Sales is part art, part science. While some selling aptitude is innate, the very best sales professionals have refined a specialized set of skills that give them an edge over the average rep.
Selling skills can be learned, developed, and perfected over time to maximize your success rate and revenue production
If your sales performance has hit a plateau, it’s time to level up your selling skills.
Read on for the 7 fundamental selling skills that allow rockstar salespeople to consistently crush quotas and outperform the pack.
Master these skills to elevate yourself into the sales hall of fame.
At its core, selling is about connecting with the customer and identifying their true needs. You can’t do that without active listening skills.
Active listening builds rapport and trust so prospects open up about their real problems.
How can you practice active listening?
Avoid interrupting prospects. Clarify their statements to show you’re paying close attention. Ask open-ended questions to encourage them to expand on their issues. Paraphrase what you heard to confirm your understanding.
Take notes to capture details. Look for cues in their tone and body language. Don’t just wait for your turn to pitch – stay focused on what they are saying.
Sharpening your active listening makes you more attuned to subtle buying signals. You’ll earn customer trust and gain insight into their motivations.
With this understanding, you can tailor solutions to their specific requirements and convey how your offering stacks up against their needs.
Active listening drives better prospect connections and more sales wins.
The highest-performing salespeople have finely honed questioning skills that extract key details from prospects. Strategic questioning illuminates needs, reveals budgets, and educates customers about your capabilities.
Open-ended questions that start with what, why, how, where, and who draw the prospect into a conversational dialogue.
Ask follow-up questions to uncover the full backstory. Seek clarification on vague statements.
Pivot seamlessly between open and closed-ended questions to gather details. Frame questions to guide prospects toward key insights about their problem.
Record your sales calls and review your questioning techniques to improve. Avoid asking multiple questions at once.
Don’t bombard prospects with interrogative statements. Hone your questions so they are conversational but targeted. Masterful questioning leads prospects to the realization that your solution can add immense value.
Need mapping entails aligning an offering’s capabilities to the customer’s stated and unstated needs. As you uncover needs through dialogue, visualize them as points on a map.
Look for patterns in needs, priorities, and pain points. See how they connect to reveal bigger-picture requirements.
Once key needs are mapped, showcase specifically how your solution can address those needs. illustrate how features, capabilities, and value propositions in your offering correspond with the points on their needs map.
This creates an “Aha!” moment for the prospect when they see how perfectly your solution meshes with their needs.
Sharpen your need mapping skills to become adept at bridging product attributes to customer requirements.
Save needs maps from past deals as references to aid future selling situations. Refining this skill establishes you as a trusted advisor rather than a transactional salesperson.
Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is the ability to understand and manage people’s emotions – both your own and those of others. High EQ leads to stronger connections and trust with prospects.
Signs of high EQ include self-awareness about your emotions, self-regulation to control knee-jerk reactions, empathy for what others feel, and social skills to relate positively. Optimism, integrity, and determination also signal high EQ.
Build more emotion into your sales approach. Observe prospects’ body language and tone for clues into their emotional states.
Validate their feelings when frustrations arise. Show sincerity rather than pressuring them. Resist getting defensive or aggressive. Keep your own emotions in check at all times.
Sales is a people business. Prospects want to feel comfortable with you on a personal level, not just a business level.
EQ forges more authentic relationships that pay sales dividends.
Master communicators know how to skillfully tailor their messaging to resonate with prospects personally. They convey ideas with clarity and conviction.
Their communication style builds trust and demonstrates expertise.
Strong communicators speak clearly and confidently without hesitating. They maintain friendly eye contact and positive body language.
Their vocabulary is precise enough to avoid ambiguity but simple enough for broad understanding. They engage actively through quality questioning.
Get straight to the point rather than meandering. Share success stories for added impact. Summarize benefits well and address potential objections.
Align communication to the customer’s level, from C-suite executives to mid-level managers. Continue honing your phone, email, presentation, and body language skills.
With polished communication across the entire sales cycle – from prospecting to closings – you’ll differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace.
Sales competitions are often won and lost through presentations. Weak presentations waste opportunities to persuade, educate, and close deals.
Making an impactful presentation requires top-notch skills.
Craft a logical flow that hooks attention immediately and builds intrigue. Design visually appealing slides that reinforce key points, not distract.
Structure your narrative around customer problems and your solution. Vary tone and modulate pace while maintaining high energy. Use body language and eye contact to fully engage your audience.
Practice relentlessly until your delivery appears polished but natural. Create a conversational, storytelling style – resist sounding robotic with over-rehearsed pitches.
Learn to smoothly handle questions and pushback. Get feedback to sharpen your skills and address any flaws.
Presenting well conveys confidence in your solution and company. It sways customers who are on the fence and gives you an edge over less skilled competitors.
Deep knowledge of your solution and industry is an indispensable selling skill. Prospects rely on salespeople to provide expertise and perspective.
If you can’t demonstrate mastery of your domain, you lose credibility fast.
Immerse yourself in learning all aspects of your product suites, new features, underlying technology, company roadmaps, and key differentiators. Stay on top of your industry landscape, trends, jargon, and developments.
Understand your prospect’s world – processes, pain points, use cases, and business goals. Identify adjacent products and solutions to broaden the scope of discussions.
Ongoing learning is a must-have selling skill. Absorb everything you can through training, study, collaboration with team members, and field research.
Knowledge builds the confidence to have more nuanced sales conversations and advise customers as a trusted partner.
Advanced Skills to Become an Elite Seller
Once you’ve honed the core 7 skills above, consider expanding your repertoire with these 3 advanced skills that can help you join the top sales tier:
Average sellers peddle products. Pros sell solutions tailored to customers’ strategic needs through consultative selling. Position yourself as a partner rather than a supplier.
Ask probing questions to unpack broader goals and challenges beyond immediate surface requirements.
Identify root causes of problems.
Provide ideas and insights, not just pitches.
Suggest creative ways to achieve long-term objectives, not just temporary fixes. Help clients see the bigger picture.
Consultative selling forges stickier customer relationships based on trust in your judgment. You become an invaluable advisor, not just an account manager.
This skill lifts you above vendors pitching commodity products on price alone.
Pricing negotiations are a delicate dance. One wrong move can destroy a deal. Mastery of negotiation skills allows you to strike the optimal balance between price and value.
Do your homework to understand what levers influence the customer’s sense of real value. Determine tradeoffs you can make, such as payment terms, maintenance, support, warranties, or training.
Surface any hidden needs that sweeten the deal when fulfilled. Illustrate your solution’s profit potential and long-term cost savings.
Stay poised under pressure. Avoid reacting rashly to tactics. Frame concessions in terms of shared benefits and partnership.
Use phrases like “If you can move to X price point, then I can offer Y months of free maintenance.” Negotiation skills maximize deal size, accelerate sales cycles, and build reciprocity.
As products and processes digitize, salespeople need deeper tech skills for smart discussions.
Whether it’s cloud, AI, IoT, APIs, VR, blockchain, or more – brush up on technologies transforming your industry.
Understand how technologies power your solutions under the hood. Speak intelligently about how emerging innovations can be applied to the customer’s specific problems.
Address cybersecurity, integration, and other technical considerations. Demo products smoothly without technical hiccups.
Tech acumen is mandatory to earn respect from digitally savvy buyers. It instills confidence that you truly grasp how your solutions harness technology to deliver business results.
Check the tech knowledge box to enhance your seller aptitude.
How to Continuously Improve Your Selling Skills
Like an athlete constantly sharpening their skills, great salespeople are always expanding their capabilities.
Here are 5 tips for continuously improving your selling skills over time:
- Learn from role models: Emulate the most skilled sellers in your organization. Shadow them on sales calls to absorb their techniques. Ask for their advice to polish rough areas. Find an informal mentor.
- Analyze your metrics: Identify selling skill weak spots by analyzing deal sizes, sales cycles, win rates, and other metrics. Look for patterns requiring skill improvement, like losing deals at proof of concept.
- Seek feedback: Ask prospects, colleagues, and managers for candid input on your selling strengths and weaknesses. Digest feedback dispassionately as fuel for growth.
- Review recordings: Record your demos, calls, and presentations. Review frequently to self-assess areas like messaging, body language, pacing, and handling objections.
- Take training: Sign up for sales training and workshops. Look into courses and certifications through industry associations. Never stop expanding your skillsets.
Make sales skills mastery a lifelong journey. Consistent practice and refinement will propel you to new heights.
Closing Techniques to Seal More Deals
Beyond core selling skills, closing expertise is the final touch that tips deals over the finish line. Here are 5 proven closing techniques to add to your sales arsenal:
- Summary Close – Concisely summarize key benefits and the value proposition. End with a call to action to sign today.
- Assumptive Close – Assume close and next steps, e.g. “We’ll go ahead and get the contract over to you today so we can kick off implementation next week.”
- Puppy Dog Close – Offer something extra as an incentive for prospects wavering at the close.
- Sharp Angle Close – Present a scenario where the solution, price, or terms will quickly become unavailable if prospects don’t act now.
- Trial Close – Ask trial closing questions throughout the sales process to gauge intentions, like “Based on this demo, does this look like a solution your company could benefit from?”
Read the prospect’s reactions and body language to determine the optimal closing technique for each deal. Timely closes accelerate revenue attainment.
Master closers recognize the right moment to ask for the customer’s business and seal a commitment. This art sharpens with practice.
The Origins of Selling Skills in Ancient History
Selling has roots tracing back to ancient history. Archaeological evidence reveals that markets for trading goods sprang up in civilizations like Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and Phoenicia thousands of years ago.
While their goods and technologies were primitive compared to today, core selling principles remain timeless.
Even in these ancient markets, sellers looked to build rapport with potential buyers and understand their needs. They highlighted the value of their offerings through persuasion and storytelling.
Negotiating abilities helped close transactions and maximize returns. Honing practical selling techniques was key to prosperity and survival.
Over the centuries, the growth of trade routes and commerce expanded markets while impacting the evolution of selling skills.
New tools and technologies, like currency, contracts, and advertising mediums, shaped sales strategies.
Yet relationship-building, product expertise, and customer service instincts have always been elemental.
Looking at the origins of selling provides perspective on how foundational sales abilities transcend time and remain essential, even as sales grew infinitely more sophisticated.
Core selling skills stay vital and consistent amidst massive changes in technology and globalization.
Savvy salespeople continue applying timeless people-focused skills while adapting their techniques to align with contemporary market landscapes.
Famous Salespeople Throughout History
The most impactful salespeople don’t just close deals, they alter industries and even history. Let’s look at 7 legendary sales talents that made history:
P.T. Barnum – Flamboyant 1800s showman and marketing genius. Promoted hoaxes and spectacles through bold advertising to draw crowds.
Henry Ford – Founder of Ford Motor Company revolutionized auto manufacturing with assembly lines. A strong promoter of the Ford brand and visionary of automobile mass marketing.
Dale Carnegie – Author of the famous “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. His books and courses on self-improvement and selling skills made him wildly influential.
John H. Patterson – Innovative sales leader at National Cash Register. Pioneered many modern selling techniques like demonstrations, sales training, and customer follow-up processes.
Estée Lauder – Built global Estée Lauder Companies cosmetics empire. An exceptional saleswoman who leveraged promotions, gift samples, and department store distribution.
Michael Eisner – Media mogul who transformed the Walt Disney Company into an entertainment powerhouse. Expert at cross-promotional marketing and brokering partnerships.
Steve Jobs – Visionary leader behind Apple’s innovative products like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Iconic selling abilities energized legions of Apple devotees.
The sales genius of these famous figures fueled the growth of industries and still shapes best practices today. Their diverse and creative selling approaches broke barriers and generated billions in revenue.
While few salespeople attain this level of legendary success and influence, studying the tactics of these icons provides ideals to emulate.
Models like Patterson’s systematic sales processes at NCR or Estée Lauder’s gift with samples still have applications in the modern selling world.
The core selling abilities leveraged by famous sales luminaries remain potent no matter how much technology changes.
Notable Modern Masters of Selling Skills
Beyond famous salespeople of the past, many living business icons today exhibit standout sales skills:
Elon Musk – The Tesla and SpaceX CEO is a classic Silicon Valley technology visionary. His bold ideas and relentless conviction rally supporters. He sells not just products, but futuristic visions.
Howard Shultz – Built Starbucks into a ubiquitous global brand on the allure of a coffeehouse experience. Connected personally with customers and employees to earn deep loyalty.
Simon Sinek – An author and inspirational speaker who pioneered the “Start With Why” principle in sales. His TED Talk sharing the concept became the 3rd most watched of all time.
Rachael Ray – Chef and TV personality leveraged charisma and accessibility to build a vast media and merchandising empire. Strong at forging personalized customer bonds.
Sara Blakely – Billionaire Spanx founder excelled at direct-to-consumer marketing starting with grassroots tactics like in-person sales pitches to department stores.
These business standouts illustrate that sales greatness has little correlation with gender, education, or background.
Uncommon success springs from developing stellar selling skills and the tenacity to perfect them.
Get inspired by modern sales stars making history before our eyes.