Sales Skills Definition

Note: Article republished from The Digital Sales Institute 

Creating a sales skills definition is unique to every business as they need to reflect the overall sales strategy alongside the expected sales activities of the salespeople.  Sales skills differ depending on inside V outside customer facing sales plus which part of the sales process a salesperson is involved with. Technology, social media, the internet and the digitally connected buyer has in effect driven the change in how we apply sales skills definition to a sales role.

sales-skills-definition

Sales Skills Definition

This will be personal to each business. However, an overarching sales skills definition is the specific set of sales skills (prospecting, cold calling, nurturing, engaging, presenting, negotiating, closing etc) and knowledge (product, markets, trends, business etc) a salesperson possess to enact the exchange of value between a buyer and the vendor.

Sales Skills Reflect the Business Environment

Sales skills will always reflect the prevailing environment and the buyer’s acceptance of how they interact with the purchasing process. Let me explain further, once upon a time door to door sales was a dominant channel in both B2B and B2C. So, the prevailing environment was to enact sales via “the travelling salesman”. If you were to ask John Henry Patterson (probably the father of sales) back in early parts of the 20th century for a sales skills definition he may have stated skills that reflected a door to salesperson.  Firm handshake, storyteller, manipulator, friendly, can convince, pushy, ability to take rejection and a persuader could be some of the skills he would mention.
My point here is that sales skills reflect the company’s sales strategy and business model. So, when it comes to creating a sales skills definition consideration must be given to how the business operates, potential customers preference for buying, ethos, channels and product complexity. The hiring profile and training of sales people should reflect the skills definition as laid out in a sales playbook or strategy.

Let’s compare the sales skills of a door to door salesperson with a modern sales professional when it comes to sales prospecting. For the door to door salesperson it would start with the knock on the door (not too aggressive), their opening lines, the handshake, the smile, their body language, how they were dressed, the opening pitch etc. For the modern sales professional doing sales prospecting what are the skills you would expect?

Future Sales Skills Definition

Some of the traditional skills still hold true, however skills such as ability to research, use of data, multi-channel activity, nurturing relationships and value exchange have replaced many of the interruption sales skills employed by the door to door salesman. This is being driven by social media, data, connectivity, educated buyers and technology that requires a transformation to how many companies sell. These changes will require sales skills that go way beyond the traditional selling tactics.

Skills that make buying easier. Research shows that the educated, savvy and connected buyers want the whole buying process to be easier more rewarding, informative and fulfilling.  Business needs to consider what sales skills salespeople are being trained on that reflects this new reality.

Buyers want to engage for longer term value that goes beyond the product. They want to do business with sellers who really understand the “what, why, and when” of their needs. Selling will become more collaborative and intelligent.

To bring this extra value to buyers, companies need to invest in sales training for salespeople so they can educate and nurture customers on needs they do not know they have. Yes, social media, social selling, inbound marketing and digital connectivity is making it easier to engage with customers more cost effectively. But do sales skills and sales techniques reflect the current environment is a good starting question.

sales-skills

Sales Skills Definition for Sales 3.0

Salespeople need to have empathy and ability to really understand a customer’s needs.

The skill to engage comfortable with a customer at their level and on their terms.

Ability to add value to the customer at every stage of the process, leaving aside self-interest.

Skilled at active listening along with asking discovery questions to uncover business challenges.

The salesperson can create a vision for the value that their product will bring to the customer.

Can build rapport, tell stories and sell their personality, because even in this digital world, people still buy people.

Business acumen, the salesperson has a genuine interest in how business works.

They are trained to know that sales negotiation is a process not an event, so they constantly use the 3Ps of selling – Prepare, Probe, and Propose.

Is credible and understands how to build credibility and add value to a customer’s life.

Has the sales skill to pinpoint, quantify and communicate clearly the value their proposed solution will bring to the customers business.

As stated in the outset of this article, a sales skills definition for the sales roles and salespeople will be personal and unique to every business. Just as sales has evolved from door to door in the analogue era to the digital salesperson of today, so too will the sales skills as our environments change with the times.

Sales Training Courses

Sales training courses are designed to improve the sales skills of the sales team, from social selling to sales prospecting, cold calling, business development and sales presentation skills to name but a few.

Sales training courses and sales coaching are essential for a salespersons success. The stark reality is that ineffective sales training seriously effects a businesses growth and profitability not to mention employee churn.  Research shows that many CEO’s and people in sales leadership positions believe they obtain little or no return on the sales training they provide. Could this be that in many sales training courses there is a lack of mindset training.

sales-training-courses

To build a successful team of salespeople, we should include sales mindset training alongside the list of sales skills training. Because in business, our most valuable asset many not be our product or service, our most valuable could be the mindset of the salespeople.

Sales mindset training extends out to helping individual salespeople to be bolder, to take more calculated chances and to have a more entrepreneurial attitude. On sales training courses, omitting to include “the sales mindset”, will result in the rubber band effect leading to little or no ROI. We know that as we teach the skills and behaviours required to succeed in sales, we stretch the mind of the salespeople. However, if the sales training doesn’t lead to a mindset or values shift, the salesperson just reverts back to type, just the same as a rubber band when you stretch it and release. Sales training courses need to embrace mindset training or accept a limited improvement in sales performance.

So maybe the first lesson on a sales training course is to help salespeople to let go of any biases holding them back. To understand how they contribute to the business world, the value they deliver and why their efforts are important and worthwhile.

Sales Training Courses

So, let’s move onto some other topics to be included on sales training courses.

  1. How to educate a prospect with new perspectives: Coaching a salesperson to open up a prospect’s mind to new, unconsidered and different solutions that solves their challenges.
  2. Collaboration skills: To earn the trust of the modern buyer, salespeople need to take a more collaborative approach to selling. This is about making buying easier, to inform and educate while eliminating the buyer V the seller in the minds of the buyer.
  3. Communicating Value and ROI: The skill to tell stories that clearly communicate the return a customer can expect, and the end result they will achieve.
  4. Active Listening Skills: To put the customer first, to practice actively listen skills so salespeople really learn about the customers business and challenges. Active listening goes hand in hand with great discovery sales questions.
  5. How to identify the prospect’s real needs: If discovery sales questions don’t uncover a buyer’s needs, then a salesperson will have a difficult time positioning the proposed product or service as the solution.
  6. Help prospects buy and overcome obstacles: Understanding the internal workings of the prospects business, creating honest dialog on the process and how to deal with them is important if time wasting is to be avoided.
  7. Create a convincing solution: If you can’t impress a buyer with your proposed solution that communicates how you will help them achieve desired results, you’ll struggle to close.
  8. How to get agreement on the buying process: Training the salesperson to get agreement from the customer on all the steps involved from both sides in the buying process.
  9. Creating a personal value proposition: What does the salesperson represent (linked to sales mindset) and what are the values they hold dear. Creating a personal value proposition and then sharing it builds rapport and trust.
  10. How to differentiate based on USP and the value they will bring: In sales training, too many courses teach salespeople how to differentiate based on product features and benefits. However, prospects are far more interested in the value the product or service will provide including the value of the salesperson themselves to the buying process.

There are many other elements to be shared in the delivery of sales training courses, the sales skills needed to achieve success in a sales career. Developing these skills such as social selling, effective sales techniques and sales prospecting etc take time and will be fine-tuned over time, but the investment in learning and improving oneself is worth it.

Matching Sales Training to the Buyer’s Journey

Matching sales training to the buyer’s journey is essential when designing not just your sales training courses but also as part of your digital selling strategy. Developing a deep understanding of your customer profiles and their buying journey is critical in getting a sales force to engage a company’s target audience. When done correctly, matching sales training to the buyer’s journey will improve the effectiveness of your sales strategy and dramatically increase sales growth.

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Sales Training Class

We know that social media and the digital channels provide buyers with self-education which leads to greater autonomy when making buying decisions. Which poses the question, “If most of the information they would need to make an informed decision when considering a purchase is available online, what is the role of the modern salesperson?

Sales leaders need to ask where does sales prospecting and customer acquisition tactics fit into engaging buyers in the digitally influenced sales process.

 Defining the buyer’s journey 

Defining the buyers journey is not so much about “what is it” but “HOW is it” enacted. A simple definition could be – The process a buyer goes through to become aware of, consider, evaluate, and then decide on purchasing a product or service.

In the buyer’s journey, the biggest change is in the “awareness’ and “consideration” stages. In these stages, social media now plays a bigger part than the traditional sales engagement. Is this a failure by business to address this in sales training (by providing better sales prospecting tactics) or have we just ceded a vital part of customer acquisition to the internet?

Matching sales training to the buyer’s journey

This will ensure a sales team that is skilled in using a multi-channel approach to nurturing a target set of customers throughout the buying process.  This is now essential for any business to attract buyers towards purchasing your product or service. Salespeople need to have a clear understanding of what the customer expects at each stage of the buying process. It is the responsibility of sales leadership to provide the training, coaching and guidance to help them interact with potential customers with relevant content and messaging at every stage.

There is no mystery in the digitally influenced buyers journey, the key to successfully engaging customers on their buyer’s journey is constant engagement. Digital sales transformation is being rolled out in sales training to teach salespeople how to skilfully engage with prospects throughout each stage of their journey. The goal is not just selling but to build trust and rapport between the business and the prospect. Research shows that the biggest differentiator in selling success may just be getting the prospect trust. So, if you can build credibility, usefulness and trust above your competitors in the chase to win business, it will give you the advantage when converting a prospect into a customer.

Stages in the Buyers Journey

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B2B Buyers journey

The buyers journey can be condensed down to a three-step process: The Awareness Stage: The buyer realises they may have a problem. Consideration Stage: The buyer defines their problem and researches options to solve it and then the Decision Stage: The buyer chooses a solution.

Awareness.

In the Awareness stage, a buyer will identify an issue, or challenge they want to address. At this stage they decide what priority this issue or challenge should be. So, does your sales training cover off:

How would the buyer describe his or her challenges?

Where and how does the buyer educate themselves on the challenges facing others or their industry?

What would be the compelling reasons when the buyer comes to deciding whether or not this should be prioritised?

Consideration 

Next is the Consideration stage, here the buyer should have moved to having clearly defined the issue or challenge plus a commitment to dealing with it. They have self-educated, read whitepapers, interacted with companies and sales people plus will have evaluated the different options available to pursue the end goal of resolving the challenge. Again, sales training needs to address:

Which categories of solutions do buyers investigate?

Where do buyers educate themselves on the various options or solutions?

How do buyers perceive the pros and cons of each solution?

How do buyers decide which option is right for them?

Decision.

The third stage is Decision. The buyer has arrived at a decision on which solution matches their need.  Some questions the sales training material should cover:

What criteria or other considerations will a buyer use to evaluate the available offerings?

When the buyers comes to researching you (yes, they will) and your company’s offering, what do they like about what they see or read compared to the competition?

What concerns will you need to cover off on your solution?

Is there a buying committee or who else needs to be involved in the decision? For each person involved, how does their perspective on the decision differ?

What is the buying process or will the buyer have expectations around sampling/trying your solution before they purchase it?

What is the true cost of acquisition, so outside of buying your solution, do buyers need to make additional plans around implementation, IT or training?

Some sales training tips 

It is important to break down each step in your sales process and then match your sales training to the buyer’s journey. Each sales training session should focus on a step in the sales process including what sales assets, content and information to use. For a salesperson, learning the next step in the sales process should be a reward for mastering the previous one.

The buyer to supplier relationship along with how buyers engage with salespeople is changing rapidly. Your sales strategy , sales process and  sales training will have to become more dynamic, multi-channel and digitally driven, just like our customers.

Selling Techniques

In sales, for selling techniques to work effectively there needs to be clarity in both the actual sales role and in the process of selling. Successful selling is about always having a clear objective based on where we are in the sales process.

Challenge the buyer’s journey

Sales people can too often view the sales process as a linear process with a WIN/LOSS outcome at the end where the prospect either chooses you or the competition. There is a third option which studies show that effects up to sixty percent of deals getting marked lost, this is the “No Decision” scenario where the prospect parks the deal due to the fear of change or just don’t see the value. One selling technique is to challenge the status quo of the win/loss scenario and focus on getting buyers to see that change (choosing your solution) can make them a hero, will make life easier and has value far beyond the price being paid.

selling-techniques

Find the USP

In the sales process there will always be some overlap between what you provide and what the competition can provide to a prospective customer. Stark reality is that the overlap could be as high as sixty or seventy percent. Do not fall into the sales trap of over focusing on “parity areas” against competitors in the sales process. Rather sales people should focus on what they can do for the customer that is absolutely different from what the competition can do; this is your “Unique Selling Point.” Your USP has to be unique to your solution, identified as being important to the customer, and can be defended when push comes to shove.

Share social stories with real meaning

Sales and marketing messaging is about telling a company’s story in such a way that it attracts prospects to the business and eventually turns them into customers. The challenge for every company and sales person is to share stories (social selling) that differentiate from the competitors. Sharing stories with real meaning can help create a powerful perception of value in a customer’s mind. So we need to tell the “before” story and the “after” story, real verifiable stories, meaningful stories, stories with emotion. Share real stories about the people who were affected by the challenges in the business area they were working in. Then share how their situation became easier, more productive, or less stressful after using your solution to the problem.

The customer is the Hero

Every story has a hero. The hero who got things sorted. In business, the customer is always the hero, the hero who identified the problem, who foreseen change was needed, that there was a better way. Reality check, it is NOT you, your company or your solution. The customer is the one who needs to save the day, not you. Selling has changed, the sales role is to adopt the position of a mentor, listening, helping, guiding and sharing stories to customers so they can see what needs to be changed and how they can thrive into the future.

Focus on the customer

Successful selling starts by really listening to the customer, the challenges they have and what they want to solve, rather than just trying to find a reason to sell them something. No such thing as a standard sales presentation, each one should be tailored so the way you present your product or service will match each and every customer’s requirements. This solution selling technique is a far more powerful than delivering a template driven, general purpose sales pitch. Now your sales message can pinpoint exactly how your product suits the customer, highlighting the points where you have a competitive advantage (USP). While at the same time, the more information you know about a customer’s position and what your product could potentially do for them, the more likely you can prove its value to them, hence reducing the fear to change barrier.

Focus on the right customers

Customer acquisition and lead nurturing is about focusing on the right customers. Ask the question “Who do I sell to?” No point hunting down prospects if the solution you have is not a right fit. While sales training should include sales tips on getting past the gatekeepers such as secretaries and to create interest, they do not tell you which customers to approach. Take the time to understand where your company can beat the competition, then research customer profiles, draw up a list of prospects, engage with social selling to create awareness to put you in a strong position when it comes to considering you or your solution. Also knowing who your ideal customer profile is will help open up a sales story and why it is worth a customers’ time talking to you. Knowing when to sell and knowing when to walk away is a selling technique not being taught enough.

Clarity in the Sales Process

Think of a sales process as a series of steps to get from A to Z. Does the sales process have or include a free trial, an on-site visit, face-to-face meeting, proof of concept or maybe a product demonstration? What processes have proven most successful in the past? On every customer interaction, ask yourself, what do I want to get out of this and where are we in the sales process? Clarity in the sales process gives you a framework and the time to create a buying vision, the reasons and case why the customer will change (challenge the buyers journey) plus the time to share social stories to show how the prospect’s world can change for the better.

Be Systematic

Success is based on hard work and skill not luck. A systematic approach to selling is critical to sales success. Have a daily, weekly and monthly plan for lead generation, sales calls, social selling, pipeline development and deals secured with specific targets in each area. Much of this sales activity is a question of efficient time management so before you start your week, check your sales process and then plan the number of events you want to progress.

In sales, we are today where our selling techniques have brought us. We will be tomorrow where our selling techniques take us.

Sales Techniques

Every sales professional should have a reference library on effective selling techniques. There are lots of sales trainers who dispel “sales wisdom” which in reality does not help the sales person improve their sales close rates. Gathered from sales interviews and insights from sales leaders here are some really effective selling techniques that have been proven to work. Ten sales technique tips that might help improve sales performance.

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  1. Find the real problem or pain point the prospect is communicating. Do not fall into the trap of assuming that the prospect is communicating the true problem that needs solving, the so called “red herring”. It is important to dive deeper into every customer scenario. Like a doctor, a sales professional must ask “is this the prospects real pain point or is it just a niggle?” Then prior to diagnosing and offering a solution on how to address their challenges, more questions needs to be asked in order to get at the root of the customers problem or pain, and then it is the job of the sales person to demonstrate value to the prospect by aligning the product to the customers real goal.
  2. Telling is not Selling. In the agreement staircase a sales professional should always be helping the potential customer discover the best reasons to buy from their company and never ever telling them why they should. The potential customer should have decided they will be buying from you before the final proposal or presentation.
  3. Two ears and one mouth. The gift of the gab does not hold true. Sales people should seek first to understand then be understood. The first priority is about listening and asking questions. In a digital world, if a prospect wants the lowdown on a company’s products or services, all they have to do is visit the website. Selling is a series of conversations, and building trust via honest exchange of information.
  4. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Buyers go through a process of self-discovery and education before reaching a decision on which product or service is the right solution. Customers do not like being railroaded and to be told what to buy. To avoid the “selling by telling” scenario, it is critical to ask key questions or relate the “feel, felt, found” third party stories which guides the customer to discover the benefits and advantages of your product or services. When a sales person asks open-ended questions that leads to a discovery, the customer themselves owns the discovery and buyer resistance reduces. Customers do not tend to argue with their own logic.
  5. Ask, Sell, Educate. The first goal in selling is to find prospects and then ask why, and under what circumstances, the prospect will buy from you. Asking questions and listening comes first, the sharing of materials, data and specifics comes next. Ask, Sell, Educate in that order.
  6. A Sales person’s time is valuable too. As the sales conversation progress, a sales person must make the decision whether or not to continue investing time in the relationship building with the prospect. If a sales person is a poor decision maker in order to keep the prospect on their pipeline, the lack of clarity and decisive action will be mirrored in the prospect’s actions. A golden rule of sales is the shorter the selling cycle, the more leads that will close.
  7. Never Assume. A good sales professional always gets the facts from the prospect about what they need and why. When a prospect is vague with detail, ask for clarity. Never fall into the trap of being a mind reader. When sales people jump to conclusions, assumptions are made that lead to a waste of valuable time and opportunities being squandered.  As the saying goes, Assume is to make an ass out of you and me.
  8. Never work for Free. When and if a prospect asks for free work, proof of concept or consultancy before they will make a buying decision, play the “What If” sales game. Paint a what if picture to the prospect where the additional groundwork or consultancy is completed which is then a solution that fits everything the prospect needs, what happens next?, will they give you the purchase order? If the prospect flinches at sealing the deal even after the additional free work is completed, or if they introduce another step in the sales process, it may be time to walk away or focus on the new step in the sales process.  When you want to know where you stand, focus on the present.
  9. Be tough on yourself. It can be too easy to cast blame on the prospect for stalling the process or wasting your time. Instead, look towards yourself. It is the role of every sales person to guide, assure and inform the prospect plus address any detours along the way. The most effective way to improve sales success is to continue to refine your own sales approach and technique while valuing your time.
  10. Never perfume the pig. Never ignore any product limitations or cover over any issues the prospect identifies during the sales process. Always try to be open and transparent on product advantages, parity and disadvantages during the selling cycle. The prospect will respect a sales person that is mature enough to never to try and blanket over anything, instead turn the focus on how together you can problem solve, creating a win/win team approach to the prospects solution.

So there you have the ten sales techniques, it is not an exhaustive list or even suggesting it is all encompassing, but even if you find one suggestion that will work for you in your sales career then maybe the ten minutes spent reading this article was worth it. Happy selling and for more sales tips articles visit the Bitter Business.

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