Sales, like everything else in the modern age, is changing at a staggering velocity. Today’s buyer has unprecedented powers — all the information the Internet has to offer is at their fingertips. As a result, they move on their own timetable, and often without guidance from the sales professional who used to be the gateway to a buying decision.
Sales strategies are changing, too, but many sales organizations have been reluctant to give up old habits. At the same time, the competitive pressure is high, so salespeople are juggling both limited time and a limited perception of relevance by buyers.
What’s required in this landscape? Solid fundamentals.
By understanding the most essential skills, the modern sales pro can gain traction in this changing environment. Perhaps even more importantly, you’ll be devoting energy to building your personal brand — your most valuable career asset.
Rock the Inner Sales Game
Salespeople deal frequently with losses and frustration, so you’ll need to find ways to counteract the downs, Your mental toolbox is your most valuable trait. The ability to maintain a stable center is your buffer from disappointment.
Here’s a great video that can help you find your stable center. And here’s a quote to inspire a positive, forward path.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
Understand How to Qualify a Lead
There are leads … and then there are Leads. Expending energy on sales activities with prospects who are not ready to buy in the near future has got to be in the top three reasons for missing quotas. So know and act on the qualities that your team has identified as qualifiers. Think of some prospects as “ready now” (short list for immediate actions), and “not ready yet” (continue to nurture). You have a role to play in relating to prospects at every stage. But there’s a gulf between the kinds of sales activities you initiate with someone who’s ready to buy and someone who isn’t — and knowing the difference will sharpen your focus and boost your success rate.
Be Receptive to Technology
Embrace technology, and be able to identify the tools and techniques that will help you eliminate bottlenecks, save time, or gain insight. Understand social media, and know how to take advantage of the channels. This will pay off because prospects have preferences about how, when, and where they communicate. Knowing the ecosystem will mean that you can meet them on their terms.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the great changes that are happening in CRM. CRM is moving from a dreaded, data-entry hell into a new realm of usefulness. Our product, for example, is completely focused on adding business value — helping sales professionals get their work done quicker, use insights seamlessly, tackle the most important tasks in a timely way, and collaborate with ease. We’re leveraging the power of the world’s universal language — Visual — taking the obstacles out of the way so salespeople are free to do what they’re best at, SELLING.
Some sales professionals have been reluctant to embrace social selling activities. However resistant you are to including social in your toolset, it’s time to wade in. Resistance, as they say, is futile. New tactics and strategies are here, and will make you more effective.
Hone Your Research Skills
The basics (a prospect’s company, role, address, and product/service) is inadequate. You need to know how to gather the full range of information you need from the Internet. Uncover the iceberg of sales data and information that you can’t see on the surface. Start simply, and then build up your knowledge, develop your own shortcuts, techniques, and tricks. From feed readers to sales intelligence software, you need to master the ways to uncover the knowledge that drives your success. Knowing the obvious: your prospect’s company, position, URL, and product is only the beginning. From setting alerts, to free social tools, to Twitter lists, to analyzing the LinkedIn profile, using the Internet to full advantage just makes sense.
Focus on Listening and Relationship Skills
Venture capitalist, Mark Suster cautions: “Don’t be a crocodile salesman, big mouth and no ears.” Only by listening intently can you understand your buyers’ needs and emotions. Listening and hearing are different skills. Know the difference and practice faithfully.
Listening well is part of the effort to build intimacy, confidence, and trust with your customer. With these come a willingness on the part of your prospect to share the details of their business with you. Right from first contact, begin to share your knowledge, and make sure your prospect knows you are not preaching at them but learning from them in order to determine what’s best for their company. Making commitments and following through is a surefire way a potential customer can learn to trust you.
Know How to Deal with Objections
The way you handle objections during sales calls and in social channels separates the pro from the newbie. One strong tactic is to get all your prospect’s concerns out on the table as early as you can in the process. Never sound defensive, argumentative, or “salesy” when handling objections. It’s an art and a science.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Well-Built Presentation
As a sales pro, your message is your medium — and there are lots of different media to call on as you put your talents on the line. There are many great tools other than PowerPoint (not that there’s anything wrong with PowerPoint; it’s just easy to misuse it!) HaikuDeck is one that’s gaining fans.
Strive for brevity, design, fewer words, great graphics, and no jargon. Rehearse aloud; work constantly to improve and keep one step ahead of the average presentation to keep one step ahead of the average salesperson. The sales professional who has mastered the presentation has a powerful, powerful advantage.
Understand How to Ask for a Referral
Referrals are golden leads — the warmest you’ll receive. But sales professionals are notorious for not making the ask. This #SalesChat podcast with Anthony Iannarino has great advice about being graceful (and practicing) about referral requests. There’s no reason to be shy about asking for them. There are very easy ways to overcome fear and let your customers know you value referrals, which you earn by providing them with high quality offerings and customer service.
Get Good at Storytelling
As a sales professional you MUST learn how to tell stories. They are the lifeblood of handling almost any situation you’ll encounter. Storytelling is just the way human beings are genetically wired, and stories can be tailored for each type of customer and situation. Contrary to what most people believe, a sale is emotional, not just logical, and even the most common idea can be made compelling with the right story.
Learn How to Write Well (and Comfortably)
Sales is about communication, and you must communicate clearly and concisely or risk your client’s confidence. For many reps, writing (emails, proposals, blogs, referral requests) is the primary consumer of your time. Strengthen your skills in this department by reading good advice and keeping your skills current. Every sales professional should have a copy of William Strunk’s Elements of Style, and refer frequently to online resources covering grammar, usage, and punctuation rules.
No longer is “just winging it” sufficient for the sales professional. Treat your career like the profession it is and become an expert in these 10 skills — you’ll be building toward your full potential as a sales professional.
Thanks to Kyle Porter of SalesLoft for encouraging me, advising me, and inspiring this post with his fine sales mind!