The pressure is always on as a sales professional. You need to keep up with constant changes in buyer behavior while connecting with potential customers, nurturing leads, and closing deals—all in hopes of hitting your sales targets. Handling so many tasks at once certainly isn’t easy, but with the right set of sales skills in your arsenal, you can set yourself up for success.
If you want to learn how to be a better sales rep, start by honing the essential selling skills. You’ll be better equipped to build effective sales relationships, close more deals, and become a leader for your team.
We consulted the experts, and they weighed in on the top 19 skills every sales rep should master in 2022. We’ve broken them down into categories based on the three primary types of sales skills.
Process-driven sales and marketing skills:
Prospect-focused sales rep skills:
Soft salesperson skills:
Process-driven sales and marketing skills
Process-driven skills are all about being prepared to succeed during the sales process. Fundamentally, they’re more about doing your homework and working consistently to improve your methods and techniques. As a result, these skills enhance your ability to convert prospects and up your sales stats.
1. Product knowledge
When you have an in-depth understanding of the product you’re trying to sell, you can present an accurate picture of the benefits it provides to prospects. You’re also better able to field customer queries and counter objections during the selling process.
James Lloyd-Townshend, CEO of Frank Recruitment Group, points out that this particular skill helps sales reps “control the conversation” and bring it to a close at the perfect moment.
How to improve: Build your knowledge by following customer feedback closely so you can learn about firsthand experiences with the product. Take advantage of company materials, too, such as product training videos or knowledge base articles.
2. Teaching ability
Teaching is a particularly crucial sales manager skill. In sales management, you must train new agents and coach them to their fullest potential. If you cannot teach, your team won’t be set up for success.
Of course, this skill is also helpful for sales agents. A persuasive salesperson is always angling to educate prospects rather than strong-arm them. Your expertise builds trust with buyers because you’re helping them arrive at the answers they need. Encourage questions and always be prepared to answer fully and accurately.
“If you see your role as teaching someone about a product or service rather than trying to talk them into taking out their wallet and paying for it, you will convert more often,” suggests Gergo Vari, CEO at Lensa.
“If you see your role as teaching someone about a product or service rather than trying to talk them into taking out their wallet and paying for it, you will convert more often,” Gergo Vari, CEO at Lensa
How to improve: When speaking with leads, take note of knowledge gaps around your product and industry. Provide prospects with the information they need to make an educated decision, either by explaining the ideas yourself or sending sales enablement materials.
There isn’t a single “right” way to convert customers, but you should continually refine your techniques.
- Try a consultative sales approach, and ease the pressure by helping customers discover their pain points. Then, emphasize how your product can solve their problems. Arm yourself with information so you can answer their questions and address any concerns.
- Speak with prospects as though you’ve already made the sale. Show them you’re confident that they’ll find the product or service valuable.
- Leverage your brand advocates. These loyal customers are your company’s biggest fans, so they’ll happily rave about your products or services. They can also provide the real-life success stories you need to seal the deal.
How to improve: It’s smart to learn a variety of closing sales techniques so you can turn more nos into yeses. Always remain optimistic, even when a sale falls through. A prospect may not decide to buy now, but they might need your product or service later on. Or, they may be so charmed by your selling methods that they make a referral.
4. Time management
There are many activities in sales—prospecting, follow-up calls, sales conversations, and closing, to name just a few. Time management helps you prioritize the most critical activities and complete them efficiently.
Tyler Pavlas, a senior account executive at Air, recommends performing high-yield tasks at the right time. Avoid getting bogged down in work that keeps you “busy” but not productive. Instead of spending your day chasing unqualified leads, for example, you can devote that time to following up with promising leads or prospecting to keep your funnel full.
How to improve: Time management skills aren’t formed by sheer will alone. Use workflow tools like a sales CRM to automate manual tasks (such as data entry and outreach) to save time.
It’s not a secret: 2020 was the year when a lot changed. With many leads now eager to hop on video calls, sales teams are shifting to virtual selling. And knowing how to use tech is now a must-have sales skill to stay relevant.
How to improve:
Be open to learning how to use new tools to sell better.
Prospecting is a critical skill because it keeps a constant flow of leads moving through your sales pipeline. Even if you’re a great seller, you always need new prospects to ensure you have ample opportunities to close deals.
How to improve: Set aside time on your calendar to find new leads. Familiarize yourself with leads through their social media profiles to turn cold calls into warm calls. You can also ask for referrals from existing customers, making it easier to reach out to qualified prospects.
Prospect-focused sales rep skills
Prospect-focused skills revolve around your clients. These are the skills that you practice in the field and that directly affect your ability to convert prospects and improve your sales percentages.
Good salespeople don’t pressure prospects—they persuade them. Use sales psychology to ensure you’re persuading the customer instead of manipulating them. Ethical selling helps both parties win. You make a sale, and the buyer receives a product or service that solves their pain points.
How to improve: It starts with strong product knowledge. It’s easier to counter objections and sway your prospect when you have all the facts on hand—from there, it’s just negotiation. When talking about your product, explain how certain features translate to direct benefits for the prospective customer, such as saving time or money. Provide prospects with relevant case studies highlighting customers who’ve solved their problems with your product or service.
Walk a mile in each of your buyer’s shoes to understand their needs. If you can see your company and product from their perspective, you’ll be better able to craft a customized sales pitch for them. Remember: customer service is an important part of sales. Stay sympathetic to your prospects, solve their problems, and treat them like you would want to be treated.
How to improve: To improve this sales skill, start by asking questions like, “What are your goals?” or “Why is solving this problem important to you?” to uncover pain points. While your prospect is speaking, take notes so you have ideas for personalizing your pitch later in the sales process.
9. Active listening
A critical part of selling is listening more than you speak. Listening helps you gather valuable information, which in turn helps you sell well.
“You will find that when you listen, people will describe in detail what problem they are looking to solve and how you should frame your pitch,” says Vari.
“You will find that when you listen, people will describe in detail what problem they are looking to solve and how you should frame your pitch.”Gergo Vari
Unfortunately, not all reps have this important salesperson skill. In a RAIN Group study, buyers reported that only 26 percent of salespeople are good at listening.
“You’ll be surprised by the number of salespeople who talk at their customers instead of to them,” says Charlie Wright, director of operations at Epos Now.
How to improve: Improve your listening skills by not interrupting the buyer while they’re speaking. Instead, make a mental note (or a physical one) of what you want to say, and then speak after they’re finished. Ask open-ended questions, and pay careful attention to the customer’s replies to pick up helpful details. Paraphrasing what the prospect just said can further ensure understanding and show them you’re listening.
10. Relationship building
Lloyd-Townshend points out that relationship building sets you apart from your competitors. When you invest in building relationships, your customers will see you as a partner helping them reach their business goals rather than a seller desperate to make a buck. While it takes a lot of effort to form sales relationships, your hard work will pay off in the long run.
How to improve: Interact with prospects on social channels such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Leave comments on their posts and share them with your network. Ask about their interests outside of work and get to know them on a deeper level. When building rapport, it’s also important to admit mistakes and maintain a sense of humor.
11. Conflict management
Conflict is built into the sales industry. Even small conflicts (or objections) by a prospect can throw a seller who isn’t used to dealing with rejection. High-performing salespeople must be ready to calmly accept aggression or resistance and then turn that negative energy around. The perfect prospect is rare, but a great sales rep can transform nearly any prospect into a customer.
How to improve: Try using sales scripts for tense situations during role-play practice with your sales team. Some conflicts are harder than others, but getting a handle on the basics can go a long way toward becoming comfortable with discomfort.
12. Social selling
While you shouldn’t rely solely on social media to interact with your prospects, engaging on different platforms significantly improves your selling odds. Smart engagement and social selling can also seriously increase your lead generation and your conversion rate.
By commenting, liking, and sharing customer posts, you’ll build rapport with your target audience. But B2B organizations especially need to be well-versed in the appropriate company conduct across various sites.
How to improve: Look at how your competition engages on social media. What platforms are they on? What tone of voice do they use? Do they respond regularly to customer comments? Matching the style of your current competitors is likely to attract similar customers to your social media channels.
Soft salesperson skills
Soft skills can be tricky to hone. Some salespeople naturally have these skills; some need to work to develop them. Here are the most important soft skills you should be working on as a sales rep.
Curiosity is tied to active listening. Pavlas explains, “The fastest way to drill down into a prospect’s pain points is with genuine curiosity.” If you’re authentically eager to understand prospects, they can sense it. Curiosity shows leads that you’re interested in solving their problems—not just making a sale. Plus, when you get to know prospects, you can better serve their needs.
While speaking with prospective buyers, express your curiosity by asking important questions like:
- What are the challenges your company or team is facing?
- What are your top priorities right now?
- Are you having problems with [insert pain points]?
How to improve: Don’t stop there. Matt Sunshine, a managing partner at The Center for Sales Strategy, suggests using the phrase “tell me more” to keep prospects chatting. Not only do people enjoy talking about themselves and their problems, but you’ll also have more opportunities to understand their perspectives and needs.
Transparency isn’t always easy, but it’s critical for building trust.
“Being comfortable telling someone you’ll get back to them is difficult in the short-term, but in the long-term, it builds trust and yields far greater results than you gambling on something you’re unable to deliver further down the line,” says Lloyd-Townshend.
No matter how tempting, you should always present all the facts the prospect needs to know. Cherry-picking or withholding certain details will only hurt you in the long run. If your product or service isn’t a good fit for the customer, don’t be afraid to recommend other options that may serve them better.
You should always present all the facts the prospect needs to know.
How to improve: Fudging facts may seal the deal, but in the end, it’s never worth it. The customer support team will likely have to put out fires, and the customer might end up leaving dissatisfied. Play it safe by always being honest with your leads.
15. Effective communication
Closing deals is next to impossible without clear communication. Lloyd-Townshend believes a misunderstanding between a prospect and a sales rep is “probably the most difficult stage to come back from.” Take your time when communicating with prospects, and tailor your language carefully.
How to improve:
Communicate clearly with potential customers by:
- Avoiding jargon and using simple words (preferably terms that customers use)
- Paying close attention to your buyers to ensure they’re engaged in the conversation
- Maintaining eye contact and using hand gestures to keep the conversation lively
- Summarizing feedback to make sure you understand what the customer is saying.
16. Storytelling ability
Salespeople who are great storytellers can make even the driest pitch relatable and exciting. Why? Because stories are often easy to remember and spark emotional responses. Combining stories with a perfect sales presentation will take any pitch up a notch.
Keep prospective buyers engaged by telling a story that’s relevant to their situation. For instance, if you’re a B2B sales rep, talk about a client company that’s in the same vertical as your prospect and describe how your product or service helped that company succeed. You can also use testimonials and reviews as “stories” that appeal to a prospect to spark curiosity.
How to improve: No matter where you draw inspiration from, your stories should be succinct and easy to understand. You risk losing your audience if your analogies are too long-winded or complicated. Write your story as simply as possible and then add fun, flashy details.
17. Public speaking
Speaking in front of a crowd comes naturally to some. For others, the thought of speaking to many people at the same time makes them break into a cold sweat. Whatever your facility with public speaking, it’s an essential skill for salespeople. A dynamic, engaging speaker can make a lackluster product shine. But nervous or awkward presentation skills may destroy a prospect’s interest in your solution.
How to improve: Begin with the basics.
- Ensure you’re projecting your voice and speaking clearly.
- Start with a compelling hook to reel in the audience, especially when speaking to key decision-makers.
- Avoid looking away from your audience and staring down at your notes—you want to convey confidence and enthusiasm.
- If you use slides, review them multiple times, and do a run-through with the presentation software to avoid technical problems.
- Keep learning. Ask for feedback from your peers and take note of areas for improvement before your next presentation.
No salesperson becomes a success overnight. Even if you’re working with a top company, your road to sales stardom will have a few bumps along the way. Ambition and determination are crucial to any person looking to make sales their lifelong career. A successful rep knows how to resist getting weighed down by rejection, how to work under pressure, and how to self-motivate beyond their quota.
How to improve: Ambition is hard to improve—for the most part, you’re either passionate about something or you aren’t. That said, you can find specific things about sales that motivate you and light your fire. Try reframing daily tasks as stepping stones toward long-term goals. Are you looking to make a certain amount of money? Striving for a promotion? Looking to start your own company? Be ambitious about your dream, and the steps to get there will be exciting.
The sales industry is constantly changing. From market prices to sales styles to engagement channels, there’s always something new for a salesperson to learn. The best salespeople know that there’s no such thing as a perfect strategy. Every prospect is an individual to be understood, and every quarter brings new challenges with new trends.
How to improve: Challenge yourself to switch up your tactics and try new avenues. Most importantly, go where you’re uncomfortable. If you thrive on social media sales but freeze when it comes to cold calls, take time to practice cold calling. Ideally, you can get to a point where trying new things is just part of the job and not an unmountable hurdle.
Practice makes perfect
You can master these essential sales skills by practicing them consistently. Be intentional about applying each of these tips when guiding a buyer through the sales process. To help you improve your selling skills faster, read sales books, speak to a more experienced salesperson, or attend sales training sessions.
And remember: no great salesperson was perfect at their job from the start. Instead, they honed their skills as they practiced their craft one day at a time.