14 Essential Skills for Sales Associates
Great salespeople aren't born—they're made.
Sure, some people take to this profession like fish to water, charming prospects and closing deals with ease. But the rest of us? We have to grind to develop our sales associate skills.
The question is, which skills should we focus on? According to Statista, most salespeople believe that "influencing and negotiating," "having difficult conversations," and "design thinking" are the most important skills a sales rep can have. It's not a bad list.
To be honest, though, it's incomplete. You need to expand your abilities in a myriad of areas to achieve success in sales. Lucky for you, that's exactly what this article is about.
Keep reading to learn what sales associates actually do, why you need to develop specific skill sets, and the 14 skills you need to thrive as a sales professional in 2023. Let's do this!
What Does a Sales Associate Do?
Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start—shout out Julie Andrews.
What do sales associates actually do all day? If you're new to the industry, you might think the answer is something like, "go golfing with billionaire prospects" or "scam little old ladies out of their social security checks." Neither is accurate—at least, not for your average seller.
These days, most salespeople spend their time talking to potential customers, assessing their needs, presenting products and/or services, negotiating prices, and closing deals. Most also follow up with current customers to make sure they're happy with their purchases.
In other words, the average sales rep sells stuff. Shocking, I know. But with so many stereotypes surrounding the profession, I wanted to clear the air.
Salespeople aren't monsters. They're regular people who implement their department's sales strategies in order to drive revenue for their companies. It's really that simple.
Why Are Sales Associate Skills Important?
You won't succeed in anything if you don't have the right skills. Case in point:
John, Paul, George, and Ringo had to learn how to play their instruments before they formed the Beatles and set the music industry on fire. Michael Jordan had to learn to shoot a basketball before winning six NBA titles and claiming GOAT status. And you, my friend, have to develop sales associate skills to close deals and drive revenue for your company.
Fortunately, it's not just possible to enhance your sales abilities; it's probable. Studies show that sales training can boost an individual sales rep's performance by 20 percent. If you're willing to put in the work, you can master the art and science of selling.
You just need to make sure you master the right skills, i.e., the abilities that will help you connect with prospects, convert them to customers, and keep them loyal for years to come.
In the next section, I'll share with you the 14 most important sales associate skills in 2023.
14 Essential Skills for Sales Associates
As we discussed above, you'll need to develop a few skills to succeed as a sales associate.
Don't worry, you don't have to master all of the 14 top skills below. But if you can at least become proficient at most of them, you'll likely close more deals than you ever have before.
1. Communication Skills
You can't thrive in your sales associate position without communication skills.
This soft skill is essential to your success. As such, it can always be improved upon—even if you already have a ton of sales experience. You can't let this ability get rusty on you.
Once you learn how to carry a conversation in any direction you want, you'll connect with more buyers and deliver better customer experiences that lead to more sales.
On a related note, make sure you maintain a positive attitude whenever you're in a retail environment, on the sales floor at your company's HQ, or wherever you sell from. You represent your organization. If you leave a poor first impression, it could damage your brand.
One more thing: the ability to communicate synchronously and asynchronously will benefit you greatly as an inside sales associate. Make sure you can connect with potential and existing buyers in real time and via communication channels such as email, SMS, or social media.
2. Customer Service Skills
A good sales associate should have a knack for customer service, too.
To develop this skill set, you need to understand your company's unique brand, learn every detail about your company's products, and acquire empathy for your target audience. This will enable you to offer customized advice related to the customer needs you encounter.
It’s also important to treat unhappy customers with kindness and professionalism. Conflict resolution is a must-have ability for anyone who works in a fast-paced environment like sales. Enraged people can show up at any time. A rep with expert customer service skills will be able to diffuse these kinds of situations without harming their company's branding.
3. Sales and Marketing Skills
It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway:
Good sales associates need top-of-the-line marketing and sales skills. Once you have them, you can actively sell to prospects, not just help them find what they're already looking for.
These kinds of skills include:
- Product demonstrations
- Lead generation and qualification
- Following up
- Social media selling
Just make sure you don't become one of those pushy salesman types that hover around customers, annoying them until they buy, destroying the customer experience.
It can be difficult to find a balance between available and overbearing. But you must find it to build quality relationships with customers. This is especially true when cold calling because selling via phone is often more challenging than selling in face-to-face scenarios.
(Note: To increase your success with cold calls, use proven cold calling templates.)
4. Multitasking Skills
It's easy to focus on the hard skills required of sales reps: obtaining product knowledge, memorizing sales processes, learning to work CRM software, etc.
But soft skills are just as important to your success in this field. And one of the more important soft skills is multitasking, which can supercharge your sales efforts. When you can handle multiple tasks simultaneously and perform each proficiently, you'll make more sales.
Retail sellers, for example, may have to manage the front desk, process returns, check stock levels, handle merchandising, and answer customer questions—all in the same day. On the other hand, inside sellers may have to cold call prospects, follow up with quality leads, check in on current customers, and study product updates—also all in the same day.
The best sales associates are able to handle a variety of tasks at the same time without sacrificing quality. Fortunately, work experience can help build multitasking skills.
5. Leadership Skills
That doesn't mean you have to become a bully and scream at your coworkers. Nobody wants to work with those kinds of people. But it does mean that you should be able to make level-headed decisions, relay orders, and command the respect of your colleagues.
This last one is tricky. One of the best ways to do it is to simply go above and beyond your job description. People will notice. And it will inspire them to go above and beyond, too. When that happens, you'll naturally assume a leadership role in your sales organization.
6. Product Knowledge
As we've been talking about, sales associates need a lot of skills…
Communication, customer service, and even basic math skills can be handy. But none of these things matter if you don't have product knowledge. Ideally, you'll believe in the products/services you sell, too, as this will keep you motivated to do your work.
When customers feel like they know more about the product/service they're trying to buy than the sales associate selling it, said sales associate will automatically lose the customer's respect. Why? It's super unprofessional. As such, it will likely damage the brand's reputation.
To meet their sales goals, sales associates need to stay on top of new products, updates, etc.
7. Software Skills
The business world has gone digital, and knowing how to use relevant tools is essential.
Now, the kind of tools you use will depend on the kind of selling you do. If you recently scored a retail sales associate job, for example, you'll need to learn how to operate and use a modern point of sale (POS) system to streamline the checkout process, manage orders, customer, and inventory data, etc.
If you recently joined an inside sales team, you'll need to learn how to navigate and use your company's customer relationship management (CRM) software productively. It wouldn't hurt to know how to use a tool like LinkedIn Sales Navigator, either.
8. Creative Problem Solving & Decision Making
Every salesperson faces obstacles. That’s why it’s important to know how to solve problems effectively and make good decisions, often within limited time frames.
Imagine this: a customer comes to you with an issue or complaint, and they're raging mad. As your company's first point of contact, it's your job to handle the situation in a way that boosts customer satisfaction and gives them confidence in your company as a whole. But how?
There are plenty of ways. You could, for example, give this customer a discount on their next purchase. Or offer them a freebie to resolve their current issue in a peaceful manner. Or simply give them their money back, no questions asked. Deciding the appropriate course of action in these kinds of situations is a must-have ability for any sales associate.
9. Organizational Skills
Simple organizational skills, including proper time management, are just as important as interpersonal skills. Without them, you won't be as productive as you could be. You'll probably miss important meetings, forget to follow up with important prospects, and neglect to update your CRM software with important information.
It can be challenging to stay organized as a sales associate. Here's my advice: experiment until you find a system that works for you. Maybe you use some kind of to-do list app. Or an hours tracking app. Or invest in a CRM like Close that will automatically log data for you, and gives you clear inbox view to see all the communication you need to catch up on
At the end of the day, organization and time management skills will help you perform better and drive more revenue for your company, without suffering from burnout.
10. Active Listening
Here's a tip for you: greeting customers the right way will help you connect with buyers.
It doesn't matter if you work at a physical retail location or sell via the phone, if your customers feel like you listen to their needs and genuinely care about their success, you'll earn their respect—and probably their business. Unfortunately, most salespeople don't do this.
Active listening is one of the most important sales associate skills. Once you master it, you'll understand your customers on a much deeper level, create a sincere sense of trust between you and them, and have the chance to guide them through their buying journey quickly.
11. Teamwork Skills
Sales is a team sport. The ability to work with other team members in a way that elevates everyone's performance is another important sales skill. But how do you do it?
It helps if you know and trust the people you're working with before you actually work with them. That's why team-building events can be so effective for sales teams.
I also suggest using collaboration apps so that you get used to communicating with your teammates—even if you rarely work on the same projects at the same time.
If you're used to lone-wolfing your sales career, you'll be surprised how much easier it is to reach your sales targets when you have a team of people backing you up. Give it a try!
Photo credit: Bit.ai
12. Adaptability Skills
The sales industry is often unpredictable. A sales strategy that works one day could fail the next. The ability to quickly adapt to any scenario is a highly-desired sales associate skill.
To help with this, do your best to keep an open mind. That way, out-of-the-box solutions can be tested, rather than immediately written off. You never really know what will work and what won't. But if you remain flexible, you'll be able to adapt to whatever happens.
13. Persuasive Skills
Top-level persuasive skills can turn mediocre sales associates into company heroes.
Just don't misunderstand me. To be persuasive, you don't have to whip out your snake oil salesman persona. (Seriously, leave that guy alone. Nobody likes him.)
You simply have to understand your customer's pain points and present your company's products and/or services as a viable solution. That's all there is to it.
Here's the best part: persuasiveness is a learnable skill. You may not be able to sell snow to an Eskimo right now, but with practice, the whole tundra will want to buy your ice chips.
14. Empathy Skills
Last but not least, work to become more empathetic.
The higher your EQ is, the easier it will be for you to connect with prospects, build meaningful relationships with them, and close deals at a consistent, quota-crushing rate.
How do you level up your EQ? Start by getting to know your customers. Who are they? What motivates them? What challenges do they face on a daily basis? When you know the answers to these questions, you'll be able to empathize with the people you serve more effectively.
Next, learn to listen actively, as we talked about above. This will help you diagnose customer problems quickly, which will help you earn respect and make more sales. Win!
Evaluate and Constantly Improve Your Sales Associate Skills
Sales associates have a tough job. To succeed in this profession, you need to work hard, develop a thick skin, and continually evolve to meet current industry trends.
The sales associate skills above will make it much easier to do these things. Once you add them to your selling arsenal (and your sales associate resume, if you're still looking for the perfect sales job!), you'll close more deals, drive more revenue, and earn fatter commission checks—which, let's be honest, is why we got into this game in the first place.
Just remember, "skilling up" isn't a one-time thing. You should always look for new ways to improve your abilities. That way, you never fall behind the competition.
Want to develop new sales associate skills right now? Download our Sales Success Kit. It's totally free and will help you crush your quotas.