12 inside sales skills you need to master to be a top-performing rep
If you’ve got ambitions of becoming a top inside sales rep at your company, you’re going to have to build and sharpen these critical sales skills first.
Many of these sales skills can be relatively quickly learned and cultivated through self-education and a relentless dedication to bettering yourself in your sales role.
However, several of the other sales skills we’re breaking down here today are going to be best learned (and actually retained) by seeking regular mentorship from the right sales managers and fellow reps who’ve been around the block a few more times.
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12 inside sales skills you need to master to be a top-performing rep
First, we’re going to cover the soft sales skills you’ll need to master—personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively with others and navigate the complexity of your role.
Then after that, we’ll dive into the hard sales skills every rep needs to hone, like how to use specific tools & technologies, prospecting, lead qualification, negotiating and more.
Let’s get to it!
The most important sales skill you’ll need to master above all else, is the art of becoming a great problem-solver—one that can learn to navigate the ever-changing tools, tactics, techniques, problems and new relationships you’ll experience as an inside sales rep.
No matter how strong your other sales skills may be, it’s an inevitability that you’ll run into challenges, obstacles and failures throughout your career. That’s why it’ll pay dividends for you to develop a repeatable process for how to best solve new problems and work through foreign environments as they often present themselves.
In school, we learn about mathematics, history, grammar and a litany of other subjects, but the vast majority of us are rarely explicitly taught how to learn and solve problems on our own out in the real world after graduation.
Aside from luckily stumbling into a strong mentor you can learn sales problem-solving from out in the field, it’s easy to find yourself in a tailspin when a brand new challenge comes your way and your first couple of attempts lead to lackluster results. That’s when your problem-solving mindset needs to kick into high gear.
At its core, there are four basic steps in solving any problem:
- Defining the problem: While on the surface this may sound like the most simple phase of problem-solving, it’s actually the most critical and often mistaken step. Why? Well, you need to make absolutely certain that you’re addressing the real problem at hand—and not just one of its symptoms. For example, if you’re not closing enough sales during a given quarter, your first inclination might be to think the problem is with the volume or quality of leads coming across your desk. However, if you look deeper and be completely honest with yourself, the real issue might be something like a lack of proper training or an unreasonable workload.
- Generating alternatives: Another temptation when dealing with new problems, is to quickly go with the first new solution that comes to mind—rather than deliberately slowing yourself down for a moment (when time is on your side), to consider multiple alternatives. The best way to come up with alternative solutions, is to start with your own (and your organization’s) core beliefs to determine what the ideal outcome should eventually look like. Then it’s time to move into more specific brainstorming activities that can help generate creative ideas to eventually be tested once you’re ready.
- Evaluating and selecting alternatives: The best problem solvers can identify the difference between the first acceptable solution and the best possible solution to a problem—and at this stage it’s important to use a series of different considerations when choosing your course of action. Consider factors like how a particular alternative may create other unanticipated problems as a byproduct, whether or not everyone else on your team accept the alternative at hand, and if the solution fits within the constraints of your job function and company policies.
- Implementing solutions: Once you’ve chosen the right solution to test out, your mission isn’t complete until you’ve built feedback channels to ensure monitoring and testing of the future outcomes against your expectations going into the experiment. Know that future changes will be inevitable (as the nature of selling is always growing and evolving), so expect to update even your proven solution over time to continue adapting.
Training yourself to become an effective problem-solver will take time, repetition, and most of all—a willingness to proactively challenge yourself to be in a position of vulnerability, when solving difficult problems comes with the territory.
Look for new responsibilities, challenge 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. Effective communication over the phone (and email).
While it’s an absolute necessity to have email and sales call scripts that address common objections and questions you’ll field from prospects who enter your sales funnel, there’s no replacement for being an effective communicator yourself.
How well can you quickly establish a connection and build relationships with the people you’re talking to?
If understanding the mindset of your prospect and being able to tweak your interaction style comes somewhat naturally to you, then you’ve already wrangled the foundation of one of the most critical sales skills you’ll need in order to become a top-performing rep.
On the other hand, if this sounds like more of a learned behavior you’ll have to acquire, then it’s time to pick up the phone and practice your cold calling—because the quickest path to improving your communication skills, is to do a lot more of it (and solicit constructive feedback on your call recordings from managers with more experience).
With repetition, feedback and experimentation, you’ll become a more effective communicator—but you still need to be trained on today’s best practices for cold calling and emailing.
Mastering the art of cold calling.
What happens when you dial a prospect and they pick up the phone?
You better have a plan (and a sales script to follow).
While it’s important not to come off as a robot just simply reading through each of your sales script, loosely following a script—and adapting as needed—will force you to really think your sales conversations through in advance.
Through the act of even developing a sales script and writing everything out word for word, you’re bringing structure and clarity to your thinking. (If you're not convinced that you should use a sales script, or you don't clearly understand why every sales person should have a script, read this.) You won’t always follow the exact progression of the conversation, but it provides a backbone to help you get to a place where you can achieve your primary goal of qualifying a lead and moving them to the next stage of your sales process.
Here are the basics of building a successful cold calling practice:
- Develop a bulletproof sales calling script that can move your leads through the sales funnel and into the next stage of qualification.
- Craft compelling answers to the most common sales objections you’re bound to face, like the classic email me your information, I don’t have time to talk, and we’re not ready to make a decision yet objections. By workshopping replies in advance to each of these objections that can still keep the ball rolling towards proper lead qualification, you’ll become much more successful in your cold calling.
- Set activity goals, like the number of calls you need to make each day, in order to hit your key objective of closing a certain number of deals each week.
- Learn to embrace rejection and celebrate the inevitable no’s that are coming your way as a natural part of your daily workflow. Not every prospect will be a good fit for becoming a customer, and that’s ok.
- Understand the success metrics and benchmarks you should be aiming to hit with your cold calling efforts, so that you know when something isn’t working as it should—then it’s time to go back to becoming a problem-solver to get back on track.
Dig into our ultimate guide to cold calling for even more granular advice, strategies and workflows you can use to improve your cold calling game.
Mastering the art of cold emailing.
Just as when you’re starting a conversation with a prospect over the phone, it’s equally as important to make a strong first impression over cold email—one that isn’t riddled with grammatical mistakes or immediately asking them to purchase something without knowing anything about their business or their needs.
We all have overflowing inboxes, so it pays dividends to make your cold email stand out even from the subject line (because if they never open your email, that doesn’t get you very far). Within the body of your email, you’ll want to start establishing a connection and peak their interest with a clear value they’d be able to get from your solution.
Here are the basics of crafting a compelling cold email to your prospects:
- Write a simple subject line that captures the recipients attention without tricking them into opening your email. Write like a human, avoid using silly slogans, use lowercase text, and follow our other best practices in these highly effective cold email templates.
- Once you get to the body of your email, don’t waste your prospect’s time with long paragraphs of text (especially in your first email). Be very brief, but give enough context for them to properly evaluate your message, and always end your email with a single, clear call to action.
- Finally, experiment with using creative formatting to your advantage by bolding important information, using bulleted lists to break up the visual flow of your email, and to generally make it feel easier for your prospect to actually read the full email.
For an even more detailed tutorial on implementing a winning sales email campaign, check out our in-depth guide to writing cold emails that convert.
There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about relationship selling as the “way of the future” in sales, but putting all jargon talk aside, the ability to build relationships with your prospects (and customers) will always be one of the most important sales skills to master.
Put simply, relationship-building is your ability to effectively engage with other people, and work to establish a level of connection that can last beyond just the prospect of a quick transaction and instead span the course of months and years to come.
This shift in mentality comes with recognizing that while there may not be an immediate need for your solution today, your prospect’s situation could be very different even just six months down the line.
Even more importantly, these relationships—when they’re genuinely built on a foundation of providing upfront value without the expectation of immediate reciprocation—can lead to exciting opportunities like getting referrals to their friends and colleagues, or being the first call when your prospect takes a job at a new company where they could use your solution.
4. Time management.
Time is consistently reported as being the most valuable resource to small business owners, making this sales skill of time management essential not only to your own benefit (and personal productivity gains), but to your prospect’s 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, for the number of hours you worked in a given period. That makes the ways in which you choose to manage your time, essential to delivering the results your team expects.
In my own personal time management system, this translates into focusing solely on doing one mission critical task at a time throughout my workday, rather than allowing myself to multitask or get distracted by inbound requests for my time. That means closing out of Slack, exiting out of my email inbox and putting my phone on silent so that I can go deep into the task I’m working on.
If I’m making sales calls or prospecting for new client leads, then that’s the only activity I’m doing for at least a solid one or two hour block of time, which allows me to get into a flow state, really feel like I’ve picked up momentum and achieve a sense of accomplishment regardless the end result of the day.
This level of isolated focus on one key activity at a time, paired with thoughtful scheduling of when you’ll be doing each specific task throughout your day, will buy you more time and make you feel significantly more productive as a sales rep—which should lead to stronger results in all categories of your work. That’s why this sales skill is so crucial to master.
Don’t forget that your prospect’s time is equally important as yours.
Instead of being on the phone talking through a potential new tool you want to sell them, your prospect could be fulfilling orders or following up with their own leads.
Stay respectful of the time your prospect is giving you while you’re on the phone, and tailor your conversation to strike a balance between showing genuine interest and giving the clear impression that you intend to take as little of their time as possible.
5. Team collaboration.
In a fast-paced selling environment, it’s often easy to forget that as a sales rep, you’re still operating within multiple different layers of teams—both at the sales organization level and from a company-wide standpoint.
Like it or not, as an inside sales rep, you’re not a lone wolf salesperson. Your success in your role depends partially on how well other people in your company perform their jobs too. And that makes being a strong team player a very important sales skill to master early on in your career.
Ultimately, this sales skill translates into how effectively you can work with your manager and fellow teammates to align your personal goals, quotas, tools, workflows, and schedule to function in a way that supports your entire team (and company) goals.
Embracing sales team collaboration includes proactively developing:
- A willingness to work on tasks, leads and projects that you aren’t always excited about when there’s a clear team (or company) benefit
- A readiness to pick up the slack when other teammates are out, under-performing, or in need of a little help and guidance
- A bias toward personal action (and communication) when there’s ambiguity around ownership of a particular task or project
On top of cultivating these traits and behavioral characteristics within your role, today’s sales teams are more connected than ever with tools like Slack, CRMs that enable team transparency, Google Docs, and Zoom making it possible to easily collaborate across geographic locations.
Remember that company-wide sales success requires different roles and outcomes from each member of the team—and you’ve got a role to play in harmony with others. A lack of teamwork will often contribute to falling short on everyone’s sales goals.
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6. Storytelling ability.
Just about every great salesperson is well-versed at wrapping their pitch inside a compelling story that does more than just communicate the reasons why a prospect should buy.
Storytelling not only drives home the more entertaining, real-life examples that help prospects connect the dots to how a product or service could impact their own unique situation, but they also serve to build stronger connections that transcend the often transactional nature of a sales conversation.
Why are stories so effective at selling? Because we remember them.
When facts, data and examples are framed within the context of a captivating story, you’re much more likely to retain your prospect’s attention and guide them through the process of connecting the key takeaways from your story—into their world.
The perfect side effect of implanting a memorable story in your prospect’s mind, is better recall. When you’re able to accomplish this, and a prospect either is already or soon finds themselves in a situation like the one you described in your story, you’ll come to mind.
No, it’s not mind control. This is science.
Memory recall is a natural human response to a story that creates an emotional response when its taken in, and your prospect will be much more likely to recall your interesting story, over just a numbers & data driven pitch they got from another salesperson during the same week.
So, how do you become a better storyteller? Practice a lot. But getting started with improving your storytelling skills can be easier than you might think.
Here’s a framework we’ve worked to perfect over the years internally here at Close:
- Collect existing stories from your team. Not just from sales reps and managers who’ve been around longer than you, but strive to include marketing, product, devs and leaders too. Get everyone involved.
- Evaluate the stories you’ve collected. Do this together with your sales team and get the full scope on which stories have been successful at closing prospects in the past.
- Figure out what’s missing. Are the stories you already have good enough to build on, or do you need new and more compelling stories?
- Create new stories. Based on your current story inventory, you might need to create new stories that are better suited to tackle your most common prospect objections today.
- Test your stories. Test both your existing and newly crafted stories on your leads. Start first with less important leads, and once you learn what’s working (and what’s not), begin using your most effective stories on more important leads.
- Maintain your story inventory. Keep an inventory (a team-wide spreadsheet will do) of your most successful stories that can be accessible to your entire sales team.
- Do consistent check-ins. Are the stories working as well as they used to? Can they be replaced with better stories? Are you getting new objections that warrant the need for new stories? Keep an eye on the use of stories to make sure they achieve your end goal of building better relationships and closing more sales.
Follow this process, repeat it with regularity, practice it on your calls and demos—then you’ll be well on your way to sharpening this sales skill.
Plus, over time as you grow in your ability to tell relatable stories that compel listeners to take action, it can become an integral part of your personal brand, that in turn helps you leverage better opportunities for yourself to move up in your career.
Alright, now from here on out we’ll be transitioning away from the softer sales skills that take a good amount of time, practice and repetition to master—and into the more trainable hard skills that can be perfected within shorter time frames with the right level of commitment and consistency.
7. Understanding your product inside and out.
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 (or how it used to work).
Face meets palm as you scramble to move forward or side-step the awkward situation.
How about when you field a product question you should know the answer to, or when you miss out on a major opportunity to tailor a particular feature to a specific use case your prospect expresses? Yikes.
While these situations are inevitable in the very early days of joining a new company while going through your sales training process, these types of mistakes (that can be solved in most cases by just using your product in different ways for a few hours), quickly become inexcusable reasons to lose a sale out in the field.
That’s why (before completing your sales training), it’s so important make sure you have an intimate knowledge of the features, benefits, and weaknesses of your product.
Otherwise, you’ll have immense difficulty formulating your pitch to individual use cases and connecting prospects with the right features for their needs. Remember, selling in today’s world is increasingly more about fitting for the customer—not just why your product is so great.
On top of just the obvious advantage that it pays dividends to know what you’re talking about (and selling), this sales skill comes with the added benefit of helping you to be viewed as a domain expert.
8. Maximizing the effectiveness of your CRM.
A CRM (customer relationship management tool) like Close will easily become your most powerful sales tool, if you allow it to be.
Within the context of how your sales process functions today, are you getting the most out of all the features your CRM has to offer?
If your CRM can deliver automated email sequences to new leads as they enter your funnel, yet you’re still manually writing dozens of these emails yourself each day, then there’s some serious room for improvement. This change alone could free up hours every week.
If your CRM has built-in (one-click) calling as a core feature, yet you still find yourself dialing prospects from your phone, that’s another major time suck, waste of resources and under-utilization of the functionality at your fingertips.
On the flip side, are there any major gaps between how you can best close more leads—and the limitations of how your current CRM can be used to help achieve that end goal?
We built Close with the single 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: Having the ability to group and dynamically sort your prospects based on key filtering criteria such as geographic location, lead status, source, recent interactions and a nearly infinite number of other data points, means your team can get extremely specific in the leads they’re targeting or prioritizing on a daily basis.
- Bulk Email, Automated Sequences and Shared Templates: By leveraging intelligent bulk email sending to custom lead lists based on dynamic filtering, you can personalize your email (at scale), sort just the leads who will be most receptive to your offer, and exclude everyone else to create high-impact campaigns sending to thousands of targeted prospects with one click.
- Follow-Ups: By using our one-click follow up reminders, tasks, and email snoozing features, you’ll never forget to check in on the prospects in your pipeline, even after they’ve left your automated sales sequences.
- Built-In Calling: Close is the only CRM on the market with built-in calling that keeps you reps inside just one application to do all of your core tasks, saving even more time. And with the addition of our predictive dialing call automation software, you’ll drastically cut down on the amount of time spent listening to dial tones.
There’s a lot to it, I know. But, all of this makes your ability to most effectively employ a CRM for the purpose of converting more leads into paying customers, a crucial sales skill that needs to be honed over time.
And remember, 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—so that you can learn to leverage new tools & technologies as they emerge onto the scene.
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9. Delivering compelling demos and presentations.
Structuring compelling demos and sales presentations is something you'll get better at with the more experience you accrue, making it a sales skill you can actually build quite quickly.
Plus, the more often you give demos, the stronger your instinct will be—and the better you’ll be able to adapt presentations on the fly to changing circumstances and information.
That being said, here are our tried and true basics of delivering strong demos.
Always start with larger macro ideas before getting to relatable micro examples.
When you’re demoing a feature to a prospect, you have to start with the big picture first.
The moment you realize you’re giving a demo about a product or particular feature, and it’s apparent that your audience doesn’t already know the purpose of what you’re covering, you’ve already failed.
For example, if you know you’re giving a demo to a busy entrepreneur and they want to get straight to the single feature they care most about rather than covering everything you have to offer, it’ll pay big time if you can adapt to jumping straight into the positive impact that feature will have on their business—instead of wandering through topics that won’t be of immediate interest in their mind.
It’s your job to immediately connect the dots and proactively answer the question, “Why is this person showing me this?” well before it pops into your prospect’s mind—otherwise, you haven’t properly explained what you’re going to demonstrate.
Begin your demo with a bang.
Once you've gotten your introduction out of the way and you get into the meat of your actual product demo, it's important to start with something sensational that’ll capture their attention.
Examples could be an interesting bit of research that impacts your prospect, dispelling a common myth in their industry, or a game-changing feature (with a relevant example) that’ll completely change the way your prospect approaches a part of their business.
Speak your prospect’s language.
If you've noticed that your prospect likes to use certain words and phrases in their conversation, do your best (in a non-creepy way) to subtly mirror those same words and phrases into your own speech.
Look over their website and make a note of the kinds of wording they use publicly. Go through your previous email exchanges and study the terminology they use. Or use a sales prospecting tool, like CrystalKnows, that is built to do just that. Make a concerted effort to feel connected to them and speak their language.
Always end your product demo with a close.
The purpose of giving your demo in the first place is to eventually ask for your prospect’s business, right? Well, what's your closing statement going to be?
Wrap up with a strong, clear call to action.
It's your job to get the prospect to take the next step, not give them wiggle room to “think about it” for a week and get back to you.
If they’re uncertain about purchasing now, then why? Get to the bottom of their objections, work to alleviate those concerns and keep pushing for a definitive yes or no.
10. Lead qualification (to avoid bad-fit customers).
Being adept at quickly qualifying the leads (and disqualifying them) as they come across your desk, is a highly underrated sales skill worth more than most give it credit for.
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. And there are four main areas you’ll want to focus on with your questions—whether it’s over the phone, via email, or through doing your own research beforehand.
- Customer profile fit. How well does the prospect match your ideal customer profile? How many employees do they have? Which industry do they operate in? Are they geographically located in a good place for you? What's their ideal use case for your product or service? Which tools have they tried in the past?
- Their internal needs. What are your prospect’s needs? Will your offering help them reach certain revenue figures? Equally as important, what are the needs of the individual, the team, and the company? Remember, you're still selling to people here, not companies. You have to know how to fulfill their needs on multiple different levels, or your pipeline will dry up. What are the results they want to achieve? How will those results affect them, their team and their company overall?
- Decision making process. How does both the individual and company make decisions? How many people are involved in the decision-making process for an offering like yours? Which departments have a say? How much time does it take them to make a purchase?
- The competition. Who are you competing against for the sale? Which other companies have they worked with before? Are they evaluating your solution vs. building their own internally? What are the criteria they’ll base their decision on?
If you can gather the answers to all of these kinds of questions and begin drawing conclusions, you'll have a really clear idea of whether or not this prospect aligns well with becoming a good-fit customer today.
11. Following up like a pro.
The earlier you learn the importance of mastering the sales skill of following up until you get a clear answer from every single prospect, the better.
No matter how qualified and motivated your lead may be, life happens. People get busy. Something comes up either at work or in their personal life, and their evaluation of your product gets put on pause for the time-being.
It’s your responsibility to guarantee that the ball gets picked up and you reach either a clear yes or no—and if it’s a no, strive to gather as much context as possible around why not today. What you can’t afford to do, is live your sales life in the maybe zone.
All of this being said, following up is more of art than a science. The more practice you have at it, the better you’ll get. Here are some basic frameworks we use to determine how to follow up on our own sales team here at Close. Let’s start from the top…
How often should you follow up?
If you reach out completely cold and have never interacted with the recipient, we follow up a maximum of six times. When it’s totally cold outreach with zero connection, you really don’t have the kind of relationship that’d justify further interruption.
However, if you’ve already had some sort of interaction with the prospect you’re following up with, and that interaction was not a clear no to your offering, then it’s your responsibility to follow up for as long as it takes to get a clear answer.
Let me say that again… never stop until you get a clear response.
What’s the right follow up frequency?
This can vary quite a lot from industry, to company, selling style and relationship comfortability, but a general schedule we use for timing our follow ups looks like this:
- Day 1: First follow-up (+2)
- Day 3: Follow-up (+4)
- Day 7: Follow-up (+7)
- Day 14: Follow-up (+14)
- Day 28: Follow-up (+30)
- Day 58: Follow-up (+30)
- … (from here on out, once a month).
Keeping track of when and how to manage your follow ups can be equally challenging.
That’s why in Close, we built a very simple feature called follow up reminders so that you’ll never have to think twice about remembering who to check in with (and when). And with our email sequences feature, you can even put your follow-ups completely on autopilot, without ever having to set or review follow-up reminders manually.
12. Closing the sale.
All of the sales skills we’ve talked about here today, will contribute together, to how effective you’ll be at closing more deals.
The better you are at qualifying leads, the less time you’ll waste on the phone with prospects that won’t close. Your follow up game can make or break the number of deals that get to the finish line. Your communication skills will dictate how well you’re able to build relationships with prospect.
Closing a sale is the culmination of all these sales skills working harmoniously together.
However, you still need to ask for the sale. As Steli often says, “the biggest mistake salespeople and founders can ever make, is not asking for the sale.”
On the surface it sounds obvious, but even salespeople who’ve been actively selling, often wait too long to ask for the sale. And for that reason, they miss out on opportunities.
Then when is the right time to ask for the sale? Before you think they’re ready.
If you’ve done a good job of qualifying your prospect, delivering the pitch, answering their objections and still believe they’d be a good-fit customer, then ask for the sale.
Expect an initial no, or at least some apprehension from most prospects, but build this into your closing process. You’ll often catch a prospect off guard and they won’t immediately have a clear reason to say no when you’re both on the same page about value.
And if they reply with a no, follow that up with the question, “What’s the process we’d need to go through in order to get you ready to buy?”
That’ll disarm them a bit, and give your prospect the breathing room they’ll need in order to think, come around and feel that they’re either ready to pull the trigger or keep the ball rolling with their internal purchasing process if more approvals are necessary.
While these certainly aren’t the only sales skills you’ll need to build throughout your career, developing a command of these as quickly as possible will set you well along your way down the path to becoming a top-performing rep.
Want to master today's most important sales skills?