Learn which 11 sales associate skills you’ll need to empower yourself or your sales representatives with to become top performers. Read on to find out more about the sales skills that set a salesman or saleswoman apart.
In this article:
- What Successful Sales Professionals Have in Common
- Why Sales Success Decreases over the Years
- Evaluating a Sales Representative’s Performance
- Different Types of Salesperson Skills
- The Sales Associate Skills That Make a Great Representative
11 Top Sales Skills Every Top Performer Should Have | What Makes a Good Salesman or Saleswoman
What Successful Sales Professionals Have in Common
There are 5.7 million sales professionals in North America — and perhaps millions more throughout the world. And yet, only a few can claim to reach stellar performance or results.
What makes a great sale representative reach the heights of Zig Ziglar, Grant Cardone, David Ogilvy, or Dale Carnegie?
What separates the good from the truly great? And what sales techniques help reps get more business, handle objections, and have better overall sales conversations?
We made a sales skills list of the top sales skills from the best sales reps, and you know what? Talking people into buying things wasn’t high on the list.
Why Sales Success Decreases over the Years
Data from the Miller Heiman group shows that only 53% of sales professionals are hitting or exceeding their quota. This percentage has steadily decreased from 63% over the last five years, indicating that something is wrong when it comes to sales performance.
Do sales professionals lose their sales negotiation skills even with constant training, practice, and use? Or do they lose sight of their goals because of the challenges of today’s market?
XANT studies have shown that leadership activities like coaching and mentoring positively impact the growth and retention of top performers, maximizing investment in people and processes.
In B2B organizations, transitioning just 15% of sales reps from lower-performing groups to higher performing quadrants can lead to a significant revenue increase.
So, how do you find the top sales skills that allow some sales representatives to constantly over-achieve and break records — and weed out the behaviors causing others to underperform?
Evaluating a Sales Representative’s Skills and Performance
Evaluating a sales representative’s skills and performance and skills should be an ongoing process. To be able to rate sales professionals on a scale, sales leaders can look at key metrics, such as:
- Closed revenue
- Sales conversations
- Qualified leads
- Number of sales activities
However, the numbers only tell part of the story.
How you get to these numbers is a matter of perseverance, communication skills, and hard work. There’s no silver bullet.
Different Types of Sales Representative Skills
Before anything else, do note that there are different types of sales representative skills. There are hard skills, soft skills, and specialist skills.
Hard Skills are skills you can measure and teach directly to people. For example, reading and writing are hard skills.
On the other hand, Soft Skills aren’t measurable and are often subjective in terms of whether or not you have them. Some examples of soft skills are communication skills, leadership skills, and persuasiveness.
These are the two main categories of skills. However, there is also something called Specialist Skills.
Specialist sales representative skills are simply a set of skills particular to a specialist’s role.
With that said, there are certain Hard and Soft Skills you need to have as a sales associate.
The Sales Associate Skills That Make a Great RepresentativeBeing a great sales associate requires having top sales skills and qualities. Continue to work on them both.
Some sales associate skills and duties can be developed through training and experience, while others can reach their sales goals through existing qualities.
We asked sales managers what top sales skills make a great salesperson, and here’s what we found out. This is our sales skills list:
1. Active Listening Skills
Sales professionals are in a position that requires strong communication skills, and that doesn’t necessarily mean their talking ability. It means hearing out your customers and finding out what’s best for them — not for you, as painful as that may sometimes be.
Whether you’re doing face-to-face selling or cold calling prospects, it’s essential to give your clients ample time to talk. Most of the time, your buyer willingly shares their pain points if you let them.
“Successful salespeople don’t try to convince customers that their product or service is right for them. Instead, they begin by listening and finding out if the potential customer is a good fit before leaping for the sale,” said Joe Zente, CEO of The Alternative Board in Austin.
He added, “This prevents them from coming off as pushy and saves time and money that would otherwise be spent on chasing unlikely leads.”
“Great salespeople need to understand the prospect, their problems, and goals,” added Steve Benson, founder and CEO of Badger Maps. “They communicate solutions that enable them to be more successful,” said Benson.
“The only way to understand your prospect is through listening,” adds Matt L. Schmidt, Sales Director of Diabetes Life Solutions – “however, very few salespeople take the time to listen.”
“If you listen carefully to a client or prospect, they will tell you exactly what they need or want,” said Schmidt.
Building long-term relationships with clients involve having a productive conversation and practicing active listening.
2. Have Resilience and Grit
“Sales suffer from one of the highest attrition rates of all professions, which is why it serves to recruit salespeople who show resilience and grit,” explained Calum Coburn from the Negotiation Experts.
“Sales pros have to deal with rejection a lot. They do not get calls back; they do not receive feedback after investing a great deal of energy and time on a proposal or sales pitch,” said Calum.
He further said, “So when recruiting sales managers and leaders, you would do well to recruit those who have staying power.”
“You can measure grit or fortitude,” added Calum. “As well as looking for grit from previous roles in the form of sticking it out in the face of knockbacks, ask your sales applicant about their hobbies and extra-mural activities.”
“If they stuck with something for two years or more, this shows staying power. One year is the bare minimum,” Calum continued.
Jon Gorman, sales manager at Fundera, added that he looks for salespeople who are hardworking and resilient when hiring. Sales reps who don’t give up even after multiple buyer objections are those who become great sales leaders in the future.
“If you’re behind on your numbers for the month, how will you deal with it? Are you going to call it in, or work harder, double down, and catch up?” said Gorman.
“The right attitude goes a long way in sales, and if you are hardworking and resilient, you will be better at your job,” he added.
3. Show EmpathyGet to know your customers and empathize with them so you can communicate with them better. Soft skills, such as empathy, can also go a long way in helping a salesperson provide better service.
Being empathetic is also one of the most incredible sales representative skills that’ll allow you to tune into customers and anticipate their needs and wants.
When you’re empathetic, you can build better relationships with your prospects by truly understanding what their pains are. Plus, it helps you identify what your clients and prospects need.
Not even the best sales skills and abilities can help you if you can’t provide prospects with solutions.
“Great salespeople are empathic. They need to listen to the prospect and care about their issues,” said Carrie Pobre, trainer at Sandler, a Sales skills training school in Los Angeles.
Pobre further stated, “The key here is listening with an unbiased ear. They are humble — they need to be willing to put the prospect and/or client first before themselves and their company.”
“A great salesperson knows what the customer wants before they even know it, and guides them to the perfect product or service,” adds Eddie Kane, sales manager at Tadi Brothers.
“If the customer has confidence that the salesperson will find the perfect product, it will be a closed deal. The customer will be happy and repeat purchase,” said Kane.
4. Be Prepared
Cold calling isn’t dead — it’s reborn in the digital age with new tools to incorporate into the sales process. Sales reps now spend a few minutes researching each prospect or contact before calling them to ensure they have the right person, so they can personalize the message.
Plus, prior client research helps the sales team prepare for possible objections during the negotiation process. Reps can create a script they can refer to when their clients and prospects become a bit difficult to deal with.
According to Coburn, the best sales pros recognize that every client interaction is a negotiation, so they prepare beforehand.
Some of these ways include:
- Doing a quick SWOT analysis to help them gain valuable insights
- Researching their key accounts and who they’re selling to on a company, industry, and personal level
SWOT Analysis Definition: A process in strategic planning that allows someone to see and analyze the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of an organization or a person.
BONUS TIP: Research Is One of the Most Important Sales Skills; Use It Wisely
Different types of research are needed for different kinds of prospects.
Even if one prospect is in the same organization and the same industry, you shouldn’t consider them as one when researching. You have to pay attention to their pain points and what they expect from their initial conversation with you rather than what you want from them.
When researching a prospect, you have several places to look into. Some of them are:
- Social media pages, like LinkedIn, help you keep track of their recent professional activities as well as their work history.
- Competitor Press Releases: This gives you an idea of who they’re working against.
- Your Prospect’s Company’s Press Releases: This is to give you a summary of significant things that have been going on in the company.
These are only a few of the different places you can look into that’ll help you be prepared for that conversation with your prospect.
5. Self-Motivated and Competitive
According to Pobre, “Great salespeople are self-motivated and competitive. Most often, they put forward sales goals themselves to motivate them, and don’t wait for company direction. They also identify opportunities.”
She also adds, “Great salespeople are competitive. It’s just in their blood.”
“One of the oddest things I’ve found in sales is that a ‘love of people’ is actually not required. Some very successful salespeople actually don’t really like people,” she pointed out.
Adding further: “What they do have is a desire to help others and the sales job skills to help the prospect figure out if their product/service is a fit.”
Being a salesman or saleswoman can be difficult at times, especially when you get rejected frequently. This can be demoralizing to some people.
Thus, having the ability to motivate yourself and learn the art of competitiveness helps develop that much-needed drive. It’s especially important during those days when you’re not motivated.
How to Remain Motivated as a Salesperson
Becoming self-motivated isn’t as easy as it sounds. It can be quite challenging to manage when you’re not used to the multitude of rejections that salesmen and women face regularly.
With that said, here are several ways you to help you become more self-motivated:
a. Always Have a Plan
To keep yourself in line and not feel lost, you should make a plan for yourself. Aside from a primary goal within a year, you should also highlight the steps necessary to reach those goals.
Having a plan and following through with it helps you get less distracted by a few bumps on the road.
b. Connect with Motivating Salespeople
If you surround yourself with high-achieving sales reps, their presence is more likely to motivate you.
You’ve probably heard that quote about being the dumbest person in the room and all that. This doesn’t mean you should refuse to learn — it just means you should be with people that have something to teach you.
c. Disconnect from Your Work Sometimes
Sometimes, you need to take a step back to see the bigger picture clearer. At this point, it might be better for you to step back a little and take a break.
You’ll be surprised just how a short break can help you be better at your job.
6. Establish Trust with the Customer
Prospects think twice about closing a deal with a sleazy salesperson but not with someone they built a trusting relationship with. How can one build trust without sacrificing maximum sales opportunities?
By combining all the sales associate skills of top performers together, a great salesperson can compel a prospect to close a deal.
Bombarding clients with products and services they might not need forces them to become wary of your presence. Instead, be a consultant for your client.
Figuring out what more they need to strengthen their brand is already a skill in itself. Build trust from there.
If you can figure out their organization’s problem, then they’ll trust you to provide a solution to that problem as well. Follow through with quality service or products, and you’ll have a loyal customer who’ll think of you first when another problem arises.
It also helps to establish a trustworthy billing process. This way, they’ll be sure to know all transactions they made with you are legitimate and legal.
7. Ask the Right QuestionsOther top skills sales associates need to develop revolve around giving 100% customer satisfaction to their clients. Time will come when they reject offers despite having an already established relationship.
If a prospect says no, they’re either not ready for your offer or haven’t recognized their issues yet. A good salesperson tries to find another way to turn this around.
Instead of forcing your service on them, ask the right questions. This way, you’ll be able to determine their reason for saying no and probably work around that.
Rejection doesn’t always mean failure. Tenacious people see it as an opportunity to gain more knowledge and craft new strategies to overcome other possible refusals in the future.
This is where your listening skills become useful, but don’t stop there.
How to Know When You’re Asking the Right Questions
To know if you’re asking the right questions, you have to know the two different types of questions in sales: the open-ended questions and closed questions.
If your question aims to continue the conversation in some way, then ask an open-ended question. On the other hand, if you intend to ask a multitude of yes or no questions to narrow down on specific information on your prospect, then closed questions are ideal.
Remember, your questions should follow the conversation and not vice versa. That way, it sounds more natural and less like a one-sided interrogation.
8. Be the Authority
No one builds trust with a person who doesn’t know what he’s selling.
To gain more respect in the sales industry, you need to know your product backward, forward, and sideways. The more knowledgeable you are, the more trustworthy you become to your client.
Gaining their trust and respect can move your entire sales transactions to a more positive side of the scale.
Aside from product knowledge, a top-performing salesperson should also strive to update his/her selling skills.
Whether it’s about delivering excellent customer service, enhancing verbal communication, or developing people skills, you need to continue learning more skills and improving techniques to become an authoritative sales representative.
Society, technology, and industries evolve every minute, and you need to always catch up to these changes.
9. Social Media Skills and Social Selling
Social selling is more important now more than ever. In this technological age, social media is becoming an important tool that reps can utilize.
Social Selling Definition: The use of social media to engage with prospects frequently.
Social selling can be a good tool to find prospects. But, beyond that, socially savvy reps can also use it to understand their prospects more and build better relationships with them.
This doesn’t mean bombarding prospects with messages on their social media.
10. Technological Adaptability
These days, new technology seemingly pops up every day. While adapting to new technologies involves time to overcome a learning curve, the benefits are worth it since they can make a salesperson’s job more manageable.
From using CRMs to sales automation tools, one must be adept at using technology and adaptable to new ones. It’s essential to have the basic tech skills locked down and to possess or develop the ability to adjust to the rapid technological shifts these days.
11. Research Skills
Research is one of the most important, if not the most important, sales representative skills. Without research, you’ll have a hard time going through the entire sales cycle faster and more efficiently.
Research allows you to work with relevant and accurate information about prospects, so you’re coming in as someone who wants to help and not just someone who wants to sell them something. Learning more about the prospect and their needs can also help you tailor your offers to those that can help the prospect.
Bonus Tip: Product KnowledgeAlways know what you’re selling. When you believe in the product you sell, you can convince prospects easier.
Product knowledge is not the most crucial skill for a salesperson to have; however, it is a requirement for closing deals. Whether you are selling products or services, make sure you know the features like the back of your hand.
The best sales leaders specialize in giving industry-related solutions to their prospects. You can’t gain the ability to solve problems if you don’t memorize your products by heart.
Besides, product knowledge should be a fundamental skill all companies and sales associates should know. Without it, your product is in big trouble.
“Before you sell/serve anyone, you must know every detail and history of your products,” said Dave Ramsey, author and sales trainer.
Don’t forget to download, save, or share this handy sales skills list infographic for reference:
Develop a sales strategy maximizing effective sales techniques for your sales team to refer to. If you do so, every sales representative in your company becomes a key player in helping your business reach success.
Which sales skills do sales reps need to work on for long-term success? What are your most effective salesperson skills? What’s at the top of your sales skills list? Let us know in the comments section below:
We hope this guide helps you learn more about the essential sales skills that propel the performance of sales representatives and turn them into top performers.
Which sales skills do sales reps need to work on for long-term success? Let us know in the comments section below.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Dec. 14, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.