Core Sales Skills

In my last post, I described how sales is basically playing to your strengths.  You use the skills you have to make the best environment for your targets to buy.  In this post, I want to concentrate on defining some core skills almost every salesperson will need to develop to take their success to higher levels.  This is about going from good, to great.

First- some definitions.  By Core Sales Skills, I mean learn-able traits and abilities that will help you to improve your craft in any sales role you endeavor to take.  These things help across the board, no matter what you’re selling, to whom, or by what process.

  1. Professionalism.

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I define Professionalism as the ability to think rationally in response to emotion.  It’s coolness under pressure, firmness without anger, logic in an environment of emotion.  Professionalism is listening to an angry customer rant for an hour, and presenting an ego-free resolution.  It’s being social and engaging for long into an evening when internally you want nothing more than to be alone for awhile.  It’s taking unlimited pressure from goals, politics, or competition without worry or reduction in resolve.  It’s not allowing awkwardness, frustration, nervousness, mishap, or embarrassment to affect your ability to do your job.  It takes practice.  It takes commitment.  It takes time.  Keep at it.

2. Business Savvy

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In sales, your end goal is to make money.  For you and for the business.  This requires the flexibility and understanding of how business is conducted.  You need to understand opportunity cost, profit, margin, and analytics.  The better you have a working knowledge of how your business functions, the better you will be able to use that knowledge to your advantage.  How do your customers buy?  How is the product or service you sell delivered and used?  When you sell something, who is tasked with holding up your end of the transaction?  Where can flexibility increase opportunity?  When is rigidity the best approach?  Become savvy in both business generally, and specifically savvy to your business.

3. Adaptability

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Even in the most rigid of selling structures, salespeople can expect to work under a constantly shifting set of conditions and requirements.  In customer interactions alone lie an infinitely different set of goals and requirements that must be met each time.  Then- throw in internal dynamics and changes in policy or selling practice, differences in product offering, external competitive forces, and any number of other variables, and you get a system that will have change.  A lot of it.  Hopefully the job-specific training you receive will give you a base of tools to combat the more common objections and meet the usual requirements, but to take your sales game to the next level you need to become adaptable.

I think this one warrants an example.  Say you are selling bicycles in a retail store.  I’ve done this, it’s a lot of fun.  My company trained me on the common objections/requirements to purchasing a nice bike- price, quality, technical specifications, and warranty.  I felt confident, and a lot of the people who walked in the door had goals around one or more of these topics.  I did pretty well, much better than I would have without the training.

Being the wildly unsatisfied person that I am, I wanted more.  I began to really put focus on discovering the core issue standing in the way of making the sale.  I started to win sales in categories that the shop had never done well in before.  One notable person was concerned only with receiving top quality service.  He didn’t care about price, cared only in passing about technical specs or quality, and wasn’t worried about a warranty.  His core concern was all about how good the mechanic was.  Once I realized this- I went out of my way to demonstrate to him that I was exceptionally knowledgeable and talented as a mechanic, (and that if I didn’t know someone else who worked with me did).  He spent over a hundred thousand dollars at the shop in the following year- without ever raising an objection again.  I adapted to the situation to meet the needs of a unique customer and reaped the reward.

4. Understanding and Demonstrating Value

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Value is the reason people buy things.  Money has value, and people/organizations are only going to give up their money for things that have some sort of value as well.  As a salesperson, you need to be the last word in being able to demonstrate this.  This skill goes hand in hand with adaptability, because what is valuable to one may be different to another.  A classic example of this is the old sales interview question- where the sales manager hands the job candidate an ordinary something (like a pen) and says “sell me this pen.”

While it’s true that it’s kind of a dick-ish thing to do in an interview- it is nevertheless effective in weeding out the very skilled salespeople from the not as skilled.  A skilled salesperson will analyze the situation (job interview), look for what meaningful value is available (is it the only pen around?  what situation could occur where a pen might be valuable?), and use that to sell the pen.

My go to answer for this question is to gather up all the writing utensils in the room and break them.  Then I ask a question around what their sales process looks like and I ask them to draw me a diagram.  Now the pen has value.

 

Remember- these skills all take time to master.  Keep at them.  In my next post, I will talk a little about how to formulate a personal sales strategy based on your skill set- and why this is crucial to your sales success.

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