20 Most Important Sales Skills Every Rep Needs

Sales is one of those fields where having a formal education isn’t really necessary for success. In fact, almost half of all sales reps today had no plans of entering a career in sales initially. 

Still, all sales professionals must possess a certain set of skills – skills that make them more attuned to the needs of their customers.

Here, we break down 20 of the most important sales skills every rep should have. Whether you’re a rookie sales representative or a seasoned pro, this list has something for you.

What Are Sales Skills?

Sales skills are the traits and characteristics that would help a sales professional pursue potential customers and guide them through every step of the sales process. 

Being a successful salesperson is about more than just selling efficiently though. It’s also about creating a positive and fulfilling buying experience. Doing so encourages brand loyalty with customers, increasing their likelihood of making a repeat purchase and referring the brand to new ones.

Hard Skills Vs. Soft Skills

Hard skills can be described as the technical, teachable sales skills that you learn through formal training. Examples of hard sales skills include proficiency in sales software, product knowledge, business communication, and prospecting.

Soft sales skills, on the other hand, are interpersonal attributes that people learn as they interact and collaborate with others. Soft skills include time management, empathy, communication, conflict resolution, and critical thinking.

A successful salesperson must have both hard and soft skills. It isn’t enough to know all the right sales strategies and sales methodologies in the world – if you don’t know how to collaborate with your teammates, empathize with customers, and resolve conflicts, then you won’t be able to form the meaningful connections you need to achieve success. 

20 Essential Sales Skills

1. Relationship Building

Relationship-building skills are formed with a combination of different soft skills, including empathy, verbal and non-verbal communication, listening, emotional intelligence, and networking skills. 

Emotional intelligence is a big part of relationship building and a major key to becoming an effective salesperson. This means being self-aware of one’s own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, having the social awareness and empathy to pick up on emotional cues and dynamics in a group and having the capacity to maintain relationships through effective communication and teamwork.

2. Knowing When To Keep Quiet

This is essentially another way to describe good listening skills. Sales conversations shouldn’t always be a one-way street. The best salesmen know when to shut up and listen to their potential clients to gain a better understanding of their wants, needs, and pain points.

3. Time Management

One critical sales skill that every sales professional must possess is time management. As the saying goes, time is money. And that applies both to you as a salesperson and to your customer. So an effective salesperson is someone who can pitch their product as efficiently as possible.

But time management isn’t just essential when facing clients. It’s also important for handling all the administrative work that goes on in the background. Sales representatives spend two-thirds of their working hours on administrative tasks like manual data entry. This leaves very little time for selling. A good salesperson will manage their time properly to strike a better balance between these two necessary parts of the job. 

4. Storytelling

After a presentation, only 5% of attendees remember statistics. Yet an overwhelming majority remember stories.

Storytelling is one of the most powerful skills salespeople should have in their arsenal. Humans connect with stories more than plain facts and figures. So when making a sales pitch, remember to use a story-centered approach versus one that puts numbers and statistics in the center. 

5. Research

Knowledge is power, as they say. To keep up in a competitive landscape, sales reps need to be up to date on the latest market trends and buyer attitudes. 

6. Critical Thinking And Problem Solving

What use are mountains of data when you don’t have the critical thinking skills to scope out what’s relevant and what’s not?

Sales professionals must be quick on their toes too, able to problem solve themselves out of tough situations. 

7. Collaboration

Gone are the days of the individualistic, every-man-for-himself attitude that once plagued sales. Today, most companies organize sales professionals into teams where they must learn how to listen, give way to others’ ideas, build on those ideas, and collaborate to keep the gears turning.

8. Product Knowledge

An effective sales rep is someone who is intimately familiar with the product or service they’re selling. After all, the sales rep’s job is to convince potential customers of the product or service’s ability to add value to their lives. Without extensive knowledge of the product/service’s functions, benefits, and advantages over the competition, a sales rep would have a harder time convincing customers to get on board with what they’re selling.

9. Technical Acumen

These days, sales professionals rely on CRMs, sales enablement technology, and revenue intelligence software to reduce some of the more tedious and time-consuming aspects of the job. As such, sales professionals need to at least have a willingness to learn how to use these tools.

10. Business Communication

As mentioned, strong communication skills are the building blocks of what makes a good salesperson.

But business communication, also known as business acumen or business intelligence, is a specialized form of communication that allows for the constant flow of information among all the moving parts of a business. At the end of the day, good business communication builds goodwill in a business and encourages growth.

11. Client Engagement

Client or customer engagement is the act of communicating with your customers to create stronger connections with them and, in turn, to convince them to patronize your business.

You need to be able to hold your customers’ attention all throughout the sales pipeline, so customer engagement is as much about confidence and persuasion as it is about patience and consistency. 

12. Active Listening

Active listening skills are an integral part of client engagement. Active listening involves not only hearing what a customer has to say but taking a keen interest in what they’re sharing. By providing affirmations, showing concern, and asking specific and open-ended questions, you can build trust and rapport with your customers.

13. Conflict Resolution

In sales, conflict is inevitable, whether it comes from clients who have issues with your product or service or colleagues who may disagree with your sales strategy.

Conflict management and resolution are thus important skills to have if you want to maintain long-term relationships with clients and your co-workers. It can be tempting to allow situations to escalate, but doing so also puts you at risk of burning bridges and destroying important relationships. 

14. Public Speaking

Anyone who wants to become successful in sales must work on their public speaking and presentation skills.

Giving sales presentations and pitches may come naturally to some people, particularly those who are more inclined to extroversion. But that doesn’t mean that more introverted people can’t excel at public speaking. Research, preparation, and practice can all help dampen the nerves and improve one’s ability to give a presentation.

15. Social Selling

Social selling can be described as the act of “leveraging your social network to find the right prospects, build trusted relationships, and achieve your sales goals.” 

According to LinkedIn, there are four pillars of social selling:

  • Creating a professional brand;
  • Focusing on the right prospects;
  • Engaging with insight;
  • Building trusted relationships.

16. Lead Qualification

Lead qualification is about evaluating potential customers to determine which ones are most likely to make a purchase. Lead qualification is important because it allows for a more efficient allocation of sales and marketing funds. 

17. Contract Negotiation

Contract negotiation is the process of discussing the terms of a contract that defines a particular working relationship. The goal of contract negotiation is to ensure that all parties involved are satisfied with their assigned rights and obligations, as well as knowledgeable of the risks involved with entering the relationship.

A good negotiator is someone who can find a solution that is mutually beneficial for all parties involved, and that the contract does not result in any conflicts in the future.

18. Policy Knowledge

All sales organizations abide by a certain set of policies that serve to uphold the company’s vision. When you work for a sales organization you make a promise to uphold the company’s policies and set an example to other members as well. 

19. Referral Selling

Sales referrals happen when sales professionals gain the contact information of prospective clients through an existing customer. According to Chron, sales referrals are “among the most valuable prospecting methods used by salespeople at small businesses to generate new leads”, as it eliminates the need for cold-calling and warming up clients. 

However, asking for a referral can be tricky and requires finding the right timing and providing the right incentives to existing customers.

20. Closing Skills

Closing is arguably the most important part of the sales process. It’s that moment of victory when you get a prospect to sign a contract or agree to make a purchase. But closing takes a fair amount of persistence, patience, and resilience. 

In fact, a whopping 80% of sales are made only by 8% of sales representatives. And the average closing rate is only 19% across all industries.

Why Learning These Skills Is Important

In a competitive field like sales, it’s survival of the fittest to meet one’s quotas. Even within companies or sales teams, sales professionals compete for better opportunities and higher pay. If you don’t step up, you can cost your company thousands of dollars and get left behind in the dust by more skilled players.

And while technology can help make parts of the sales process easier and less time-consuming, at this point, technology cannot replace real talent. 

As such, it’s highly important that you keep trying to improve your sales skills, both soft and hard.

How to Improve Your Sales Skills

So how exactly can you improve your sales skills and separate yourself from the pack?

Find A Mentor

According to the Center for Sales Strategy, sales representatives with 30 minutes or less of sales coaching a week have up to 43% win rates. Those that get at least two hours of coaching a week experience a win rate of 56%.

But what should you look for in a mentor?

First, it’s important to consider what you need a mentor for. What areas of your work are you struggling with and what kind of expert do you need for guidance? Next, look at some of the top performers within your company. Look for someone whose performance and behaviors you want to emulate. Finally, find someone you can get along with. Different people have different teaching styles. While some mentors may be able to provide a hands-on approach, some may just allow mentees to shadow them and learn by observation. 

Take Sales Training Courses  

There are numerous courses and certifications out there. You can ask your company to organize some sales training programs or you can seek certification courses outside of your company as well.

Take Every Opportunity To Learn

The sales industry is constantly evolving, thanks in part to all the new technology that keeps cropping up. Like a shark in the ocean, if you don’t keep swimming, you’ll die. What separates a great salesperson from a mediocre one is their ability to keep moving and adapting to new trends, see opportunities in challenges, and learn from adversity.

Be Receptive To Feedback

Do not be quick to take offense to criticism and feedback. You need to be receptive to others’ opinions of you, as they can give you a different perspective on how you’ve been performing as a sales professional. Asking for feedback from colleagues and managers also shows that you value the input of others.

Monitor Your Progress

In the same way that we have KPIs and benchmarks for our teams, it’s also important to set goals when trying to learn new skills.

What Actually Makes a Great Sales Rep?

Do you think you have what it takes to be a great sales rep? While some people may seem to be born for the sales world, there are a few key skills that anyone can learn and develop.

Ultimately, what makes a great sales rep is a willingness to learn and grow and a receptiveness to feedback, criticism, and help from peers and mentors.