18 Essential Sales Skills to Master the Role

Shreelekha Singh
March 2, 2022
min read
September 19, 2023
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Fast-paced, demanding, rewarding — these three words sum up a career in sales pretty well.

There's nothing quite like the thrill of making sales calls, convincing prospects to sign the deal and completing the paperwork to close that sale.

But carving out a career in an aggressively competitive domain like sales isn’t as simple as it sounds. On top of adapting to the dynamic selling environments, you have to be a quick learner, relentless and willing to go the extra mile.

If you’re looking for ways to kickstart your journey as a salesperson or beef up your skillset, this blog is just the place for you. 

Keep reading to gain meaningful insights into 18 of the most essential sales skills every rep should have. But first, let’s talk about the kind of skills every salesperson needs.

Hard skills vs soft skills: A fine balance 

Multiple talents come into play throughout your sales process — from lead generation to client conversion. Some of these are more technical skills, while others are focused on your ability to foster relationships and build connections.

Hard skills

Your on-the-job skills. These are more industry-specific skills that you can acquire only through formal training and refine with hands-on experience. 

Soft skills

Your behavior influences your output. Soft skills in sales involve your ability to establish healthy relationships and function successfully on a team.

In other words, hard skills convey your domain knowledge and proficiency while soft skills relate to your attitude — one can be taught formally and the other comes from your own effort. A well-rounded salesperson has a perfect balance of both.

18 must-have skills to become a sales expert

Maybe you want to land a better-paying job or want to boost your sales productivity quotient. No matter your motivation, souping up your sales skills can fuel your transformation into a high-flying sales rep.

Let's talk about the 18 most crucial skills you'll want to add to your sales or senior executive resume.

1. Hands-on product knowledge 

Hard skill

A sales pitch is only as good as your answers to a prospect’s questions. All your confidence and charisma can fall through the cracks if you don’t offer meaningful and viable solutions.

One way to strengthen your pitch is to build a deeper, hands-on understanding of the product you’re selling. 

Whether you’re working in retail or selling SaaS, your product knowledge is the key to conversion. When you’re aware of your buyers’ struggles and know the product inside out, you can effortlessly position your brand as the answer to their problems (and maybe even their prayers).

What you can do

Develop a meticulous understanding of the product you’re selling before you make a pitch. Learn every feature and align it with a customer’s point of view to sell major benefits and solve pain points.

Scribe Top Tip: Use Scribe to create step-by-step process guides in seconds. This both helps you understand your product better and showcase your best features to any prospect.

Find gaps in your understanding by writing down objections raised in your sales calls. If there's an answer you don't known, or a problem you've never heard before, set out to test and strengthen your responses. Tell the lead you'll get back to them later and then follow through with the perfect answer.

2. Strategic prospecting 

Hard skill

Prospecting is both the easiest and hardest aspect of a sales role.

With so many lead generation channels at your disposal, any sales rep can source prospects and create lengthy lists. But without a strategic approach to generate and process leads effectively, these long lists will only increase your workload as you sift through a list of names with no bite.

Knowing where and how to find relevant leads is another crucial skill in this list. Equipped with a solid aptitude for strategic prospecting, you can find good leads, pitch effectively and drive sales like a pro. Creating your own prospecting workflow keeps your pipeline filled at all times. 

What you can do

Savvy sales reps use some of these best practices to find prospects seamlessly:

  • Create an ideal buyer persona(s).
  • Outline channels to reach your ideal buyers.
  • Segregate your warm, cold and lost lead lists.
  • Personalize your email pitches.
  • Request referrals or social proof.

3. Networking and social selling

Soft skill

Building professional relationships lies at the core of every sales role — making networking a big part of your job as a sales rep.

Making a sale starts with winning your prospect’s trust. But you don’t need to establish credibility when you’re approaching your own network. You can easily tap into your community and bring in more sales.

Closely interlinked with networking is the art of social selling. Knowing how to engage with your prospects on social media and building a solid rapport with them is a huge way to fill the pipeline and earn recognition.

What you can do

Networking is all about finding like-minded people and adding value to their lives. Actively participating in sales communities and building your personal brand on professional channels can put you in the front seat for any job. 

Here are some more networking tactics you can practice:

  • Make a plan to interact with a select few individuals.
  • Engage meaningfully with people in your network.
  • Demonstrate your expertise and deliver value-packed content.

4. Client engagement 

Soft skill

Selling used to be an act of interruption. Today, it’s an intricately planned and delivered experience. 

There’s no secret sauce to producing it. But putting yourself in your client’s shoes and thinking of what they truly need can work like a charm. Initiate a conversation about your customers’ challenges, empathize with them, build a solid bond then deliver your pitch. 

The bottom line is: Talk to your prospects like you would a peer. The pitch & ditch formula does nothing to foster meaningful relationships or establish trust.

What you can do

Build strong communication skills to strike the right chords with your customers. Research well before approaching a prospect and spend some extra time understanding their problem areas. Personalize your pitch to make it sound as authentic and sincere as possible. 

5. Objection handling

Soft skill

Objections are a part of every sales process. While a rookie salesperson might struggle to find fitting responses for any objections, practiced sales reps consider objections as valuable opportunities to tackle their clients’ queries and convince them into making a purchase. 

“Being able to resolve objections is just critical to being able to move an opportunity through a pipeline as swiftly as possible. A rep who can map objections to the customers’ needs can also build more credibility than any of their competitors can hope to do.” — Andrea Grodnitzky, Global Performance Solutions

If you can master the art of handling objections, you're looking at a huge value-add on any application. It’ll help you hold meaningful conversations that lead to more closes and less drop-offs. 

A major part of handling objections lies in handling the pressure. You have to be quick on your feet and come up with a relevant response almost instantly.

What you can do

Create an objection handling cheat sheet and prepare yourself to address the most common types of sales objections. Cultivate a habit of listening to your prospect patiently before you offer a solution. Rehearse your responses and refer to your cheat sheet. And always remember to take a breath!

In-depth product knowledge will also enable you to think strategically and creatively when you get a new objection. So, be thorough with both your product and prospect details before any sales call. 

6. Conflict management

Soft skill

The customer is always right has been a golden rule in sales. But what if they just... aren’t? There’s always a possibility of conflict that can hit your negotiations and collapse the deal. 

Most seasoned sales reps learn how to navigate through these situations through trial and error. And that's okay, so long as you remember: you’re not simply responsible for handling client objections, but also for resolving any potential disputes.

What you can do

Another opportunity to take a big, deep breath. Keeping your cool is a must for conflict management. Here are some other tips you can follow to develop this essential skill:

  • Carefully identify the reasons behind a conflict.
  • Prepare a respective response and analyze their reaction.
  • Design a plan for resolution and open a conversation.
  • And again: Keep. Your. Cool.

7. Data analysis and research

Hard skill

Sales is a numbers game. With so many advances in sales technology, data is steering the wheel for most businesses. Given the massive difference that data can create, it’s no surprise that 53 percent of high-performing sales organizations heavily rely on analytics. 

Data is a catalyst in every step of the sales process — from prospecting and lead qualification to territory mapping and goal-setting. By learning how to gather and leverage data, you're equipping yourself with an analytical superpower that can skyrocket conversions. 

What you can do

It's easy to build data skills with the amount of on-demand learning material available online. Complete a certification or enroll for a formal course — a lot are free! Learn more about an effective sales tech stack and dive deeper into the most significant sales KPIs to monitor your and your org’s performance.

8. Project management 

Hard skill

All high-performing sales reps are experienced project managers. This means they're target-oriented, budget-conscious and extremely organized. 

A standard sales process has many moving parts. Staying on top of everything requires you to manage every task systematically. This is where your project management skills will allow you to be in control of all your tasks and practice a higher degree of accountability. 

What you can do

Project management is an umbrella term for several skills that streamline your day-to-day. Cultivate these softer qualities to strengthen this hard skill.

  • Motivation to fulfill your targets.
  • Ownership for all your work and flaws.
  • Discipline to adhere to your process.
  • Collaboration to create a team effort.

9. Customer and market research 

Hard skill

If you want to make an amazing impact in your sales calls, you have to get your hands dirty and perform thorough research. The ability to dig deeper into your target market and develop a broader understanding of your customers is a must-have for any salesperson. 

The more information you have about your prospects, the more effortless and compelling your pitches will be. Keep yourself updated with all the market trends, tools and competition.

What you can do

Add research as an essential step in your sales workflow. Gather as much detail about a prospect as possible before starting a conversation with them. Use CRM and research tools to identify new trends and experiment with these trends. 

10. Upselling and cross-selling

Hard skill

Your job doesn’t end with making the sale. You can unlock so many more possibilities through a satisfied customer by deploying your upselling and cross-selling strategies. 

“With the majority of revenue occurring after a deal is closed (particularly in SaaS) having upselling and cross selling built into your process is important. We no longer consider sales to be a funnel, but rather a bowtie. A robust revenue operation is initiated once a new customer is acquired with the aim of increasing the customer's lifetime value.” — Ricky Pearl, CEO, Pointer Strategy

Knowing the difference and creating your game plan to upsell or cross-sell your existing customers keeps your pipeline full of quality leads. You know they're going to love the product... because they already do.

What you can do

Design a roadmap of how you want to upsell or cross-sell existing customers. Do this by having conversations, hosting surveys or connecting with your customer success team. What other problems can you solve to make your customer's life even easier?

Build a value-driven relationship with your customers and focus on satisfying all their expectations. Take constant feedback and make improvements to show your effort. Then deliver your pitch. 

11. Business acumen and curiosity

Hard skill

A sales rep acts as the bridge between business leaders and target customers. You have to essentially translate the former’s vision and ideology to fit into the latter’s spectrum of needs. 

Your understanding of how the business works and how it can help a potential customer will significantly reflect in this process. 

Once you’ve acquired a basic idea of the business, your curiosity would keep feeding this knowledge stream. Be eager to explore the industry you’re working in. This eagerness can steepen your learning curve and enhance your performance. 

What you can do

Ask questions and do your independent research to better acquaint yourself with the business and industry you’re working in. Keep yourself open to new ideas and develop a unique understanding of buyer challenges. Connect with a mentor or other member of your team to trade ideas and ask each other questions.

12. Active listening and communication

Soft skill

Selling is part listening, part problem-solving and part communication. Every sales call is a problem statement where you identify your customers’ roadblocks and propose tailor-made solutions. 

One of the most significant skills you can master is active listening. When you listen patiently to a lead's pain points instead of restlessly making a pitch, you build trust while getting the opportunity to craft a more specific, persuasive response when the time is right. 

What you can do

Record yourself during sales calls to understand where things are going well and where you can improve. Review your prospects’ reactions to better prepare yourself for similar situations.

You can also take a formal course to learn the best practices for active listening. Engage in hands-on activities that help in cultivating this crucial skill. You can also hold mock sessions within your team to practice active listening and hone your communication ability. 

And when in doubt, always lean on listening more than you speak.

13. Negotiation 

Soft skill

Selling is a two-way street. You’re always negotiating with your customer — first for their attention and then for their final decision. But a skilled sales rep with expert negotiation skills can close deals in a snap. 

Your ability to negotiate effectively can give you the upper hand in any conversation. That way you're not conceding to your client’s objections, you're having a meaningful dialogue that impacts them enough to complete the sale. 

What you can do

Learn more about different negotiation and closing tactics. Practice and experiment with these strategies to find your flow and create a disciplined negotiation process. Your negotiation skills will essentially combine your ability to listen and handle objections. 

14. Problem-solving 

Soft skill

Expert sales reps have a natural flair for anticipating problems and finding solutions. That’s because at the core of every sale is your customers’ pain points: if you can solve them, the sale is yours. 

With a specialized problem-solving skill, you’re equipped to understand any challenge and brainstorm a relevant solution almost instantly. This will be a big plus for handling objections in your sales calls. 

“A sales call is about boiling it down to its first principles and looking at what’s the problem that this business is experiencing, what are the symptoms, how can I help them solve those. That’s it. You create a prescription for them.” — Sabri Suby, Founder and Head of Growth, King Kong

What you can do

You can only master problem-solving through practice. Join communities and forums to participate in problem-solving discussions. Share your views and learn from those around you. 

You can also create a needs analysis document jotting down all of your customers’ potential problems. Then practice a rebuttal for each one. 

16. Time management

Soft Skill

With the growing intensity of competition in the sales field, your targets and timelines may never align. Becoming adept at time management—to manage your own process and to respect your buyer’s time—can be a major driving force for your success. 

Time management is closely related to your awareness of the sales process. You should designate ideal timelines for each stage of the funnel and stick to only the designated time for every sale. 

Besides, managing your time well can directly shoot up your sales productivity. Design a proper balance of sales and admin tasks and let your productivity quotient soar. 

What you can do

Follow a scheduling process to shape each day. Set your routine and divide your daily work time between your standard set of tasks. You can also practice tactics like time blocking and deep work to focus more on just one activity for a given period. 

16. Goal setting 

Hard skill

Sales teams can’t work without targets. When you’re racing against time to meet and exceed those targets, the art of goal setting is more than helpful. 

You should know how to set clear goals, with key metrics in mind. Cultivate a goal-oriented mindset to set personal goals and create a constructive plan of action to reach them.

What you can do

Learn to set goals using the SMART framework. That means, each goal has to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Following this design will give you a clear picture of how well you’re progressing and reveal your areas of improvement. 

17. Relationship building 

Soft skill

You can't just start selling to a stranger the moment you get a hold of them. Instead, you have to discuss their pain points, empathize with them, spark their curiosity and earn their trust. This long-drawn process is all about building relationships with your prospects. 

“You can’t hack building relationships. It’s not like a podcast that you can run at 2x speed. The hack is consistency. Show up every day, contribute every day and give people time to fall in love with your generosity.” — Tom Slocum, Program Director, RevGenius

Your relationship-building skills can allow you to close more deals at a faster pace — primarily because your clients trust you. And once you close the deal, these skills will help you in upselling and cross-selling.

What you can do

A lot is riding on how you build a rapport with your customers in the very first sales call. It’s a true test of your relationship-building skills. So, you can practice pitching to more and more people and seek their review of your performance. 

You can also produce your style and best practices for communicating with clients. This will keep you better prepared for a sales call. 

18. Teamwork 

Soft skill

Any good sales team relies heavily on the collective strength of its members. It’s rarely a one-person effort. The ability to coordinate with your colleagues is a wildly underrated skill for a good salesperson. 

Your personal goals should align with your team’s capacity and objectives. If there is friction, then likely a conversation needs to be had with leadership.

What you can do

The easiest way to learn teamwork is to work in groups. Proactively participate in team huddles and contribute to resolving challenges, celebrating wins and more. Remember, everyone's working toward the same end. Find your place in the workflow and collaborate when you can.

Start making meaningful sales

Your professional development is one of the biggest driving forces in your success as a sales rep. By constantly improving your sales skills you can stand out from the crowd of potential hires and prove your value from the jump.

More importantly, building your skills continuously pushes you to learn and adapt to an ever-changing sales landscape. Use this extensive guide to strengthen your skillset.

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