6 Critical Skills Every Sales Professional Should Master

Sales skills are like a carpenter’s tools. You won’t always require them all, but when the need arises, you want the right one. Though hammers can look like mallets, each serves a distinct purpose. The same is true of flathead and Phillips-head screwdrivers. As the best craftspeople have complete tool kits, top sellers have the largest skill sets.

Today, successful sellers know each client is unique. They may be similar in size and vertical to others in their industry. However, what they do and how they do it differs. Therefore, the skills needed to provide effective solutions vary by client and challenge. Here are six critical sales skills all sellers should master:

Active Listening

While most sellers hear their clients, they don’t always listen. This distinction may seem like semantics, but it is critical to understanding need. In that sense, active listening differs from regular listening. It starts by knowing listening requires more than ears. It’s an exercise in thinking. Here are some keys of active listening:

  • Listen for content, meaning, and feeling
  • Identify vocal qualities
  • Remember customer words
  • Summarize and validate

Central to active listening is slowing down. Sellers can’t be in a rush to interject. They should never assume what customers will say. Too many sellers make the mistake of listening for key words and phrasing that confirm their assumptions. Instead, sellers should identify and appreciate the feeling behind one’s words.

As anyone in a relationship can tell you, it’s often not what a partner says. It’s how they say it. Like tone is lost in text, sellers must recognize subtle distinctions. Sometimes, this is the difference between the literal and figurative. For example, saying you’re having a great day when you mean the opposite. Of course, in text, emojis help. But these don’t pop up in conversation. Instead, you must hear it.

The same is true of pauses and other inflections of speech. These can indicate hesitancy, like a question has struck a nerve. Perhaps the customer has been caught off guard. Or maybe you’ve identified a subconscious issue. Either way, these are clues to explore. However, proceed gently. Poking and prodding sensitive issues can close communication.

Word choice is essential in active listening. There’s a difference between inexpensive and cheap. There’s also a difference between inexpensive and cost effective. In the same way, note and remember a customer’s words. As with names, repeat key words. You can recall them later in emails and calls. This reveals a seller who listens and knows what’s important.

In addition, summarizing can prevent misunderstandings. It also helps to validate and confirm agreements before moving on to other issues. Of course, you don’t want to sound like a parrot. However, key phrases like, “Just to be clear” or “So I understand” are beneficial. They help clarify conversations and delineate trusted advisors from order takers.

Interpret Body Language

Typically, body language is a component of active listening. However, interpreting body language is a skill of its own. Quite simply, it’s an often neglected but essential aspect of effective communication. In many cases, body language reveals as much as verbal communication. Here are some things to note:

  • Facial expressions
  • Gestures
  • Head nods and shakes
  • Eye rolls

Facial expressions can change in an instant. It can be tough to note each. However, they are clues to what customers think. For example, a drifting smile can indicate a shift to a pressing concern. This is an opportunity. You can say, “I see this issue is important to you…” This shows your investment and commitment. It also demonstrates your empathy.

Hand gestures are another subconscious clue. A customer who swipes the hair from their face may seek personal comfort. However, it can also indicate hesitancy. Perhaps an issue or admission is uncomfortable. Note this and follow with open-ended questions. Similarly, a shrug can indicate uncertainty or confusion. It can also be a request for confirmation or validation.

A head nod often indicates agreement, but it’s also used for acceptance and acknowledgement. In this way, it’s a positive over a more negative headshake. However, it may or may not mean agreement. A nod can mean, “I see your point,” but this is markedly different from, “Yes, definitely.” Similarly, a headshake can mean disagreement. However, it can also be an expression of sympathy, as in, “Oh, no. I’m so sorry.”

An eye roll is usually dismissive, as in “That’s ridiculous.” However, depending on the context, it’s also used for incredulity, like “Can you believe it?” Someone who looks to the ceiling may be bothered by a water spot. They could also be seeking divine intervention or offering a prayer.

Speak a Common Language

Of course, most sales interactions are conducted in a shared language. However, even amongst English speakers, buyers and sellers can communicate differently. A common language is essential for building trust and speeding the sales cycle. Here are some considerations for speaking the same language:

  • Communication style
  • Sense of humor
  • Word use
  • Aligned processes

A common language starts with communication style. If your client favors email over phone calls, use email. If they prefer texts, text. When possible, steer them to videoconferencing. Post-pandemic, most sellers know video improves communication. This includes better rapport, reading body language, etc. However, it’s more important to meet them in their comfort zone.

In addition to modality, consider style. Tailor yours to the client. If your client is gregarious and informal, be informal. If they are reserved, respect their space. Of course, let rapport be your guide. You know which clients appreciate your sense of humor. Follow their lead and never presume. Relationships take time, and they start with respect.

In business, buyers and sellers have their jargon. Most sellers speak salesish, i.e., ROI, scalability, and quality. However, these may mean something different to buyers. For example, when you say ROI, they hear bottom line. You want to discuss value. They want a price. Of course, price is contingent on value, but don’t sweat the small stuff. Speak your client’s language. Remember, the goal is agreement, and this starts with language.

Another aspect of common language is process. As sellers have a sales process, buyers have a buying process. Of course, these are distinct, and each is essential. But the best sellers find agreement between them. Aligned processes generate collaboration and accelerate the sales cycle.      

Handle Objections

Key to overcoming objections is preparation. Every seller knows they are coming. You may not be able to prevent them. However, top sellers know what to expect and prepare. This is an essential skill. Here’s how to prepare for the most common sales objections :

  • Budget
  • Trust
  • Need
  • Urgency

As we saw earlier, buyers can be quick to ask price. However, it’s essential sellers first present value. In this way, sellers can turn budget conversations into risk vs. reward. Price is always contingent on value. Products that work, last, and provide security are worth more than ones that just work. Therefore, it’s vital salespeople assess the full scope of a buyer’s issue or problem.   

Trust issues are another common objection. If the buyer doesn’t know you, they have no reason to trust you. Remember, seasoned buyers have seen sellers come and go. They’ve earned their skepticism. Seasoned sellers know trust starts early in the sales cycle. They search social media contacts and post relevant content. They craft effective value propositions based on a customer’s known and/or unknown needs. In this way, an initial email is not an unsolicited sales pitch from a total stranger. Instead, it’s an eye-catching and potentially useful tip from a recognized expert.

Need is always relative to the situation. You might think $20 for a sandwich is exorbitant. However, when you’re hungry, that $20 is worth every penny. The same is true for buyers. Top sellers create urgency. This does not mean you get lucky and stumble upon a hungry client. Sure, this happens, and it’s great. But you can generate urgency by understanding the client’s present and future needs.

A key to this is making it personal. All buyers want what’s best for their business. They also want what’s best for themselves. It’s human nature. Often, people are more motivated by what they stand to lose than what they may gain. For example, ask how waiting to act will impact their daily processes. How would it affect their job, their department, their people? When buyers think this, locked budgets become more fluid.

Time Management

Another essential skill of great salespeople is time management. Of course, there’s no substitute for hard work. And most sellers work plenty hard. However, top sellers work smarter than harder. They know how to get more from their time. Part of this is experience. They’ve learned what works best. But here are essential time management tips anyone can master:

  • Limit multitasking
  • Do that thing you hate
  • Leverage technology
  • Prepare concise value propositions
  • Focus on the buyer

At first glance, multitasking can see like a timesaver. You’re doing more than one thing at a time. You check email during presentations. You jot a note for one client while speaking to another. Of course, we fool ourselves, thinking, “This will just take a second.” However, like texting and driving, it’s a dangerous trap. Rather than doing one thing well, we often end up doing more things badly. Instead, concentrate on the task at hand.

All salespeople have the activity they hate. Maybe it’s prospecting, cold calling, checking in. It’s the thing we avoid. You’d sooner organize your desk or wash dishes. In fact, some sellers invest more time avoiding it than it takes to complete it! We pretend procrastinating is part of the process. Instead, top sellers jump into the thing they hate. They know getting it done quick saves time.

Whether it’s generational or force of habit, some sellers do not effectively leverage technology. Maybe they’re uncomfortable or set in their ways. Regardless, technology can streamline processes and save time. Email templates and phone scripts can be vital tools. Of course, you should customize and personalize. But templates are a great start. Also, your CRM can automate mundane tasks, like sending scheduled emails and calls.

Your value proposition is an essential tool. However, many sellers waste valuable time fumbling through introductions. Instead, have value propositions ready to go. Better yet, have several well-crafted and concise value propositions geared toward your buyer personas. Remember, clients are less concerned with who you are than what you can do.

Generally, focus on one client at a time. Of course, you want to have several deals in your pipeline. And you never know when you’ll get a call back. But when engaging with a client, make them your priority. Limit distractions. Maintain eye contact. And never rush. Time management isn’t only doing more with your time. It’s getting more from the time you spend.

Product Knowledge

The goal of every sales organization and salesperson is to sell more product. As such, sellers should know enough to instruct clients and generate interest. However, this alone will not cut it. To be more effective, product knowledge should include the following:

  • Be an expert in your products
  • Know your competition
  • Recognize need
  • Value coaching and training

All sellers should have experience with their products. This starts with reading your company’s marketing collateral and sales specs. However, top sellers are not limited to book knowledge. They have real-world, hands-on experience. This comes from A/B testing and demos. In some cases, it includes personal use. It’s knowing best features and limitations. In addition, it’s having the confidence to share these with clients.

Inexperienced sellers will tout their every product for every situation. However, today’s buyers will see through this. Instead, successful sellers highlight features and limitations. They will use this to contrast with another product more suitable for the client’s specific need. This does not mean you sell inferior products. Rather, it displays your range of solutions for every budget and need. In addition to knowing your own products, you must know your competition. No organization is an island. Other companies sell similar products. As most buyers have done their research, they know what’s out there. Top sellers use this to their advantage. Always compare. Always contrast. However, never disparage the competition. Their product does not have to be inferior for yours to be the better value.

The best products not only work. They fulfill needs and solve problems. The key to selling isn’t just displaying great products like cool gadgets. B2B buyers are not collectors. They have genuine needs. Once you identify these, you can highlight the specific benefits and demonstrate value.  

Of course, product knowledge should be part of any organization’s onboarding process. However, it does not begin and end there. Organizations must consistently offer product coaching and training. As markets change, products come and go. Sellers must be up on the best features and value of all products in their space.

In sales, experience is the best teacher. Sellers develop a sense for what works. Often, these best practices are supplemented with effective coaching and training. However, this takes time. As carpenters need the right tools for the job, sellers need the best skills for each sales situation. We hope these tips help sharpen your skills to achieve more for your organizations and clients.