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Essential Sales Skills

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Insurance salesman and senior couple
Fancy Yan/Photodisc/Getty Images

There are a lot of different ways to approach sales, but they all tend to rely on the same skill set. Note that these are skills, not talents: talents are inborn, but skills are learned. Anyone can learn to be an effective salesperson, and good salespeople can become great ones by honing the following sales skills.

Maintaining Self-Confidence
This is the absolutely most important skill a salesperson can cultivate. Why? Because all the other skills are based on persistence. If you have every other sales skill listed below but you give up at the first hint of a “no,” then you'll never have a chance to use those skills. The first time you speak to a prospect, they might not want to talk to you because they're having a bad day... but if you call back a week later they'll be eager to buy.

Self-confidence doesn't end with persistence; if you believe in yourself and your product, your prospects will be inclined to believe as well. Self-confidence will also incline you towards a more assertive closing approach, which is vital to your selling success.

Good Listening
Most salespeople are natural talkers. Unfortunately even a great speaker will only get so far without a little listening. Taking the time to ask your prospect questions and really listen to the answers shows respect for them, and gives you a clearer idea of what they want. So how can you tell if you're doing enough listening? The next time you cold call a prospect, ask an open-ended question and then hit the mute button and leave yourself muted for at least a minute (or until you are absolutely sure the prospect is finished). By forcing yourself to be quiet, you will notice right away how strong your urge is to jump in and say something before the prospect has stopped talking.

Persuasiveness
Emotion plays a major role in sales. There's an old saying that “features tell, benefits sell.” Features are the facts about your product or service; benefits are their emotional connotations. For example, a 0% interest rate on a credit card is a feature... being able to save money while buying the things you need is a benefit! Persuasiveness is the skill that allows you to convey these emotions to the customer. If you can make your prospect feel how great it will be to own your product and how much their life will be improved when they have it, you can sell it to them.

Building Strong Relationships
This sales skill is just as important to a salesperson's business life as it is to their personal life. Building and maintaining healthy relationships is the key to developing a strong network. And networking will allow you to reach far, far more prospects than you could manage on your own.

Remember the theory of “Six Degrees of Separation?” Let's say you're trying to reach the decision maker at a major company but you don't know anyone who works there. A call or two to your network contacts yields someone who knows someone who works for your target; armed with that person's name and direct phone number, you now have access to the prospect.

Self-Motivating
Even the best salesperson is a work in progress. You can always find a way to develop your skills, work on your pitch, and learn more about the products and services you sell. But the drive to constantly improve yourself has to come from within. Your manager might direct you to make some changes if your sales start to plummet, but if you are constantly working to become a better salesperson you can start working on the issue before it affects your numbers.

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