10 Essential Skills to Becoming a Great Sales Representative

Hard skills vs. soft skills: A rundown of the most important skills in sales

The Meetingnotes Team
December 14, 2021

Whether you’re working on your communication skills or learning how to upsell existing customers, it’s important to continually improve your sales skills to become and remain a great sales professional.

So which sales representative skills are the most important to focus on? In this article, we’ll deep-dive into answering that question.

But first, a little background on different types of top sales skills.

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills in Sales

It’s important to understand the difference between hard skills and soft skills in sales.

  • Hard skills are quantifiable abilities or knowledge. Think typing speed, language fluency, or certification in a particular software.
  • Soft skills are more interpersonal and hard to quantify. These include the ability to work well with others, stay organized, and adjust to changes in plans or goals.

While hard skills are often what get you hired for a sales job, it’s soft sales skills that really set a great salesperson apart.

Great sales professionals know how to talk to people looking for a solution that their company provides. They’re knowledgeable about the product or service and receptive to questions and concerns. They know their prospects are intelligent shoppers and prudent decision-makers who want to make the best choice to meet their needs.

These more intuitive sales skills call for things like strong communication, listening, and empathy. We’ll dig more into those soon, but first, let’s start with the hard skills. These form the foundation of all skills for sales representative.

Hard Sales Skills

The sales skills you’ll need just to get started at most sales organizations include:

1. Product Knowledge

Before you can sell a product or service, you must have a thorough understanding of how it works and resolves pain points for your prospective customers. Without this extensive product knowledge, it’s hard to convince prospects to make a purchase.

You should be given time to experience the product first-hand, or at least get a detailed look at what your company’s offering looks like in the eyes of a customer.

2. Policy Knowledge

In addition to product knowledge, it’s also essential that sales reps be very aware of their company’s policies regarding governance, vision, and strategic goals. This knowledge helps inform the decisions sales reps make when working with prospective customers.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with your company’s procedures and policies as quickly as possible once you’re on the sales team.

3. Sales Process Proficiency

In addition to understanding product, procedures, and policy, you’ll need a deep understanding of the sales process and be able to navigate it efficiently.

A sales process is “a series of repeatable steps a sales team takes to move a prospect from an early-stage lead to a closed customer,” according to HubSpot. While each company has their own unique process, it will typically follow a structure of:

  1. Prospecting
  2. Lead qualification
  3. Research
  4. Pitch
  5. Objection handling
  6. Close

Learn more about the sales process to increase your understanding and odds of success.

4. Communication Skills

In order to move prospects along the sales pipeline, you’ll need to be able to communicate professionally. You’ll also need to utilize your company’s software and other technology to track prospects’ progress.

Every company is unique and places varying levels of importance on phone, email, messaging, social media, and other communication platforms. Additionally, the sales platform one company uses may not be the same as another.

Pay close attention to the tools and channels used in your company’s sales process. Ask questions or request additional training and practice to ensure you’re proficient at these important communication skills.

5. Research Skills

Finally, great salespeople are adept at everything from researching market trends to giving sales presentations.

Strategic prospecting and company research are critical to identifying good-fit customers and moving on from bad-fit ones. With strong research skills, you can find customers with pain points your product solves and learn enough about their needs to eventually close the sale.

While not every company requires sales presentations to individuals or groups, even a sales pitch phone call acts as a presentation in this field. You’re sharing the benefits a product or service brings and explaining why anyone listening should choose your offering over others. Your research will help you support your points.

Here’s a great infographic on improving your prospecting, and advice from Glassdoor on increasing your research skills. Sales professionals hone these skills over time with practice, but it never hurts to get started wherever you’re at.


Soft Sales Skills

Now that we’ve covered some essential sales skills, we’re ready to talk about what sets great sales reps apart: soft skills.

The right soft skill - hard skill combination can make the difference between simply making a quota versus making a difference for both customers and your company. If you’re interested in being one of the sales professionals who does the latter, these are the skills to build.

6. Negotiation Skills

Sales negotiation skills are an important skill in becoming a true sales professional. Prospects want to get the most value for their dollar. It’s your job to illustrate exactly how far their money goes towards addressing pain points when invested in your offer.

Following a disciplined negotiation process that’s in line with your company’s policies will ensure everyone walks away happy. The Challenger Sales Model is one example. At Harvard, Business Negotiations writer Katie Shonk explains that there are four sales negotiations techniques that benefit both buyers and sellers:

  1. Choose the best rationale
  2. Highlight losses rather than gains
  3. Split up losses; combine gains
  4. Avoid over-justifying

Successful salespeople practice this crucial skill to make effective sales pitches and close deals.

7. Relationship Building Skills

Sales skills aren’t just about making the sale, of course. Investing in a product or service often requires a lot of trust on the customer side. For this reason, relationship building is an important sales skill.

Creating meaningful relationships with your prospects means finding the right balance between frequent contact and helpful information sharing. You don’t want to beat prospects over the head with your offers, but you also don’t want to be so distant that they forget who you are.

Great sales leaders foster long term relationships with prospects without pressuring them to buy. Over time, and when they’re ready, their established relationship with you will encourage them to reach out or finally click “purchase”.

8. Active Listening

A huge part of relationship building is having good listening skills. This way, you can better understand your prospects’ unique pain points. One way sales representatives ensure they are doing this is by practicing active listening.

Active listening is “making a conscious effort to hear, understand, and retain information that’s being relayed to you,” according to CSU Global. Some ways to foster this skill include:

  1. Put away or turn off devices while talking
  2. Make eye contact if possible
  3. Take mental notes of the speaker’s points
  4. Give verbal affirmations that you’re listening
  5. Offer reflections, follow-up questions, or perspectives when asked
  6. Rephrase the speaker’s ideas for better understanding

Work on your listening skills in day-to-day life for practice. With time, you’ll see that active listening doesn’t just improve prospect relationships and sales—it also improves your relationships outside of work.

9. Time Management & Organizational Skills

Because sales professionals often juggle multiple prospects at a time, time management and organization are extremely important sales skills. While you’ll surely have sales software to help you with this, having a knack for organizing your time and tasks well immensely helps you keep different prospects’ information and needs straight.

Make the most of your company’s provided tools when it comes to organization. If you’re not great at time management, here are some suggestions adapted from Indeed:

  1. Start tasks early
  2. Set limits and say ‘no’ when needed
  3. Take breaks
  4. Prioritize tasks
  5. Schedule tasks and deadlines
  6. Keep an organized workspace
  7. Learn your productivity patterns
  8. Use tech to stay accountable
  9. Focus on one task at a time
  10. Reinforce good habits

Veteran sales representatives tend to develop systems around these ideas that keep them on track effortlessly. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes time to find your flow.

10. Critical Thinking Skills

Finally, at the end of the day, your ability to think critically about problems will count for a lot towards your success in a sales career.

This is one of those sales representative skills that can fill the gaps where other sales skills are lacking. Because of this, it is one of the most important sales skills in your repertoire.

Unsure if a customer is a good or bad fit? Feeling overwhelmed with a long prospect list? Unsure whether to push a little harder with a prospective customer or back off? Critical thinking is one of the sales skills every successful salesperson uses daily.

To improve this sales skill, Masterclass suggests you practice with these steps:

  1. Pinpoint the issue
  2. Collect information
  3. Examine and scrutinize
  4. Decide what’s relevant
  5. Self-evaluate
  6. Draw conclusions
  7. Explain your conclusions

Clearly, thinking critically is an important skill for sales reps. Combined with intimate knowledge of prospects’ needs and relevant pain points, it’s sure to help a good sales person hit their sales goals.

The Importance of Building Sales Representative Skills as a Team

Whether you’re practicing your active listening or improving any of the other sales representative skills listed here, sales teams are an excellent resource and support system for skill building.

Team meetings, retreats, and tracking progress via 1:1’s are all excellent formats for helping sales reps perform at their best. Whether you offer training courses or simply have the sales manager conduct regular check-ins, having a structured opportunity to enforce strong communication skills and excellent customer service can only benefit your organization.

Sales teams benefit from well-organized and focused meetings that include opportunities to learn and hone important sales skills.


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