You probably have an ideal customer profile to identify when a prospect is a good fit for your product or services. But most companies don’t have an ideal rep profile to map out the skills and competencies that their sales reps need to nurture those prospects, close deals, and convert them into paying customers.
Companies need to identify the skills through which their top-performing salespeople excel. Then they can look for similar abilities in new hires and train and coach their other reps to increase skill levels across the sales team. To help you identify the important abilities you need to prioritize in your hiring and training, we asked nine revenue leaders what the top sales skills are for their teams.
1. Product knowledge
Sales reps need up-to-date product knowledge to answer prospects’ questions, address competitor comparisons, and run confident demos. David Bitton, co-founder at DoorLoop, explained, “Customers will ask unexpected or difficult questions. Having a profound grasp of your product will reduce the likelihood of salespeople getting caught off-guard and stumbling over their answers.”
“Customers will ask unexpected or difficult questions. Having a profound grasp of your product will reduce the likelihood of salespeople getting caught off-guard and stumbling over their answers.”
The more your sellers know about your product, the better they’ll be able to tailor a demo or sales presentation to each prospect’s particular needs or challenges. “You must know your product inside and out,” said Freya Ward, global sales director at Headley Media.
“You need to be able to deal with any questions a client may raise and handle any potential objections they may have with confidence. You also need to understand exactly how the product will help the customer and why it is they need it,” she added.
Run dedicated training sessions with your product team when you launch product updates or new features. These will allow your reps to get hands-on with your product and learn to use it in a structured setting. Then run short quizzes to test their knowledge about your new features and virtual role-plays or practice demos to check that they are ready to present your new products to potential customers.
2. Active listening
Active listening helps sellers strengthen their rapport with customers. Cayla Thurman, business reputation consultant at Rize Reviews, explained, “Active listening is all about staying in the moment and making sure that you understand what the buyer is saying. You can rephrase what the buyer just said, verify if you got the message correctly, or slow the conversation down to ensure that you are perceived as an effective sales consultant.”
As well as helping build customer relationships, active listening is important for companies that take a more consultative approach to sales. This is the case for Frontify, and Stephanie McSwiney, their VP of sales, told us:
“Our AEs really need to understand the process and drivers of our customers and match them with the different use cases for our product. It’s often a very educational sell, so really understanding the client by active listening is key.”
You can assess reps’ active listening skills by reviewing call recordings — listening back or reading call transcripts. You want to see a good split in the talk time, with prospects talking more than your sellers. You can also look for key questions or phrases, such as, “did I understand that correctly?” or “have I got that right?” These questions demonstrate that a rep is actively engaged with what a prospect tells them.
Sales development reps (SDRs) need strong prospecting skills to find and reach out to good-fit potential customers, so they can maintain a healthy sales pipeline and hit quota. According to Crunchbase, top sales professionals “spend an average of 6 hours every week researching their prospects,” including seeking information about the company and looking up decision-makers on social media platforms like LinkedIn. Thurman explained:
“To be an effective salesperson, you need to be consistent in identifying new business opportunities, which means being great at researching potential customers, conducting cold outreach, and creating new options for better sales.”
Using a sales readiness platform like Mindtickle helps you provide AI-powered training and coaching for your reps. We found that cold email intros are the top use case for written role-plays in the Mindtickle platform as reps work to develop their prospecting and outreach skills.
Negotiation is an important skill for keeping deals moving forward and overcoming potential objections and blockers to closing deals. Tim Clarke, director of sales and marketing at SEOblog.com, explained:
“A sales representative should have solid negotiation skills to create a tailored experience for their customers, helping [customers] get the products or services they want while also ensuring that their company benefits from their customers’ decisions.”
Nina Pączka, community manager at Zety, has a clear idea of what reps with strong negotiation skills look like. She says:
“A good negotiator takes customer objections and turns them to the company’s advantage. They are assertive in finalizing the deal, showing different solutions that will appeal to the customer.”
You can assess your reps’ negotiation skills by listening to their call recordings for later-stage sales conversations with prospects. Alternatively, your reps can run practice calls with their peers to see how their colleagues approach negotiation, learn from each other, and identify negotiation tactics that work in real selling scenarios.
5. Identifying and understanding customer needs
Reps need to be able to identify the challenges customers are facing and understand what they want from a product like yours. Otherwise, they won’t be able to show how your product will meet customer needs and resolve their pain points. “A good salesperson has to be able to listen to clients and understand their needs rather than just jumping in with a sales pitch,” said Ward.
To understand customer needs, sellers need to ask thoughtful, relevant questions. Ng Jiong Han, CSO at Novocall, said:
“The ability to ask the right questions is an essential skill. It’s important because SDRs understand prospects’ problems and magnify them by asking the right questions. With this, they can easily position themselves to help prospects solve their problems without being pushy.”
This is another area where reviewing call recordings can pay off. A conversation intelligence tool like Mindtickle’s Call AI can identify the main themes and topics covered on a call. You can also track mentions of specific keywords, such as common challenges or competitors.
6. Written and verbal communication
Soft sales skills like effective communication are just as important for sellers to master as hard skills. Clarke explained, “Salespeople must know how to communicate effectively throughout the sales cycle and be confident in speaking or presenting, whether through video conference or in person.”
Your reps’ communication skills affect relationship building as well as their ability to confidently explain the benefits of your product. Many companies think that verbal communication skills are a must for sales reps but don’t look so closely at written communication. But email and outreach messages are a core part of the sales process. Poor written communication can create an unprofessional first impression and lead to missed opportunities for your team.
In a recent article, we asked revenue leaders to share their predictions for the future of sales. One important shift will be that sales reps will start to take ownership of inbound lead generation campaigns and work more closely with marketing departments. With that in mind, we wanted to bring in the demand generation perspective.
Tristan Harris, demand generation marketing manager at Thrive Agency, agrees that communication skills are essential. He said:
“You need to be comfortable communicating with your clients, customers, and peers in various situations. These instances include knowing how to ask clear and concise questions, effectively communicating and resolving customer complaints, and speaking confidently on the phone or in the video.”
Coachability is your reps’ ability to receive and act on feedback to develop and improve their skills. It can be the difference between a top-performing rep and a low-performing one.
Srikanth Pendyala, SDR team lead at Outplay, said:
“Many sales leaders I talk to tell me how important it is for them to hire SDRs who are coachable. Yet there is no yardstick to measure that skill. So we bring an element of coaching into our interview process. No matter how good the rep is, if they are not ready to unlearn and learn new things, we do not make an offer.”
An AI-driven sales coaching program can improve performance levels across your team, combining deal-specific coaching with more general skills training. It helps you personalize your coaching and training to focus on the individual skills and behaviors that each rep is struggling with, so they can make targeted improvements.
Document your team’s top sales skills in an ideal rep profile
Which skills are frequently displayed by the most successful salespeople at your organization? Once you’ve identified the skills, behaviors, and competencies that matter most to your business, document them in an ideal rep profile (IRP). You can then use your IRP in your hiring process to bring on new team members with the skills that will set them up for success. With the right abilities in place across your team, you’ll reap the rewards with a more efficient sales process — and reps who are ready to close more deals to bring in more revenue to the company.