“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.” – Mary Kay Ash

If you had to walk up to someone on the street and sell them something using only yourself as a resource, could you do it?

Do you have the skills to sell to anyone?

This post is about the skills you need to be the best salesperson this side of anywhere. But selling isn’t just about knowing the product and making sure you put the right name in an email.

In this post you’ll learn:

  • Do you already have the skills for sales?
  • Hard and soft sales skills you need
  • How do you actually learn these sales skills?

16 sales skills you need to close deals

  1. Trustworthiness
  2. Relationship-building
  3. Tenacity
  4. Self-awareness
  5. Emotional awareness
  6. Storytelling
  7. Know when to shut up
  8. Time management
  9. Gathering info
  10. Being authoritative
  11. Product knowledge
  12. Objection handling
  13. Active listening
  14. Eliminate the “Um”
  15. Sales demo skills
  16. Closing skills

1. Trustworthiness

How do you build trust without losing a sales opportunity? Hint – it’s not from rattling off a list of features and benefits about a product. That just shows that you know how to memorize.

You earn trust when you answer prospect questions and give proof to back up your answers.

Social proof is powerful:

  • 91% of people regularly read online reviews
  • 84% trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation
  • 68% form an opinion after reading between one and six online reviews
68% of people form an opinion after reading between one and six online reviews. Click To Tweet

When you are selling, don’t just list what makes a product good. Show prospects how your product solves their problem – and then follow up with social proof. This could be an online review or a customer story.

2. Relationship-building

To get repeat business you need to sell yourself. People want to do business with someone they trust.

To build relationships, you need to change how you think about your sales process. New thinking = new results.

  • Traditional Sales Outlook: Always deliver a strong sales pitch. Deliver a strong sales pitch right off the bat. No time for personal tangents.
  • New Sales Outlook: Start a conversation before you start pitching. A personal connection triggers emotional reactions that lead to more trust (and more sales).

Relationship-building means learning about who your prospects are as people – instead of thinking of them as another entry in your book of business.

3. Tenacity

Tenacious: “to be persistent in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired.”

You know that rejection is part of the sales job description. You can offer a way better product that you know is better than a competitor’s, and still see a prospect choose them over you.

If you’re tenacious are in the face of rejection, that rejection can evolve into a sale. Or, it often won’t turn into a sale. But part of the job is to get rejected a lot, until you get sales.

The salespeople who are the most tenacious bounce back the quickest, learn from their mistakes and improve their sales pitch. Click To Tweet

If a prospect says no, it’s likely for one of two reasons:

  1. They aren’t ready for your offer
  2. They haven’t identified what their problems are yet

You have to be careful, however, in how you show tenacity. The best way to be persistent is to ask the right questions – rather than force info about what you’re selling. This way, you can tell why they’re giving you a “no” and turn it into a “yes.”

Tenacity doesn’t mean going after everything with full energy at high speed. Tenacity means going after things that matter with everything you’ve got.

  • Make lists of everything that’s challenging you and prioritize which ones you want to tackle
  • Set measurable goals for yourself so you can track your progress. Seeing your results is a great motivator.
  • Cut complaining out of your process. It’s disappointing when sales don’t work out, but negativity only brings you down. Take a minute to be bummed, then get back to work!

4. Self-awareness

One difference between a person who makes sales and who repeatedly doesn’t is self-awareness.

Self-awareness means you can see where you need to change your approach.

In his Harvard Business Review article, How Leaders Become Self-Aware, Anthony K. Tjan quotes:

“The one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader, is self-awareness. Without self-awareness, you cannot understand your strengths and weakness, your “superpowers” versus your… Click To Tweet

Self-aware people can see situations that will make them successful and find ways to achieve their objectives that fit their inherent behavioral style.

How do you become more self-aware?

Pay attention and take notes during your sales calls. Your leads are the key to developing your own self-awareness.

What kind of tone did their voice have? Frustrated? Curious? Confused?
Did they ask more questions or listen quietly most of the call? What does this mean?
At the end of the call did they schedule a follow-up or say “they’d let you know?”

The answers to these questions are key indicators of where you might be going wrong in your sales process. Write it all down and use these insights to tweak your approach and build better self-awareness.

5. Emotional awareness

Have you ever heard someone say “people justify their purchases with logic, but they make decisions based on emotions?”

People use logic to defend a choice, but emotion is what makes the choice in the first place. Recognizing this is called emotional awareness.

When a lead buys from you, it’s because what you sell them solves a bigger problem or makes an already efficient process that much better.

If you push the logic of how a product perfectly fits their needs, it won’t be as effective as if you explain how good it feels to have a problem disappear because of your product.

What you should try: Put yourself in the buyers’ shoes. If you were getting pitched about a product, what emotional triggers would make you say yes? Write it down.

6. Storytelling

Everyone loves a good story. Why?

  • Stories are relatable
  • Stories offer affirmation of your thoughts and decisions
  • Stories open your mind to new ideas
  • Stories trigger emotional responses
Product knowledge and a clear voice make you a decent salesperson. Storytelling makes you an exceptional salesperson. Click To Tweet

Do you know why the TED conference gets so many attendees? Because TED talks are never just about what they’re about. The speakers tell stories to sell you on an idea and make you feel why it’s important to your life to know the information.

An exceptional salesperson can do the same by telling stories.

Buying is an emotional process first and a logical process second. Try writing a customer story about why a current customer became a client. This accomplishes two things:

  1. Writing the process in a story form helps you speak more naturally about a long-term relationship with your business, not just a one time sale.
  2. Writing down a customer story gives you a tangible resource to share with future prospects. Social proof can be a deciding factor for a prospect.

7. Know when to shut up

When you immediately launch into a sales pitch that’s focused on you and your product instead of the person you want to sell to, it’s a little like using a megaphone to talk over a crowd.

Instead of diving right into a prepared spiel, just shut up and listen.

This harsh-sounding advice could be your sales saving grace. (Source: BuzzFeed)

Listen to people on phone calls. Listen to people in their online reviews and comments on related content. Your sales pitch will be better when you create it based on the person, instead of the product.

This is a hard skill to master. Your job is to sell, and when you pitch a product you don’t want to leave anything out. Here are a few tips to help you listen a little better:

  • Listen in on a fellow salesperson’s calls. If you aren’t the one who’s actually there to talk to a prospect, all you can do is listen.
  • Practice a sales call with someone else. Get their feedback on where you can talk less and listen more.
  • Ask for feedback after your calls. Include the question “is there something you want to discuss that we didn’t cover today?” Literally give them a place where they get to talk instead of you.

8. Time management

This is probably not a new one for you, but always worth mentioning. Why? Because, everyone has moments where they slip up.

The sales process is as much a time investment as it is a financial one, and you need to use it wisely.

Both yours and your client’s time is important. Consciously taking action to manage your time with sales automation and marketing stack tools helps improves productivity and cost efficiency.

Here are some tips to use yours and your client’s time most efficiently:

  • Set call agendas. When you schedule a sales call, have a list of questions you want to ask (as well as answers to the questions you anticipate getting). If it’s early in the process, leads might not know where to start the conversation, so be prepared to start it for them – and share the agenda so they are prepared too.
  • Use a CRM to stay organized. A CRM (customer relationship management) tool helps keep all of your prospects organized based on where they are in your sales process.

A sales pipeline in the ActiveCampaign sales CRM.

  • Make a list. Itemize your day with your tasks most urgent to least urgent – and how much time you estimate each task taking.
  • Block time on your calendar. No, not just in your mind. Actually get a calendar and block out the time with a labeled task. Sometimes things come up and change your priorities, but a physical (or digital) schedule gives you a leg up on your day.
  • Take an hourly break. Just for 5-10 minutes. Stop where you are and reset your mind with a walk or a snack or a sales conversation. When you come back, you can refocus on your top priority.

9. Gathering info

How do you sell to someone you don’t know? It’s really hard.

Luckily, digital technology gives us access to tons of customer info that better prepares us to know what’s going to convince them to sign on the dotted line.

Where can you gather your research?

  • Your sales CRM
  • Competitor websites
  • Online reviews
  • Social media
  • A client intake form

You can gather info about:

  • What they like
  • What they hate
  • Their biggest struggle
  • What they’ve already tried to fix a problem
  • Something they want

And you can use it all to tailor the perfect personalized sales call.

10. Being authoritative

If you don’t show confidence in yourself and your product, why should anyone else? You’re smart enough to know that you can’t serve everyone, but an authoritative attitude will open conversations with the people you want to sell to.

Being an authoritative sales representative can mean a few things:

  1. Product knowledge: How a product benefits them and how it rises above competing products in your industry.
  2. Industry knowledge: How your product scales with the trends and changes in the niche product industry.
  3. Audience knowledge: Who is best suited to get results from your product – and why.

Listening plays a role in every single one of these sales skills. It helps you become an authoritative sales representative (and feel like one too).

Here are a few tips on how to become more authoritative:

  • Don’t worry about being liked. Yes, you want the prospect to like you, and cultivating a good relationship is very important. But you first and foremost want them to like your product.
  • Pay attention to your tone of voice. If you’re unsure of an answer or getting frustrated, don’t let them know it.
  • Have an answer when you don’t have an answer. When you’re thrown a question from left field, you can still respond with confidence. Try phrases like, “You’ve given me a lot to think about, so let me get back to you” or “I appreciate you asking this, and I’ll think it over.”

11. Product knowledge

Any sales representative who tries to sell without having an intimate knowledge of the features, benefits, and weaknesses of their product will not be successful.

Show that you are a product expert to create trust among your prospects.

To know your product, you have to learn about your product. Here’s how:

  • Schedule time for your own product demo and see for yourself exactly how everything works. Also, do it more than once. Refresh your memory regularly.
  • Gather helpful resources like guides or blogs, to get more clarification. You can also save these to share with your prospects during a demo.
  • Do a mock demo for someone else. Put your product knowledge skills to the test and take someone you know through a demo. Have them ask questions to make sure you’ve got answers for everything.

12. Objection handling

Objection handling is when a prospect presents a concern about the product a salesperson is selling, and the salesperson assuages those concerns to deal into a conversion.

People can come up with a million reasons not to do something – including buy from you. You need to be prepared with the reasons they should. Click To Tweet

Sales representatives need to learn to sincerely understand the prospect’s problem, ask for more information, and offer resources to help the prospect overcome their objections.

Objections can be about anything, but the most popular points of contention are:

  • Price
  • Product features
  • Competitors

Role playing with your sales team can make handling actual prospect objections much easier to handle with confidence. A couple of other objection handling tips are…

  1. Speak slowly, calmly, and confidently. In a typical sales conversation, average talking speed is 173 words per minute. But when flustered by a sales objection, a bad sales rep will speed up to 188 words per minute. Take a second and take a deep breath before you respond. Give yourself a moment to form an answer.
  2. Try mirroring. Chris Voss talks about this objection handling technique in his book Never Split the Difference. Here’s what you do: Repeat the last few words of your buyer’s sentence. And do it with an upward voice tone (like you’re asking a question). It triggers your buyer to elaborate.

“Objection” really just means “opportunity.” (Source: Gong)

13. Active listening

Sometimes we hear but don’t listen. Many sales reps are comfortable talking to prospects, but listening is another matter. If listening is hearing the sound, active listening is processing the sound.

Active listening in sales lets you get clear information from your clients but also to build rapport and show that you care about their concerns.

Some active listening techniques include:

  • Showing concern
  • Paraphrasing to show you understand
  • Waiting to share your opinion until you have all the info
  • Asking both open-ended specific questions
  • Nonverbal cues like nodding, eye contact, and leaning forward
  • Short, verbal affirmations like “I see” or “I understand”
  • Sharing similar experiences to show understanding

People can tell if you’re not listening to them, which can lead them to someone who will – who isn’t you. Great listening skills can help salespeople empathize with prospects and their pain points. That knowledge will help you sell more effectively.

14. Eliminate the “Um”

“Um” is the not-so-silent sales killer.

A prospect is in the sales process to learn from you, and this little word – when used too much – can make you sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Do you want to know the best thing you can do instead of umm-ing? Be silent. Take a brief pause.

Even though it might feel awkward to say nothing during a pause, actively choosing silence is a better alternative than filling the space with something doesn’t bolster the content, or your credibility.

Also – silence feels longer to you than it does to the person you’re talking to.

Taking pause has other benefits, including:

  • Give the prospect time to process the information
  • Help you pace yourself (especially if you tend to talk fast when nervous)
  • Give you a moment to get your thoughts in order

Test this out in your everyday life to get better at it. During your next meeting or lunchtime chat, track how often you say “um” and think about consciously taking a breath to force a pause.

15. Sales demo skills

A sales demo shows a prospect exactly what they get when they buy from you. They learn what a product is, how to use it, and why to use it. Yes, you talk about these things in the early calls, but now your sales demo gives them proof.

People want proof. It’s that simple.

To pull off the perfect sales demo, you can use resources like:

  • Videos
  • Content
  • Help guides
  • Presentation tools

To pull off the perfect sales demo, consider these tips:

  1. Customize the demo to the prospect. Before you start any kind of spiel, ask the person what their primary interests are and what they want to get out of using your product. Tailor your demo to those needs.
  2. Don’t do a “just-in-case” demo. It’s tempting to include absolutely everything about your product right away, but rattling off every little thing can be overwhelming. Highlight the most important things to talk about, listen to the questions they ask, and prepare questions to ask them. They will tell you what else they want to know.
  3. Take your time. Rushing makes you feel stressed and often leaves a prospect confused. If you don’t have time to cover everything with one demo, that’s actually ok! It gives you room to schedule another call and keep the conversation alive.

Excellent sales demos show subject expertise and build trust around your business.

16. Closing skills

You’re at the moment when a prospect finally realizes, accepts and buys (literally). How do you make sure that the deal actually closes?

Discuss next steps immediately after a demo.

Talk through the process of officially onboarding them as a customer. Be clear about:

  1. Who they need to talk to on their end to get final approval
  2. What kind of timeline to expect for all next steps
  3. When you’ll schedule a follow-up call

The best thing you can do to build this skill? Practice in the mirror. You might feel silly, but watching yourself finish your pitch can show you how you come off to the person on the call.

Also, schedule a follow-up before the call ends. Make sure that the next steps you and the prospect are discussing have a scheduled start date.

“How hard is it to get on the phone and sell?”

Taking a prospective customer through phone calls and emails is a delicate process. Do you feel prepared to walk them all the way through the process?

The difference between making a sales call and having a conversation with a future customer comes down to the sales skills you have. And there are two types of sales skills you need in your toolbox:

  1. Soft skills
  2. Hard skills

You might have more of these skill types than you realize. (Source: ProjectManager)

Soft skills are the types of skills we all learn over a lifetime. They refer to your mindset, attitude, behavioral tendencies, and ability to connect with people. These skills are more naturally inherent and often feed into more specific hard sales skills – like time management.

Hard skills are more formal skills that you learn from academic institutions, workplaces, seminars, mentorships, and training courses. For sales, it would be a skill like product knowledge – something that isn’t an inherently developed lifetime skill.

Every salesperson who wants to succeed needs a combination of hard and soft sales skills under their belt.

Conclusion: How do I learn sales skills?

The best way to learn and master your sales skills is to put them to the test. Research only takes you so far; eventually, you have to practice.

Still, a little extra research to bolster you efforts can only help. To that end, here are a few extra resources to take your learning up a level.

Book: To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink

(Source: Amazon)

Pink says that moving people (AKA selling while also persuading or influencing) is an essential part of nearly everyone’s job in the modern workplace. Everyone is in sales.

Whatever your line of work is, your success depends on how well you can “move people” – get them to part with their resources – like time, money, and energy – in exchange for some value you can provide to them. It’s undeniably true for a dedicated salesperson.

Book: How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” – Dale Carnegie (Source: Amazon)

Dale Carnegie wrote this book in 1936, but the lessons still apply in today’s world. The entire book is basic, common-sense principles – principles we have all heard or been taught at some time, but are easy to forget in day-to-day life. It is about how to care about other people and show them that you care.

It teaches lessons like:

  • Become genuinely interested in other people
  • Begin in a friendly way
  • Praise every improvement
“You can close more business in two months by becoming interested in other people that you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie Click To Tweet

Do you already have the skills you need for sales but still feel like you’re in a sales slump? Get inspired by these 49 sales quotes to inspire your best sales month ever.