, practice these 12 sales skills.
1. Learn to Listen
Learning how to listen seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Most people understand that listening is actually a learned skill set that comes with age and experience. Sales skills is not about just speaking but the ability to listen and understand is valuable.
“When customers are talking, it’s not enough to keep your mouth closed. You must also keep your mind open to discover ways to truly be of service,” says Geoffrey James, author of Business Without the Bullsh*t.
It’s not just about listening to your prospects and customers—it’s also about listening to your employer, your mentors, and the industry.
A top salesman knows what his employer is thinking, not just through the usual corporate memos and email chain, but because you’re paying attention to things like stock price, media interviews and industry trends. Remember: Your employer has their own needs, wants, and worries.
Listen to older, experienced salespeople. They may not have figured out smartphones or Twitter yet, but they’re the ones who know all the dirt that the media doesn’t. If you’re trying to crack a big account, you’ll want to be on the sweet side of the AE’s who worked their way to the top and who have dealt with this account and ones like them before.
Finally, listen to your prospects, leads, and successfully converted customers. What questions are they asking? What are their suggestions? What do they need? Anticipating trends and filling needs that other salespeople aren’t will quickly put you in the lead.
2. Be Prepared
It’s not the Boy Scout motto for nothing. Don’t slap it together your written and/or visual presentations at the last minute. Double check your statistics and visuals. Have someone else copyedit and proofread for spelling, grammar and punctuation. Every presentation you create should be one that your employer can and will proudly hold up to others as a template for how things should be done.
Do your research! Geoffrey James adds, “Chances are your prospect knows plenty about you, your firm and your competition. In order to add real value, you’ll need to know even more about the prospect, the prospect’s business and the prospect’s own customers.”
3. Get Organized and Stay Organized
This sounds so simple, and everyone tries to do it, but proper organization is one of your most critical sales skills. Whether you use paper clips, sticky notes, or rely on digital organizers, utilize your reminder systems to the max.
Learn how much time you must devote to various selling exercises and schedule that time. It’s not just about penciling in appointments with prospects—it’s also about creating a calendar and the discipline to do prospecting and cold calls. You can always rearrange your calendar when opportunities arise, but make sure you do rearrange your calendar, or you’ll soon burn out for lack of prospecting. Then when the monthly sales meeting happens and you’re asked what’s in your lead pipeline, you’ll have nothing.
Some clients need a lengthier response than a tweet, so schedule time for preparing presentations and taking phone calls. Also schedule time to follow up with leads—statistics show that 80% of sales require five follow-ups.
You need to have a balance of all these activities—not just the ones you enjoy. It’s also important to prioritize. No matter how difficult or challenging a prospect may be, put your most lucrative and referral-rich leads on your calendar first.
Back up everything. Timely backups and security are an investment in your career. It only takes one stolen laptop or cellphone with all your presentation notes and confidential emails from a prospect to put your career on hold.
4. Be Responsive
Responding to emails, texts and phone calls immediately is an important practice in your skills set. Develop the discipline to respond right away, even if you don’t have an answer to the request.
Knowing how to respond is as important as responding quickly. A simple “I’ll get back to you” may appease some leads, but with others, you’ll want to let them know that you can get some information to them quickly, and will work on getting more in depth answers to them within a reasonable time frame. This gets back to the whole idea of being organized—copy yourself on messages you send out, and set reminders to acquire, polish and send information as needed. As you make more of these calls, practice your answers to your most asked questions.
5. Prepare to Compete
It may seem like an oxymoron to say that if you’re in sales, you should prepare to compete. But competing for sales is about more than clinching the deal. Competing against your competitors efficiently is among the most valued sales skills.
Let’s say you’re starting out as a new salesperson for a company with a great track record and some star-power achievers. Are you going to try to ‘shoot the moon’ and achieve that track record overnight? Or are you going to do what most athletes do and button down to win the local, then regional, then state events before going on to nationals?
If you have a meeting, just focus on the objective for that meeting and achieve it. If it’s your turn to do cold calling, set your goal and achieve it by 1. You should be able to go home at the end of each day feeling that you have grown in your achievements and skill set, even if it was only a little victory.
Challenge yourself to out-perform what you did the day before, the week before, and the month before. Look at the person(s) immediately ahead of you in the achievement queue. How many sales do you need to close before you are ahead of them on the track?
6. Understand Branding
Branding is a two-way street.
Part of branding is how you convey yourself in outward conversation, both in person and online. How you dress, how you cut your hair, how you present yourself—it’s all part of your personal and professional brand.
To stay competitive in a digital landscape, you also need to know how to make yourself available online and through social media. Spend time learning techniques for engaging people online, attracting followers, and creating discussion about you and your brand.
Consider everything your company wants delivered.
Even with hip, cool brands, it’s not enough to appear as a spokesmodel for your brand. You and your company need to convey professionalism and responsibility. Do your sales techniques mirror that branding image?
Think about everything that your company wants to convey and deliver as a brand, and make sure you are delivering that in your pitch.
7. Polish Your Speaking Skills
Whether you’re speaking on the phone, in person, in a meeting or on a webinar, sophisticated speaking skills are critical to successful sales. If you speak the right things at the right time, you’re gifted with a great set of sales skills.
Take time to practice your diction. Eliminate dead spaces from your speech: uh, um, well, and nervous coughs. Pronounce words completely and clearly—don’t slur or mumble. If you have a chronically stuffy nose or sinuses, take measures to clear them up before a formal presentation.
Slow down. When you are nervous, your speech speeds up like a runaway locomotive. Focus on keeping your speech slow, relaxed, and clear.
Don’t talk in a monotone. If you can’t get excited and personable about what you’re presenting, then rewrite your pitch until it feels more natural and right for you. Be vivacious and engaged with the material or message you’re presenting.
Video tape your presentation and review it afterwards. Watch your body language, gestures, and facial expressions. Compare it to top speakers and presenters in your field and at TED events.
8. Communicate Ideas
Educate prospects with new ideas and perspectives. It’s not enough to just deliver a litany of features and benefits—your prospects can get that from a brochure. It’s your job to present working scenarios and to challenge minds. If you can’t communicate ideas with your followers and your prospects, you’re missing something important in your sales skills set.
Don’t try to necessarily cram everything into one presentation. Tailor each presentation, talk or even phone message for your prospect. Focus the discussion on their concerns and their questions.
With time and practice, you’ll build a verbal and visual wardrobe of sorts, of stories, illustrations, charts, and mind-opening questions that you can pull from and customize for clients. Be sure to keep your presentation fresh with new material too – It will keep you excited to present!
9. Deliver the Goods with Confidence
It’s true—confidence sells. But confidence is different than swagger. More than one cocky salesperson has lost a deal because they were arrogant, inattentive, or disrespectful.
Your delivery needs to hit a number of different targets. You should come across as sensitive to your prospect’s needs, knowledgeable about your product, willing to listen, and confident that your product is best for the prospect. Everything about your pitch comes into play here: your appearance, your posture, your speech, your presentation, knowledge, and experience.
10. Learn to Think on Your Feet
Learning to seize the moment is one of those sales skills that comes only with awareness and experience. It’s like learning how to surf—you just have to keep finding your footing in an ever-changing seascape.
It can happen on the phone, or in a meeting—the client suddenly shifts his perspective, or surprises you with a question you hadn’t anticipated. You can improve your odds of handling it well by learning a variety of objection-handling techniques and closing techniques, along with how and why to use them in different scenarios.
11. Building Trust
Developing a connection with your customer is as important in today’s bustling world as it was 100 years ago but still one of the most important sales skill. To create a rapport with your customer, you need to lean into their problems. This means understanding their industry, their company, their challenges and their needs.
You should be able to build trust by establishing yourself as an expert and a consultant. You aren’t just there to ‘sell’ a product—you are there to solve a problem.
Throughout the sales process, you want to encourage the client to confide in you, and to rely on you for accurate and sophisticated data, industry insight, and solutions to practical problems.
12. Following Up is More Than a Phone Call
Once you have closed a sale, particularly in larger deals, remember that you have gained the client’s trust, and in order to keep that client, you need to keep that trust alive.
Have some methods in place that enable you to stay in contact in a variety of ways: scheduled phone follow-ups, delivery of white papers and news based on keyword alerts, or event invitations to key events like golf tournaments, sports championships and charity dinners.
Once you have closed an account, you can continue to cultivate that client for referrals and industry insights. A ‘done deal’ is never really done, and could turn out to be a gold mine for new prospecting.
Writing for Inc.com, Geoffrey James points out, “Your short-term goal is to walk “arm in arm” with the customer as they arrive at the best possible solution. Your long-term goal is to become part of that customer’s essential business network … and vice versa.”
Selling is an art, and as such, in order to succeed, you must acquire skill and expertise. Competing in today’s highly evolved, dynamic, and competitive world requires that you master these twelve skill sets. If you do, you will have the tools—and the ability—to outshine the competition.