24 Sales Skills Every Sales Pro Should Be Improving
If you want to become a top inside sales rep at your company (and you’re reading this, so you probably do), then you have some work ahead of you. First on the agenda: build and sharpen certain critical sales skills.
Many of these key sales skills can be learned and cultivated quickly through self-education and a relentless dedication to improving yourself on the job. With each skill you master, from sales calls to emails to applying just the right amount of pressure during the close, you approach your destiny: best salesperson ever (confetti included).
However, some of the sales skills we’ll discuss today are best learned (and retained) by seeking regular mentorship from the right sales managers and fellow reps who’ve been around the metaphorical block a few times more than you.
So without further ado, let’s discuss which skills will kick your career into gear!
8 Soft Skills That Will Maximize Your Efforts and Help You Close Deals
Soft skills are the abilities and characteristics you need to work effectively and deal well with the people around you. Here are eight of those skills you'll need to develop to close more deals.
The most important sales skill to master is becoming a great problem-solver—one who can navigate the ever-changing selection of tools, tactics, techniques, and new relationships you’ll experience as an inside sales rep. This is why developing a repeatable process to solve new problems and work through challenges in foreign environments pays off.
There are four basic steps to solving any problem: 1. Define the problem, 2. Use brainstorming activities to generate alternatives, 3. Evaluate and select the best alternative, and 4. Implement your solution.
Training yourself to become an effective problem-solver will take time, repetition, and a willingness to proactively challenge yourself in vulnerable situations. Seek out new responsibilities, push yourself, and don’t be afraid to take on a side project or two if there aren’t enough growth opportunities in the office.
2. Relationship Building
There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about relationship selling as the “way of the future” in sales. Putting all jargon aside, building relationships with your prospects and customers is one of the most critical skills for any sales representative.
Put simply, relationship building is your ability to effectively engage with other people and work to establish a level of connection. You want it to last beyond just a quick transaction and instead span the course of months and years to come.
These relationships—when they’re built on the foundation of providing genuine value without the expectation of immediate reciprocation—often lead to exciting opportunities. These may include getting referrals to friends and colleagues, or being the first call when your prospect takes a job at a new company that needs your solution.
3. Time Management
Studies consistently report that time is the most valuable resource to small business owners. As such, time management is essential not only to your own success, but to your prospect’s success as well.
At the end of the day, your effectiveness as a salesperson is measured by your level of sales productivity: the amount of revenue you’re able to generate in a given period. Beneficial time management systems help you focus solely on one mission-critical task at a time.
- Making sales calls or prospecting for new leads at least an hour or two at a stretch
- Isolating activities so they don’t interfere with one another
- Scheduling your day thoughtfully so each activity makes sense for that time of day
Don’t forget that your prospect’s time is equally important. Tailor your conversation to strike a balance between showing genuine interest and giving the clear impression that you’ll take as little of their time as possible.
4. Team Collaboration
Like it or not, as an inside sales rep, you’re not a lone wolf. Your success depends partially on how well the other people at your company perform their jobs. This makes becoming a great team player an important skill to master early on in your career.
Ultimately, this skill determines how productively you can work with your manager and fellow teammates to align your personal goals, quotas, tools, workflows, and schedule with their goals, quotas, and so on.
Embracing team collaboration means being willing to work on unappealing tasks, picking up the slack for teammates when they need it, and owning projects when no one else will.
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5. Customer Service
Too many businesses forget that the sales cycle does not stop once the prospect has made a purchase and become a customer. It is the post-purchase period when customers can impact your business the most—either positively or negatively.
This is where customer service comes in. It’s important that everyone gets the help and attention they deserve—whether they’re a lowly lead, a qualified prospect, or a dedicated customer. The best way to make sure your entire audience is taken care of is to:
- Run a dedicated help desk that offers contact through phone, email, and chat
- Be available for customer service during normal business hours, bonus points if it’s offered 24/7
- Give your service department thorough documentation on the use and troubleshooting of all products and services
- Maintain good training procedures for your service reps
… and otherwise set your company up for success through customer satisfaction. One of the best ways to do that is through a CRM that not only provides sales and marketing tools, but service tools as well.
6. Understanding Customers’ Needs
Customers need to feel heard before they’re ever going to give you a chance.
Why? They already know what you want: the sale. We all intuitively understand that when someone is trying to get us to buy their product or service, we are a name on the list. A cell in the spreadsheet. A future feather in their cap.
But that’s not how we want to feel. We want to feel like people who have problems that can be solved. And if you’re the salesperson who understands my needs and can solve my problem, then I will want you.
Therefore, one of your first jobs is to make sure that you intimately understand customer needs. You can start with a well-rounded buyer persona to inform your lead generation. Once you’ve got leads and prospects in the pipeline, though, it’s time to circle back to Skill #13 and start listening.
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7. Emotional Intelligence
Another highly critical sales skill is emotional intelligence, sometimes referred to simply as EQ. In sales, your EQ is just as important as your IQ—and maybe more so.
Everyone has experienced a sales pitch where the pitcher clearly didn’t have much emotional intelligence. Concerns went unaddressed, and pain points were met with robot-like responses rather than compassionate listening. Humans get that enough from their bosses; they don’t need it from a salesperson who claims to have a solution.
Along with listening, you must hone those emotional skills. To do so, practice tapping into your own feelings rather than ignoring or shoving them aside (easy, right?). Watch for cues in other people as to how you make them feel with words or actions.
More directly, analyze your calls, demos, and other interactions to discover the emotional tenor of the conversation. Was there discord? Fear or anxiety to move to a new product? Frustration? Stalled negotiations? Look for areas to do better simply by showing more concern.
8. Business Acumen
If business acumen seems like a bit of a gimme for essential sales skills, that’s because it is. Having it makes all the difference. Not having it makes all the difference … but not in a good way.
We’re not talking about acumen related to your own business. You are already expected to understand your products, services, and your organization's needs.
Rather, we’re talking about acumen related to your prospects’ organizations, their needs, and the like. What challenges are they facing in the modern market? Which changes over the last decade have impacted their process? How do they do business themselves?
If you’re not yet adept with this, it’s time to take some training courses to get you there.
5 Communication Skills That Affect Sales Performance
At the top of the list of can’t-live-without sales skills, effective communication skills are key. Key. this lays the foundation for customer expectations and builds trust, contributing significantly to sales performance management.
The following skills are applicable to emailing, social media, and every other daily sales practice you’ll encounter as a top-shelf rep.
9. Using a Sales Script Effectively
Let’s take cold calling as an example, because this is where listening skills really come into play. What happens when you dial a prospect and they pick up the phone? Well, you better have a plan and a sales script to follow. And you better really know your script, or you’ll come off sounding more like a droid than a human.
In this situation, your soft sales skills will include:
- Developing a powerful sales calling script and knowing it inside and out
- Crafting compelling answers to the most common sales objections
- Setting activity goals, such as the number of phone calls to make each day
- Learning to embrace rejection
10. Storytelling Ability
Just about every great salesperson is adept at wrapping their pitch inside a compelling story, one that does more than just communicate the reasons a prospect should buy.
Storytelling uses entertaining illustrations to help prospects see how a product or service could impact their own unique situation. It also builds strong connections that transcend the often transactional nature of a sales conversation.
Why are stories so convincing? Because we remember them, which means your prospect is more likely to think of you at opportune moments. It’s not mind control, it's science.
Sharpen your sales skills by becoming a better storyteller, and you’ll also be on your way to building a great personal brand.
11. Active Listening
Salespeople often focus too much on talking. Explaining the product, talking through its features, responding to objections, selling. Always be closing! Always!
The thing is, what the prospect is saying matters just as much as what you’re saying—and oftentimes, more. It’s in their words that you discover their pain points, their budget, their objections. You also learn if they’re actually the decision-maker with the authority to close this deal.
So, hone your active listening skills with tips like:
- Count to two after they’ve finished speaking to make sure you’ve heard them out
- Respond directly to objections with well-practiced comebacks
- Create a safe space for prospects to not be ready yet; respect when they say they need more time to think
Some sales professionals worry that if they let potential customers air their concerns or ask for more time, the sale will fall through. But sales is not an instantaneous proposition: That’s why you’ve got a cycle and a pipeline. It’s only through active listening that you can learn how to provide the solution your prospect really needs.
12. Public Speaking
To be a good salesperson, you must have the ability to speak comfortably with your leads and prospects via any medium: phone, email, text, video chat, or in person. In some cases, this is a one-on-one situation. In others, it’s not.
While many sales reps are great at outreach to a single person, they balk when asked to speak to a group or entire boardroom. But if you want to get the big sales, these are skills you can’t ignore.
If you’re uncomfortable with public speaking … well, too bad. It’s time to get better at it. There are a number of ways you can do this, such as:
- Take a class like Toastmasters, focused solely on public speaking
- Ask for leadership roles at your company, such as heading up teams or going on larger sales calls
- Practice your pitch at home in front of family and your dog
- Ask friends or associates to listen to you, first individually and then as a group
Public speaking is like a muscle. It might be cold and stiff at first, but with enough movement and effort it will warm right up—and you with it.
13. Using Customer Pain Points
Customer pain points can be either the grease that keeps the gears moving or the stumbling block that loses you the sale. It all depends on how well you use them.
For instance, one of the best sales techniques ever is to let the prospect do the talking. As they bring up objections, let them answer them on their own. As they share their worries, let them guide themselves toward your solution.
When necessary, you can nudge them along by addressing concerns and putting pressure on those pain points, making sure they still feel the need for a solution. Do that and you’ll make the sale.
Fail to center the pain points and attend to each one, and you risk losing the deal. Always keep your focus on that pain and the balm you’re peddling to address it.
14. Negotiation Skills
In addition to naming and addressing pain points, successful sales require a great deal of negotiation.
Even if you’ve got a customer on the hook and ready to say yes, you still might not meet their budgetary criteria. Or you might lack a tool in your service suite that they currently consider to be a dealbreaker.
Whatever the case, you’ll need to field their issues calmly and competently. Basically, a sales call is one endless negotiation where you never want the prospect to feel like they’re negotiating. In their mind, the process should feel like a smooth road to the solution they need.
This is easier said than done, which is where sales coaching comes in. If you’ve not yet taken the time to hone your negotiation skills, it’s time.
11 Hard Sales Skills the Most Successful Salespeople Need
Hard skills are the specific skills you learn to effectively use the sales tools in your tech stack and implement the strategies in your sales process.
While good communication is essential, these hard skills can be the basis for becoming a more successful salesperson and boosting your productivity.
Ideally, you work for an organization that helps you with prospecting. This depends on the types of sales at your company, your CRM, your social presence, and so forth. In general, though, there should be a prospecting process already in place.
Awesome sales leaders, however, will help deepen the effectiveness of those prospecting systems and learn them inside-out. If you’re not yet a good prospector, start today.
This looks like:
- Building a personal brand online and over social channels to attract new leads and prospects (and lend credibility when your cold leads look you up)
- Leveling up your own skills with qualifying leads and prospects
- Looking for new leads in unexpected places and bringing them to the company
- Personalizing your emails, subject lines, greetings, and email tokens
- Becoming an expert in your subject matter, products, and services
- Asking boldly for sales and referrals
Each of the above steps take time and intention, but that’s okay. If you can nail this checklist, you’ll find that your new prospecting skills are worth more than the sum of their parts.
You can then join the elevated ranks of salespeople who rarely prospect anymore because their personal sales engine has become just. that. good.
16. Lead Qualification
Quickly qualifying leads (and disqualifying them) is a highly underrated sales skill.
Your ability to make speedy and reliable decisions about how likely a prospect is to become a customer—based on key data points about their business, insights drawn from your conversations, and how they fit as a decision-maker within their organization—will dictate your close rate (and how much time you spend chasing bad-fit customers).
Lead qualification is all about asking the right questions. Here are the four main ones:
- How well does the prospect match your ideal customer profile?
- What are the needs of the individual, the team, and the company you are selling to?
- How do both the individual and the company make decisions?
- Who are you competing against for the sale and what other companies have they worked with before?
If you can find the answers to all of these questions and draw relevant conclusions, you'll have a really clear idea of whether or not this is a viable prospect.
And the faster you do it, the faster you can move people through your pipeline so that it never dries up.
Seeking to differentiate between MQL and SQL? Our comprehensive guide to MQL vs. SQL awaits.
17. Offering Adaptable Demos
Structuring compelling demos and sales presentations is something you'll get better at with experience, making it a skill you’ll build quickly.
Plus, the more often you give demos, the stronger your instincts will be and the better you’ll be able to adapt presentations on the fly.
Here are our tried and true basics for delivering strong demos:
- Start with macro ideas, then give micro examples
- Begin your demo with a bang, something sensational that’ll capture the audience's attention
- Speak your prospect’s language. Subtly mirror their favorite phrases in your own speech
- End your product demo with a strong close
- Get to the bottom of their objections, work to alleviate those concerns, and keep pushing for a definitive yes or no
18. Using Your CRM Effectively
A CRM (customer relationship management tool) like Close will quickly become your most powerful sales tool, if you let it.
It can (and should) deliver automated email workflows to new leads as they enter your funnel rather than requiring you to write each of them yourself, which alone can save you hours every week. Plus, features like built-in (one-click) calling help you maintain your time cushion and reduce resource waste.
We built Close with the singular goal of helping every sales team become drastically more productive. Here are just a few of our core CRM features that are built to maximize sales productivity:
- Smart Views and Dynamic Lead Lists
- Bulk Email, Automated Sequences, and Shared Templates
- Built-In Calling
- Predictive Dialing
While it’s a natural advantage for you to be using the best type of CRM for your small business or startup, it also pays to be adaptable. That way, you can learn to leverage new tools and technologies as they emerge on the scene.
19. Performing Cold Outreach That Slaps
Success as a sales rep depends on using the right sales techniques, in the right combination, in the right order, at the right time. These include:
- Cold calls: When a lead has never heard from you before, you’ve got a tough hill to climb. However, studies are clear that cold calls are still effective. You don’t reach the top of the mountain by waiting around for it to get easier. Stop stalling, start calling.
- Warm calls: When prospects have already reached out to your company at some point, they’re considered a warm lead. When you call them, you can have more confidence in their interest, but you still need a great sales script.
- Emails: Email outreach and follow-ups are a constant process, but it's not the same as bulk-emaililng 10k leads and hoping for the best. Crafting an email that is relevant and attention-grabbing to your audience is a skill that takes time and practice to learn.
Test your messaging to see what works, and keep optimizing for more conversions.
20. Product Knowledge
There’s nothing worse than being on a demo with a potentially lucrative prospect and running into a feature that doesn’t perform as expected.
Face meets palm as you scramble to move forward or side-step the awkward situation.
While these moments are inevitable in the early days after joining a new company while you’re working through the sales training process, mistakes like these lose sales. And soon become inexcusable.
That’s why it’s so important to have an intimate knowledge of the features, benefits, and weaknesses of your product. This helps you formulate your product pitch to showcase how it fits the customer and solves their issues.
21. Following Up
That said, the follow up is more art than science. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.
So, how often should you follow up?
If you reach out completely cold and have never interacted with the recipient, follow up a maximum of six times. However, if you’ve already had some sort of interaction with the prospect, and that interaction didn’t include a clear no to your offer, then it’s your responsibility to follow up for as long as it takes to get an answer.
Luckily, features like follow-up reminders and email workflows allow you to relax about the timing and trust your CRM.
22. Ability to Close Deals
Closing a sale is the culmination of all your sales skills working together. Beautiful, beautiful harmony.
However, you still need to ask for that sale. On the surface, it sounds obvious. But even pro sales reps often wait too long. Because of it, they miss out on opportunities.
So, when is the right time to ask for the sale? Answer: Before you think they’re ready.
If you’ve done a good job of qualifying your prospect, delivering the pitch, and answering their objections, and you still believe they’d be a good-fit customer, ask for the sale.
Expect an initial no (or at least some apprehension) from most prospects. Then follow up with the question, “What’s the process we’d need to work through to get you ready to buy?”
This gives your prospect some room to breathe, allowing them to feel safe moving forward or at least continuing to think through the purchase decision.
23. Social Selling
At every stage of the sales cycle, you need to be selling. This doesn’t change based on communication type: You sell on the phone, on video calls, and in person. So why wouldn’t you do the same on social media?
Most sales reps today understand that social media is an important aspect of any sales strategy, but they’re not quite clear on the selling part of social selling. Sure, social media is a great place to build relationships, but how do you actually land prospects?
Good question. While you might not do a true sales pitch over Twitter, it’s still a viable sales medium.
“In a nutshell, social selling is a strategic method for sellers to connect and build relationships with prospects through social networks,” says LinkedIn. “Social selling and virtual selling allow salespeople to build trusted relationships, boost social credibility, and ultimately reach their sales goals.”
In other words, use social media to bring your audience to you. Give them the content they want and prove that you know how to solve their problems. Once you form a connection, you can get the contact information needed to move the process forward.
24. Using Automation and AI
Want to maximize the time you spend selling? Want to follow up with people on a regular basis, without having to think about it? What about being able to keep all customer information and touch points in your CRM without actually typing anything up?
All of this (and more) can be achieved with automation and AI tools. Of course, these tools have their pros and cons, but learning how to use automation and AI in the sales process can make a huge difference in your productivity.
25. Data Analysis
Numbers, numbers, numbers.
A salesperson works with enough numbers on any given day to choke a horse … and now we’re asking you to keep track of more numbers?
Well, yeah. Data analysis is the thing these days. Good metrics can keep you from waffling about which leads to qualify first, which prospect to pursue next, which sales scripts to keep, and which email subject lines to marry and buy a burial plot for because they’re just that good.
Look, you might have intuition, and that’s great. Quite powerful, actually. But if you can get information for free, why wouldn’t you?
That’s what data is: Free information about what’s working in your sales process and what isn’t. If you don’t yet have a CRM that helps you gather and analyze metrics, get one.
Prepare to Launch Your Sales Career
The above sales skills are undeniably key to your success as a salesperson.
It’s important to continue learning, refining, and improving your professional abilities to excel in your sales career. Practice good daily habits like following the sales industry on social media and LinkedIn, reading sales books to learn new skills, and stay focused on the customer experience. Each additional skill that you hone propels you toward that star-seller status.
Of course, you can get these skills in a number of ways like mentorship, training, and continuing education. Regardless of what you do and how you do it, you absolutely need to use a cutting-edge CRM to help you track clients, familiarize yourself with scripts, and tidy up your organization. This is a can’t-miss strategy to becoming a better salesperson.
Good news: Close is here to help. Our industry-leading tools will help you reach your goals quicker than ever before, so make sure to give our free 14-day trial a whirl today.
Want to master today's most important sales skills?