Do you know what separates the most successful salespeople from everyone else in sales?
There’s no single silver bullet in sales, but there is a secret sauce. And I’m about to share the 11 key ingredients.
Think about it: A very small group of top-performing salespeople today outearn and outsell virtually everyone else in sales—many times over.
Many of these superstars even out earn their company CEOs.
As a sales strategist, I get to work with these top salespeople and see exactly what they’re doing in today’s marketplace.
This brings us back to the secret sauce I mentioned before: It’s made up of the same sales skills and approaches across industries, shared by all top performers in sales. People who share these critical sales skills consistently win much larger sales than their counterparts, time and time again.
In this video, I’m going to show you the 11 critical sales skills all successful salespeople have—so you can see if you have them too.
Check it out:
Sales Skills Video Summary:
Sales Skills Tip #1: Engage prospects to discuss their business challenges.
The latest data shows that top sales performers engage prospects to discuss their business challenges far more than average and underperforming salespeople do. The research here is astounding: In a recent study, we found that top sales performers ask twice as as many business-related questions as their counterparts.
That means the difference between top performers and bottom performers has everything to do with how—and how often—salespeople engage prospects about their challenges. Sounds enough, right? Our study found that top performers are much more effective at engaging prospects to really dig into their business problems.
If you want to be in that top tier of salespeople, you absolutely must master this critical sales skill. You can’t just be thinking about how to sell your product, but you must also be thinking about how well you’re understanding your prospects’ top challenges. Are you looking at the big picture? Are you positioning your offering in terms of its real value to the prospect—i.e., how it will help solve top challenges?
At the end of the day, you’re not selling a product or service. It’s the ultimate sales skill to understand that what you’re really selling is a solution to the prospect’s biggest challenges.
Sales Skills Tip #2: Come off as a real human being.
This probably goes against what you’ve been taught over the years, in terms of how you should present yourself to prospects. Most salespeople are taught to put on a cheerful, high-energy, excited, and enthusiastic face in selling situations.
In reality, one of the most important sales skills is just to be yourself. Top sales performers behave in a way that’s just real. It’s authentic.
I recently came across a video of an artificial intelligence algorithm pretending to be a real person on a phone call. It sounded so real that I could hardly believe it. What I noticed was that the AI algorithm didn’t sound perfect. It said “um” and “ah” and paused and made natural-sounding mistakes while talking. This is what made it sound so real.
So be imperfect. Be authentic. Be yourself.
When salespeople come off as truly real, normal human beings, prospects are much more likely to actually engage with them in conversation.
Sales Skills Tip #3: Appear as the distinct expert.
This is one of the most interesting pieces of data to come out of our internal research study. Top performers see themselves distinct experts in their field. As a result, they come off as distinct experts to their prospects.
It’s a little bit chicken or the egg in that you’ve got to start seeing yourself as the distinct expert before your prospects will.
Just think: What are your competitors out there doing? And how can you act differently so that you’re distinct?
Are you coming off too salesy? Or are you taking a down-to-earth, authentic approach that makes you seem like a trusted advisor?
Sales Skills Tip #4: Don’t push prospects to buy.
Do you remember those great old movies like Boiler Room or Glengarry Glen Ross? There’s always a magical moment in these films, right at the end of the sales presentation, when the salesperson comes in and pushes the prospect to buy. The prospect is coming up with objections and saying all the reasons why they won’t buy. But the tough salesperson just keeps on pushing and overcoming the objections, one after the other. Ultimately, they win—and the prospect buys.
In these old-school depictions of sales, selling is like an arm-wrestling match between salesperson and prospect. Today, many salespeople still view sales in this outdated way, and they push their prospects to buy.
When these salespeople start getting pushback from prospects as to why they shouldn’t buy, their response is to push back even harder.
The reality is that top performers don’t push their prospects to buy at all. Instead, they address any objections up front. They big deep to understand why the prospect might not want to buy in the first place, and address any concerns the prospect has. They get these objections out of the way early on by asking great questions and taking on the role of a trusted advisor.
This approach is one of the most critical sales skills to have in today’s selling world. By asking questions instead of dictating to the prospect why they should be, salespeople are able to get a full picture of what the prospect needs—and then craft the solution that makes sense.
Sales Skills Tip #5: Consistently add to your pipeline.
This might sound obvious, but top sales performers consistently add to their pipelines. They don’t show up at the office in the morning, scratch their heads, and ask themselves, “What do I have to do today to drum up sales?” They already know exactly what to do to add to their pipeline every single day.
I recently spoke to one of the top-performing sales reps at HubSpot, and he told me, “I don’t leave the office until I’ve added two opportunities to my pipeline each and every day.”
This is the most beautiful summation of a top-performing mindset. Maybe for you it’s adding three opportunities each day, or one a day. Figure out what number you want to add to your pipeline each day, and commit to it. Don’t leave the office until you reach your daily goal. How many opportunities do you need to be adding each and every day to your pipeline in order to ensure that you’re going to hit your numbers? Get very clear on that. How many meetings do you have to set?
Think about consistency. Be more like the tortoise who’s just taking one step at a time as opposed to that hare who’s running here, running there, and going in all different directions. Take consistent steps each and every day.
Sales Skills Tip #6: Be willing to sell higher up.
This is one of the sales skills that takes confidence more than anything else. Top performers simply have the guts to sell higher up within an organization. That doesn’t just mean calling on the CEO, but it also means selling to bigger opportunities. It means selling to bigger companies. It means creating big opportunities by going big.
Average performers tend to hit lots of singles or doubles so they’re just piecing together a living. Top performers are going for those bigger opportunities. Big opportunities take just as much work as those average opportunities or those smaller opportunities, but the reward for those bigger opportunities is so much bigger.
So, this is both a mindset and a tactical shift. What are you doing to make sure that you’re selling higher and higher up the ladder to make bigger sales and sell bigger solutions?
Sales Skills Tip #7: Dialogue over monologue.
Now we know that we need to be asking questions during selling situations. We need to engage people in conversation. You get it—you’ve heard this a million times.
But there’s some new data out there that gives us some insight into how and when we should be asking those questions and talking to our prospects. In particular, top performers do a lot more dialogue than one-way monologue, especially in the presentation phase. In the discovery phase, we all know that we have to be asking questions.
But we see a big shift when we get into the actual presentation phase: average performers tend to go on monologues. They just start talking and talking and talking for extended periods of time, presenting the features and the benefits of their product or service. On the other hand, top performers continue that two-way dialogue, even in the presentation.
This is really profound. Top performers have a lot more “speaker switches” in the presentation phase. Each time we switch who’s speaking in a conversation, that’s a speaker switch. Top performers are engaging their prospects throughout the presentation with questions for more of a back-and-forth conversation.
Sales Skills Tip #8: Understand the upside value.
There’s an important distinction between telling a prospect the ROI for your solution versus helping the prospect actually do their own math and come up with the upside value. Top performers ask questions that basically bake in the upside value of their solution.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you work for a marketing company, and you’re selling a marketing solution. You’re talking to the prospect and you’re asking about marketing challenges. The prospect says, “We feel like our brand’s not out there enough and we’re not getting as many leads as we’d like.”
A lot of salespeople would respond, “Well, our solution can help you get more leads, which will lead to an ROI of blah, blah, blah.” Instead, a top performer replies, “Help me understand. If you are able to get as many leads as you want, what would that lead to in more business?” Now, the prospect is actually doing the math in his or her head, saying, “Huh, well, we’re at the leads that we’re at right now, and if we’re able to get this many more, that could be a couple of million dollars in additional business.”
Time out. This is exactly what we want to get to.
We want to get prospects to do that math, to understand what the real value of the solution is—not the value of your product or service, but the value of the overall solution. The value of your solution is now intrinsically tied to that exact number. Understand the upside value.
Sales Skills Tip #9: Talk budget later in the process.
Recent sales data that shows that top performers are actually discussing money and budget later in the sales process than average and bottom-performing reps. Average and bottom performers are typically talking money and budget much earlier in the process. This means they’re coming out with a price pretty early on, while top performers only talk budget later in the discovery process.
Top performers are building value throughout the conversation. They’re asking questions, understanding challenges, understanding the upside—and then they’re discussing budget later on. Now, if you’re familiar with my selling system, if you’ve read any of my books, if you’ve gone through any of my programs, you’ll understand that that’s exactly what I’ve been teaching for years. The newest sales data supports this same approach: Top performers are talking budget later in the process.
Sales Skills Tip #10: Don’t fight objections.
Top performers don’t fight back when they get objections. They’re not getting into that arm-wrestling match where it’s a back-and-forth test of wills. As I mentioned briefly earlier, top performers are addressing objections early on instead.
Superstar salespeople have the right sales skills to dig deep and understand the prospect’s concerns early on in the process. If they get any objections, they’re not pushing back or coming up with some savvy response. Instead, they’re just saying, “Tell me more about why you say that,” or “Why do you ask that question?” or “That sounds like a great point. It sounds important to you. Help me understand.”
They’re getting it all out on the table. They’re understanding why the prospect’s saying that and then they’re just going right back into the discovery process.
This is a huge distinction between top performers and everyone else. Everyone else is going in they’re fighting the objections. Don’t fight the objections.
Sales Skills Tip #11: Discuss next steps.
This is so simple, yet far too many salespeople aren’t doing it to the degree that they should be. The data shows that top performers are spending more time in the sales process specifically discussing clear next steps.
I’ve been teaching this for years and we’ve always known anecdotally that works, but now the research shows a clear distinction between top performers and everyone else: Top performers spend a specific amount of time, typically later on in the conversation, on discussing exact clear next steps.
Instead of just saying, “Hey, would it be OK if I call you next week to set up a time to give a presentation?” top performers are getting that clear next step scheduled on that existing call. You always want to be scheduling that next step in the current conversation while you have the prospect in front of you or on the call.
Get it scheduled. Get it on the calendar.
So, there you have it. Now you know 11 critical sales skills all successful salespeople must have. I want to hear from you. Which of these ideas did you find most useful? Be sure to share below in the comment section to get involved in the conversation.
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About the Author Marc Wayshak
Marc is is the best-selling author of three books on sales and leadership, including the highly acclaimed titles Game Plan Selling, The High-Velocity Sales Organization and his forthcoming book, Sales Conversations, Mastered.
Marc is a contributor to Inc, HubSpot, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Huffington Post Business. He also hosts a popular YouTube channel on sales strategy with over 103,000 subscribers.
Marc helps thousands of people his data-driven, science-based approach to selling that utilizes all the best tools available to sales organizations today.