Have you ever heard someone described as a “born salesman”? The phrase tends to conjure up images of Harold Hill from The Music Man—a smooth-talking salesman who hawks musical instruments to cynical Iowans despite not being able to play a note of music himself. Most salespeople aren’t Harold Hill. But the good news is that they don’t have to be. Effective sales skills are learned skills, not innate.
Some Sales Skills Are Obvious, But All Take Time To Master.
1. Identifying Likely Prospects.
Despite the proverb about a good salesperson being able to sell ice in the North Pole, skilled sales pros know that it’s better to target sales pitches towards a receptive audience. Identifying prospects likely to buy is a skill that cannot be neglected.
In today’s world, prospect qualification skills are strongly tied to CRM knowledge. Thorough knowledge of your CRM system—and how it syncs with marketing automation—is indispensable for identifying good prospects.
If a sales representative is going to cold call, this should be done strategically. This requires comprehensive understanding of buyer personas and the ability to spot buyers who fit the personas. Data about existing customers, and better yet, referrals from them, are also valuable tools in hunting for prospects.
2. Determining Who The Key Decision Makers Are.
Once you’ve identified companies that may need your product, it’s time to figure out who the key decision-makers are at the company. Looking up people’s titles on the company website is a useful first step, but it may not tell you everything you need to know about that company’s buying process. Skilled sales representatives know how to network in order to learn this critical information.
Also, be sure to look people and companies up on LinkedIn. Sometimes new hires, promotions, and people leaving the company aren’t reflected on the company’s website. If you find out that one of your contacts has joined another company, that too offers an opportunity for a sale.
3. Researching Prospects Before Picking Up The Phone.
All of the other sales skills in the world won’t help a sales representative who fails to do their homework before contacting a prospect. Think of a sales call like an interview with the prospect where you are the interviewee. Read through all data recorded in the CRM, and pursue the prospect’s web page in depth.
But don’t stop there. Search for recent news involving (or relevant to) your prospect. Knowing this information will help you craft a sales pitch that’s personal and on-target.
4. Creating Rapport Quickly.
You only get one chance to make a first impression. Learning how to establish a connection with a prospect quickly is a critical sales skill that ensures you’ll at least have a chance to make your pitch. Failure to do so will kill the sale prematurely. To create a great rapport, focus on being helpful and personable. Be the kind of person you would want to talk to, not a used car salesman.
Listening Actively & Utilizing The Information Learned.
Listening to prospective customers is just as important as talking to them—if not even more so. Pay careful attention to what customers are (and aren’t) saying. What do their words reveal about their pain points, their hopes and fears?
Also, make sure the prospect knows that you are listening. In person, this can be accomplished by displaying active listening body language. On the phone, this is a little harder. But asking thoughtful questions, related to what the prospect is saying, can go a long way.
Once you understand your prospect, then you can provide suggestions for problem solving.
6. Understanding The Product, And What Makes It Special.
In-depth understanding of the product catalog can’t be faked. Make sure you understand all of your offerings when trying to sell to a new prospect. Above all, understand your USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Your prospect is likely considering making a purchase from your competitors. So, why should they choose your product?
Practice communicating the USP clearly and concisely. You might consult with the marketing department. They have experience in talking about what differentiates your company from the rest. Understanding your product and offering inside out is among the top sales skills.
7. Making A Pitch Succinctly.
Today, there are so many different things competing for our attention. Most people simply don’t have the time or attention span to sit through an extended sales pitch. So take a cue from Shakespeare’s Polonius: “Brevity is the soul of wit.” In modern diction, this means “Don’t waste my time.”
Practice making your pitch in short amounts of time: 30 seconds, two minutes, five minutes. Try not to cram too much information into the pitch. As a general rule of thumb, you should boil your pitch down to three key points. Anything more than that and your listener just won’t retain information.
8. Communication Via Email
E-mail is now a major channel for communications between sales representatives and prospects, so writing has become a critical sales skill. Since most people have perpetually full inboxes, you’ll need to learn the art of writing effective subject lines and e-mail copy. As with other forms of communication, shorter is generally better.
To learn more about selling via e-mail, study copy-writing by reading a book, or a blog devoted to copy-writing such as copyblogger.com
9. Using Content To Sell.
Content marketing isn’t only useful for attracting potential buyers. It can also be useful for drawing prospects through the sales funnel by establishing authority and providing prospects with solutions to their problems. Sales representatives need to develop thorough understanding of the content library and provide appropriate content at the right points in the sales cycle. Compliment your sales skills with using the right content to sell.
10. Responding To Objections Like A Pro (And Preventing Them In The First Place).
Prospects are almost certainly going to raise objections to your sales pitch. Be prepared. Rehearse your responses to common objections, being eloquent but not combative. Ask questions to clarify the prospect’s meaning and try to deduce what the underlying fear is. Practice running through common scenarios with other members of the sales team.
If you notice that one particular objection keeps coming up in your conversations, address it proactively in your pitch. This puts you ahead of the game.
11. Adapting Tone & Language To Your Audience.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all sales pitch. Clients’ age, professional background, and other factors will all influence their preferences. One of the most important sales skills you can learn is how to adapt your presentation to your audience. When listening to prospective customers, pay attention to the language they use, and adapt.
Be careful to avoid letting your pre-conceptions color your presentation, however. An audience of young people, for example, may react negatively to a sales representative who uses “millennial” lingo excessively.
12. Discerning Tone And Body Language.
During in-person pitches and presentations, pay close attention to your audience’s body language. Watch out for tell-tale signs of boredom, such as tapping feet and people fiddling with their phones. On the phone, learn to identify signifiers of common emotional states. Even e-mail can be revealing, if you know what to look for.
13. Performing A Dynamic Demonstration.
The best sales representatives give demonstrations that stand out from the rest of the pack. Put your own stamp on the presentation, whether through humor or another element. But remember that the primary purpose of a demonstration is to educate. As with every other form of interaction with prospects, you want to be helpful and authoritative. Make sure to highlight product features that solve real problems your audience experiences.
Your presentation probably won’t be fantastic starting on Day 1, so practice, practice, and then practice some more.
14. Managing Time Effectively.
Time management is always a challenge for sales representatives. In fact, the average sales representative spends only one-third of their time selling. If you can up that proportion even by 10%, you can leap ahead of your peers.
To stay on-task, make sure that all or most of your daily activities are directly linked to making your quota. Set milestones for yourself, such as x number of monthly phone calls.
Other critical time management skills include the ability to tell the difference between a warm prospect and one that just isn’t likely to buy. Although persistence is important, you don’t want to waste time on long-shot prospects.
Smart tools like Fileboard can be a great way to stay organized and manage time effectively.
15. Using Social Media Like A Superstar.
Companies don’t make major B2B purchases because they like a tweet. Nevertheless, it is still critical to maintain a strong social media presence. As always, focus on being helpful rather than pushing a product. While social media isn’t ideal for direct selling, it is a great vehicle for sharing content that marketing cooks up. Select the right platforms for your social media efforts. LinkedIn is important for B2B sales. Although other platforms can be useful, most people don’t go on Facebook for business purposes. It’s better to have a great presence on one or two platforms than try to be on all of them.
Remember that social media is meant to be social. Be reciprocal by sharing your prospects’ and existing customers’ content. This demonstrates that you’re a helpful business partner to have.
16. Knowing When To Push And When To Lay Off.
In general, effective sales representatives position themselves as helpful and informative. You don’t want to be the pushy salesperson begging vacationers to buy a timeshare at a resort. Nevertheless, it’s important to know when a prospect is ready for a friendly push.
17. Be Persistent.
Sales is a marathon, not a sprint. And the more expensive and complex the product, the longer the sales cycle. It’s only natural to want results quickly. But persistence is one of the most important sales skills a representative can cultivate.
Too many sales representatives give up after failing to make a sale on the first or second call. Most deals take time and careful nurturing. Statistics show 80% of sales require five follow-ups. Keep that in mind, and don’t be discouraged if a sale takes time. In the long run, persistence pays off.
18. Closing The Deal.
At some point, you do have to close the deal. The ability to ask for a firm commitment is a must for all sales representatives. While some prospects may hem and haw, trying to push back the date of purchase, it’s your job to hurry them along. Once the prospect is ready to buy, don’t drag out the sales process. Do whatever it takes to get the customer’s signature on an order ASAP.
If they’re really stalling, perhaps they’re not actually ready to buy. In that case, focus your efforts elsewhere. They’ll contact you if and when they’re actually ready to buy.
19. Building Long Term Relationships.
On a fundamental level, sales skills include long-term relationships handling. You may encounter prospects who aren’t yet ready to buy—and that’s okay. Don’t waste time on prospects that aren’t ready, but act warmly and professionally towards them. You may even send occasional friendly (and personalized!) e-mails to ask how they’re doing, subtly reminding them that you’re still here. Some sales representatives even host dinners and other social events.
When prospects are ready to buy, they will remember you.
20. Handling Post Sales Responsibilities.
Sales skills and expertise don’t end at a deal closure only. Sales representative’s job is not done when a contract is signed. Now that you’ve gone through so much work to gain a customer, retaining them is key. You want to fend off buyers’ remorse by making sure the customer’s post-sales experience is a great one. If you’re handing off the account to an account manager or CSR (Customer Satisfaction Representative), make sure that you’re involved in the process so that customers experience continuity.
Don’t be afraid to send customers a holiday card or occasional e-mail. Anything that furthers a positive impression of your company is a good thing.
With so many sales skills to learn, it’s clear that being a sales representative is one of the most challenging jobs out there. But with the right tools, you can master these skills.