Knowing how to sell is not a dirty secret, it’s an enormous advantage in any endeavor. Wouldn’t it be nice to finally negotiate that raise? Or get your colleagues’ buy-in on the project? Even if you’re not a salesperson, your sales skills will determine how successful you are in your career, your relationship, and even your life, in general.
Effective salespeople excel at communication, active listening, public speaking, social psychology and many other things besides negotiation and closing. Dedicating your time and effort to improving these skills will propel you into a future where your highest ambitions become a reality.
Follow these proven strategies on how to improve your sales skills to become a successful go-getter, and turn life’s hardships into triumphs.
Change your perception of selling
Picture Jordan Belfort, the legendary Wolf of Wall Street, so ingeniously brought to life by Leonardo DiCaprio, selling worthless penny stocks to unsuspecting customers and making millions on their backs. Dishonest, sleazy, self-serving; he is the embodiment of the cliché of a salesman that is still very much alive and vivid in a lot of people’s minds.
Try asking around what a salesperson actually stands for in customers’ eyes, and you’ll likely get a lot of “pushy”, “silver-tongued”, and “cunning”. The fact that, in the past, salespeople thrived on pushing unwanted products and always put their commission before a customer’s needs, doesn’t make it easier for modern salespeople to get the deserved trust and respect today. But the sales techniques have long evolved to match the much savvier consumers’ needs and expectations. If you want to really hit the sweet spot with your customers, you need to change your perception of selling.
Selling is no longer an act of simply getting someone to buy from you. It’s not about putting pressure on your client and bragging about your product. Selling is now a much more consultative, demand-generating process. A modern salesperson is first and foremost an active listener, whose goal is to drive change and work in collaboration with the customer to find the right solution. Being persuasive, inspiring and leading is part of the job description. And closing the deal is only half the job done.
Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes
If a good salesperson can give a customer what they want, then a great one can give them what they need. Before launching into your pitch, you must do your research to uncover the underlying motivations for buying. Essentially, people buy because of two reasons: they either want to solve a business problem or achieve a personal or professional goal, something that would satisfy a need or desire.
Without understanding what’s driving your customer’s decision, it will be significantly more difficult to drum up their excitement and get them to envision the better, brighter future that your product can create. There are different approaches to harvesting the information you manage to gather. You can choose to press it where it hurts and demonstrate the value of your product by amplifying the customer’s pain points, or you can tap into the customer’s emotions and use their personal or professional objectives as the guiding star for your pitch. Inspiring people to pursue their desires can be just as powerful as encouraging them to act on their problems. But only you can know which approach is more appropriate to the customer you’re dealing with because you’re the one with all the information in your hands.
Being able to connect the dots between your customer’s business needs and their personal motivations is what helps great salespeople be more empathic, offer customized solutions and ultimately, close more deals. Don’t skip the research stage. Invest time and energy into developing a deeper understanding of the environment your customer is operating in, and you will learn to recognize the real motivations behind their buying decisions.
Plan and practice
Practice makes perfect, and all successful salespeople live by this belief. Selling is no improv game; it requires meticulous preparation, planning, and practice. But don’t mistake preparation with learning a sales pitch by heart – it won’t get you far. The whole point of role-playing sales conversations is to get a sense of how they flow and feel. One of the biggest mistakes a salesperson can make is to go from rehearsing a pitch in their head to talking directly to a client. You’ll often realize, much too late, unfortunately, that your pitch is too disconnected from the solution you’re supposed to be offering, that you’re using the wrong language to communicate and are failing to hit the mark with the customer.
Enlisting a team member or a seasoned manager to role-play sales situations is probably one of the easiest ways of getting professional feedback and improving your sales skills. If you’re eager to get a less biased opinion of how your pitch sounds and feels, you can always ask a trusted friend or a family member to hear you out and rate your performance.
Getting involved with a local charity can also be an excellent opportunity to improve your sales skills. Charities are always on the lookout for people who aren’t afraid to go out there and raise funds for great causes. Technically, fund-raising is not selling, but it requires a very similar skill set, mentality, and body language, and therefore, could be a perfect training exercise.
There are literally hundreds of ways how you can hone your sales skills – from enrolling to sales workshops or finding a mentor, to making it your goal to convince a friend to go to that concert with you. What you need to understand about sales is that it’s a journey of many steps. Different skills will help you accomplish different objectives, so focus on identifying your weak points and work on them one by one.
Stay calm and don’t brag
It’s impossible to prepare for every imaginable situation, so chances are, it won’t always go as planned. With the adrenaline surging and your brain scrambling to find a way out, it can be difficult to maintain a confident posture and stop yourself from talking too much or from rambling a meaningless string of words. Although easier said than done, you must learn to stay calm and composed, keeping your body language confident and your facial expressions relaxed. Try to keep your tone and pace in check, as these two factors carry an enormous influence on how your pitch is received.
Every experienced salesperson will tell you that successful selling relies on establishing deeper connections and encouraging peer-level interactions. You absolutely want to be seen as an expert and authority in the field, but in no way can you come across as condescending. Nobody wants to be lectured, especially people who are about to spend their money with you. Ensure you always treat your customers with due respect.
Another extreme situation that salespeople can sometimes find themselves in is when they lose confidence in the sale and start begging. The second the customer catches the mood, they’ll begin doubting you and back out of the deal.
In these fight or flight situations, our biological response can sometimes overpower the rational mind, and so we either succumb to bragging or go all guns blazing. But even if you’re selling the best product on the planet, your job is to guide the customer to that revelation, not to beg them to believe you or shove ‘the truth’ down their throats. Mentally preparing yourself is a big part of your success.
Work to understand how your customers will buy
It’s extremely rare for customers to make big buying decisions on the spot. In fact, research shows that 51% of the purchase decision is complete before the customer even approaches the supplier. Modern consumers are especially choosy and take their time to study various options before they commit to any purchase. Thanks to the vast amount of high-quality information accessible online, including reviews published by other consumers, they can have pretty much everything they need to make up their mind. There’s no need to talk to a salesperson anymore, and that’s a huge risk for companies of all sizes. Allowing potential customers to deliberate on their own, puts the sales team at a great disadvantage.
One strategy that salespeople are employing to tackle this issue is simply assuming the customer’s viewpoint and reverse engineering the customer’s buying journey. If you really commit to learning and better understanding the steps a customer takes as they move through their buying process, you will be much better equipped to provide the right content and solutions at the right time. Think like your customers do and you’ll soon be calibrating your strategy regarding customer actions and not your sales process. With content marketing being such a fundamental element of a modern buying process, sales teams should make it their priority to work closely with their marketing colleagues to attract, nurture and qualify high-quality leads that will later convert to paying customers.
Manage the pipeline
Successful selling draws on the salesperson’s ability to read and understand the cues in the customer’s behavior. The lesson many learn the hard way is that the customer is looking for a solution, not a product. No matter where you are in your sales process and no matter what you think should follow next, if the customer isn’t ready and you try to close the deal, you blow it. Seasoned salespeople approach selling with a different mentality. Reviewing each case from the customer’s perspective and trying to understand where in their buying process they are, allows them to see the real status of the opportunity and what steps they can take next to try and bring it to a close.
Armed with such tools like a sales CRM, a salesperson can up their game to a whole new level. Teamgate users frequently highlight the importance of a robust sales process and how using a CRM makes cementing the fundamentals a lot easier and faster. Improving your sales skills can often be achieved through discipline and following a well-defined sales process. A smart CRM can ensure you never stray too far away from your sales strategy, focus on the leads that are qualified and accelerate your sales velocity by eliminating unnecessary steps in the buyer’s journey.
Focus on the most influential decision makers
Sometimes the person you’re pitching has no real decision power or is only one of many stakeholders in the decision-making process. You still need to persuade them to get on the list of “the most suitable solutions”, though, and get your foot in the door but stopping there would be a mistake. To succeed as a salesperson, you need to look beyond the simple interaction and identify the key influencers who have the power to sway the buying decision.
C-level executives are often the people calling the shots, however, getting access to them can be problematic. Without exception, all of them have their own gatekeepers – people who work relentlessly to prevent unsolicited sales calls, unplanned meetings, and time-wasting interactions. Typically, a personal assistant, secretary, or company receptionist play the role of the gatekeeper and getting past it is an art form in itself. Whichever strategy you choose to get your way, remember that the gatekeeper is not your enemy and trying to sneak past them will probably get you cut off at the knees.
Establishing rapport with the person you’re pitching can also provide an alternative route to reaching all key stakeholders. If you manage to find out who the stakeholders are, you can stay one step ahead and diligently manage all buying objections by providing everything the stakeholders of different caliber might need. If the person you’re talking to will be the user, he’ll be interested in the features and benefits of your product, while his manager could be mainly concerned with the price and high-value add-ons. Learning to identify the most influential decision makers will undoubtedly help you improve your sales skills and close more deals.
Close the deal
Closing is, of course, the most important part of the sales process. It is the time of the big verdict when all the strengths and weaknesses of your pitch come to light. We have already talked about the new spirit of selling – a successful salesperson does not push, pressurize or sweet talk people into buying. They follow a well-defined, step-by-step process to carefully nudge prospects in the right direction, and when it comes to closing the deal, they adhere to the best practices and use a technique that is most appropriate to that particular prospect.
To improve your sales skill, you must master at least the top few techniques to be able to pull out the right one when the time comes. Here are some of the most powerful closing techniques you should know.
Creating a sense of urgency: it’s now or never. It’s an oldie but goldie. Salespeople use this technique when they can make a special, limited-time offer that has a great alluring effect and prompts immediate action from the prospect. By employing phrases like:
- If you sign up today, I can give you a special discount;
- If you would like to move forward with this, please let me know as soon as possible because it is the last available spot/ the last one at this price;
- I could throw in an extra X if you commit to buy today.
There are many variations of the closing line, as it depends on your product and the special offer you can make. However, be sure to showcase the value of your product before you resort to this technique, otherwise, it can come across as too pushy.
Using questions to overcome objections. One skill that effective salespeople learn early in their careers is asking probing questions throughout the entire sales process. Closing a deal does not necessarily mean delivering a miraculous pitch that turns the customer around at the very end of their buying journey. It’s about taking a methodical approach to eliminating objections to purchasing from the first touch point. Crafting questions that both illuminate the outstanding objections and get the customer to commit to the next step will allow you to quickly realize why the customer isn’t quite convinced as well as continue selling. Here are a few good examples of effective closing questions:
- In your opinion, does the offer I’m making help you solve your company’s pain point?
- Is there any reason why we can proceed to the next step?
- Is there anything that could stop this deal from happening?
Test the buyer’s intent before closing. This is one of the most famous closing techniques, known as the trial close. The beauty of this technique is that it can be used at any stage of the sales process, so you can always use it to simply check if you’re on the right track. Customers are likely to have objections at various stages in their buying journey, especially regarding such sensitive topics as price and implementation timeline. That’s why effective salespeople focus on addressing those arguments early in the day so that they can take the sale forward and close confidently. Here are a few possible examples of the trial close:
- Does everything we have discussed so far meet your expectations/satisfy your needs?
- If we can overcome this issue by X, would you be ready to take the next step?
- How do you feel about the payment terms?
- Based on what you’ve heard so far, what are your concerns/questions?
Think long term
Let’s face it, being rejected on a daily basis is also part of the job description. Salespeople who learn to accept a “no” and move on to another sale without a soul-crushing disappointment are the ones that succeed long-term. A “no” today might be a “yes” in three months, so you must keep your eyes on the big picture.
Don’t take rejections personally. Buying decisions are very complex; there are lots of moving parts and different interests at play. It doesn’t always come down to your closing pitch or your overall performance, the client’s circumstances might change, but it doesn’t mean the problem disappears. If you make a point to circle back every few months to follow up on the leads that fell through, sooner or later, you’ll find them in the right mind for buying.
Reading is probably the fastest and easiest way to absorb the knowledge of those who managed to accomplish what everyone struggles to. If you decide to take this endeavor of improving your sales skills seriously, put some time aside to read these all-time favorite sales books.
- The Outward Mindset, by the Arbinger Institute: the definitive guide to achieving an outward mindset that is the secret of teamwork and breakthrough results in work, relationships, and organizational performance.
- New Sales. Simplified, by Mike Weinberg: a must-read for people who want to learn how to prospect, develop and close deals.
- The Only Sales Guide You Will Ever Need, by Anthony Iannarino: packed with extensive research and experience, this book can turn any amateur into a great salesperson.
- The Science of Selling, by David Hoffeld: this book will show you how to align the way you sell with how the human brain forms buying decisions.
- The Lost Art of Closing, by Anthony Iannarino: this book teaches you how to set up closing so that it becomes one of the easiest parts of the sales process.
- Key Account Hack, by Jermaine Edwards: practical and packed with real-life examples, this book is your customer success guide.
- Social Selling, by Tim Hughes & Matt Reynolds: essential reading for sales professionals who are looking for a step-by-step blueprint for harnessing the power of social selling.
- Beyond the Sales Process, by Steve Andersen & Dave Stein: featuring instructional case studies and high-level research, this book will provide a methodology for driving success before, during, and after every sale.
- Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss & Tahl Raz: the bible of negotiation brought to you by the FBI’s lead hostage negotiator.
Becoming a great salesperson can be a life-changing experience. Once you grasp the fundamentals of effective communication, social psychology, negotiation, active listening and all the other skills that help salespeople succeed, you will not only be able to close more deals, but also lead a richer, happier life. Here’s a quick summary of the lessons to take away from this article:
- Change your perception of selling – it’s not about putting undue pressure on your prospects, it’s about collaborating with them to create the right solutions.
- Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes – stop thinking about your sales process and study how and why your customers buy.
- Plan and practice – you can’t wing a successful sale. Put the hours to plan and prepare for your pitches and polish your skills as you go.
- Don’t brag or lose control over your body language – staying calm in situations where nothing goes to plan is crucial to moving the sale forward.
- Work to understand how your customers will buy – try to reverse engineer the customer’s buying journey and use that information to guide the customer to conversion.
- Manage the pipeline – adapt your sales process based on where customers are in their buying journey.
- Focus on the most influential decision makers – learn to uncover the key influencers and look for alternative routes how to reach them.
- Close the deal – use the best closing techniques to achieve your goal.
- Think long term – don’t give up after the first “no,” learn how to follow-up without annoying your prospects.
- Read up – tap into the unique expertise of sales industry gurus.