18 Skills Every Salesperson Should Master

August 12, 2019

High-performing sales reps demonstrate expertise in many areas including buyer engagement, communication, personalization and technology.

The original version of this article, authored by Scott Albro, was published by TOPO, now Gartner. 

Like many other professions, sales is facing some pretty radical changes. To survive in this environment, salespeople need a new set of skills. 

By analyzing trends and observing behaviors, we have identified a core set of 18 sales skills that help some of the world’s best salespeople succeed. 

Download ebook: Future of Sales

No. 1: Understand what the buyer wants

Understanding the buyer is the foundation of effective selling, but it involves more than just knowing who the buyer is. Instead, it’s about identifying the experience the buyer wants to have as they consider making a purchase in your market. 

Your buyer has a set of expectations about that experience and your job as a salesperson is to exceed those expectations. You can’t exceed them if you don’t understand the experience that the buyer wants to have.

No. 2: Sell in a buyer-responsive manner

When a salesperson understands the buyer, they can engage in buyer-responsive selling. The idea here is to provide the buyer with what they want, when they want it. 

If, for example, your buyer needs a trial to evaluate your product but can’t allocate more than 30 minutes to it, give them a free trial that is easy to set up, easy to use and demonstrates the value of your product in five minutes or less. 

No. 3: Use psychology to engage the buyer

There are a variety of psychological techniques you can use to create deeper engagement with your target buyers. One effective tip is to make sure that the customer knows you won’t take too much of their time. 

No. 4: Establish trust with the buyer

Buyers like to do business with people they trust. Good salespeople view their ability to establish trust with the buyer as a core sales skill. 

No. 5: Communicate succinctly

Buyers often value how information is presented more than the information itself. A good rule is to never try to communicate more than three important points in a single conversation with a buyer.

No. 6: Act on what the customer is saying

The best salespeople take action based on what they hear from their customer. It’s not good enough to just listen — you need to internalize what the buyer has said and then do something about it.

No. 7: Demonstrate subject matter expertise

Salespeople need to understand the buyer, including the pressing issues the buyer is facing and what they want as they work their way to a purchase. They also need to have expertise about their own product or service and the industry.

No. 8:  Help (as opposed to close) prospects

Buyers don’t want to be closed; they want to be helped. That’s why “always be helping” is the new “always be closing.” Remember this every time you interact with a buyer.

No. 9: Tell compelling stories

Buyers don’t really want to hear about your product or service. Good salespeople know this and weave the product or service they’re selling into a larger story that has an arc and ends with the customer receiving what they want, which is usually not your product. 

For example, when a business buys a phone system, they don’t really want to buy a phone system — they want to grow their revenue and recognize that the phone is an effective tool for doing that.

No. 10: Become great copywriters

Salespeople must be able to write. It’s one of today’s most important sales skills given how much sales uses email to communicate with buyers. There are a few rules to keep in mind when it comes to sales copywriting: 

  • The less you write, the better. Try to keep written communications short and sweet. 
  • Avoid using generic copy. You should take the time to personalize as many of your communications as possible.
  • Use bullets to format your copy. Lists are just easier for customers to digest. 
  • Finally, start and conclude your written communications with a call to action that asks the buyer to take a next step.

No. 11: Sell effectively over the phone

Field sales is moving inside and the face-to-face meeting is quickly becoming the 60-minute teleconference. As a result, salespeople need to be effective at managing sales calls using the phone. 

This requires different skills such as the ability to read the tone of someone’s voice or measure the cadence of the conversation to determine whether the prospect is satisfied or not. 

No. 12: Be socially active with target buyers

Social media has given rise to the field of social selling. A lot of salespeople view their participation on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as one of the more effective sales skills. 

Some of the best salespeople do things like organize dinners for groups of buyers they are interested in getting to know. Very little selling takes place at these mini-events. 

No. 13: Personalize interactions

Buyers don’t want the generic message or sales pitch; they want something that’s specific to them. One way to accomplish this is to weave messaging and content that is specific to the buyer’s demographics into your sales efforts. 

In a B2B setting, this might involve using specific industry examples. On the consumer side, it might involve tailoring how you communicate with a buyer depending on their age and gender. You can also reference recent events in the buyer’s personal or professional life (depending on the sales context) to personalize your interactions.

No. 14: Use a variety of marketing skills

Salespeople with advanced marketing skills tend to fare well. For example, content selling is an important skill that salespeople can use to move the buyer through the buying cycle. 

Sales management is borrowing from marketing and enforcing campaign-like structure on many sales activities. For example, some organizations are using a campaign format to structure how they conduct traditional sales activities like prospecting.

No. 15: Help prospects achieve next steps

It’s no longer good enough to agree on next steps, you actually have to help the buyer achieve those next steps. Let’s say a buyer you’ve been working with needs to get the CEO’s approval before they can make the final decision. You should provide the buyer with the information, content and tools they will need to persuade the CEO that your product or service is the right one.

No. 16: Use sales technology to boost productivity

Many sales organizations use technology to become more efficient and shorten the length of the average sales cycle. Salespeople who can use technology to become more productive have a significant advantage over their peers, as they are able to spend more time selling. 

No. 17: Link daily activities to quota

Achieving quota isn’t something that magically happens at the end of the month or the quarter. The best salespeople focus on the daily tasks or activities they know will set them up to achieve their quota.

This sales skill is usually learned over time but it’s invaluable. For example, a sales professional might know that if they have a certain number of meetings with prospects this month, that this will allow them to achieve quota next month. 

No. 18: Manage their pipeline like a portfolio

The best salespeople manage their pipeline much like a hedge fund manager would manage their portfolio. They invest time in a number of opportunities knowing that some will close and some will not. 

They track the performance of each opportunity, as well as the aggregate performance of their entire pipeline on a daily or weekly basis. They are also able to conduct a “bottoms up” analysis of their pipeline at any time to determine where they sit relative to their quota target.

You may also be interested in

“I use Gartner to bolster my confidence in decision making.”

Stay smarter.