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Essential Sales Skills -And How to Build Them

There is a lot written about the sales skills and competencies necessary to be successful sales reps today, which can be hired for, which can be taught and building an organization that is continually growing and improving to generate more revenue.There is a lot written about the sales skills and competencies necessary to be successful sales reps today, which can be hired for, which can be taught and building an organization that is continually growing and improving to generate more revenue.

But what do we mean by sales skills and competencies?

And what are the most important sales skills?

In this article, we will answer these questions and provide advice on achieving the desired skills and competencies.

Let’s go and become the sales professional we need to succeed.

What are sales skills?

Sales skills are the ability to perform a task with a certain degree of proficiency.

Sales skills include everything from general negotiation and discovery to your ability to communicate effectively.

You can think of sales skills as the building block of a solid career.

And they come in two major categories: soft sales skills and hard sales skills.

What are soft sales skills?

Soft sales skills are interpersonal skills such as communication, problem-solving, active listening, emotional intelligence, empathy, etc.

What are hard sales skills?

Hard sales skills are the opposite of soft skills, often more focused on areas like process, your product or service, customer pain points, a specific industry, and using particular sales technology.

Note: A salesperson must possess the appropriate mix of both to succeed with prospects and customers alike.

Note: The majority of skills, certainly the way we discuss them in this article, could be broken down further. Effective communication, for example, is constructed of effective listening, a degree of mirroring, understanding the words being spoken (the language), and so on. We are NOT attempting to break things down to this level.

What are sales competencies?

Sales competencies are generally made up of multiple skills and attitudes.

For example, you may have to demonstrate your standard sales demo competency. This competency may mix competencies, skills, and attitudes like product knowledge, communication, confidence, using the technology, listening skills, understanding of their sales presentations, and curiosity.

Sales skills vs. Competencies — Do we care about the differences

For this article, we don’t.

We will treat sales skills and competencies as the same thing for the rest of this article. This will simplify the conversation and increase your ability to take the information forward to your teams. To achieve this, we will, from this point on, refer to both as skills.

Sales Skill Sets

Specific roles within the sales team will have their own sales skill sets, but the skills discussed in this article are common across each.

Should you hire for or teach sales skills?

This is not always an easy question to answer.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you currently have employees capable of teaching the skill?
  • If not, do you have any employees in the company with the desired sales skills capable of training the trainers?

For both scenarios, ask yourself:

  • What will the total cost of training these skills to the sales reps who need it?
  • Will sales professionals that lack the skill be able to succeed without it?
  • Can they teach sales enablement or sales trainers if you hire someone with the skills?

The decision goes beyond a specific skill and will impact the current and future sales team.

Interview questions for sales reps

What are the crucial sales skills?

The Critical Sales Skills


Verbal Communication Skills

Verbal communication consists of multiple vital elements:

  • Active listening
  • Speaking
  • Processing information and problem-solving

One of the best training grounds for improving sales communication is improv. We have seen several people find improvement and joy, in pursuing this path.

In addition, seek out opportunities for any public speaking, debate, and even consider learning a new language, as that puts all three of the underlying components to work.

Take a moment to listen to this wonderful TED Talk from Vanessa Van Edwards to learn more about what goes into great communication (e.g., body language, verbal cues, etc).

Written Communication Skills

While written communications are not as complex as verbal, understanding the loss of face-to-face interaction is challenging.

Grammarly logoBefore we give our following recommendation, note this disclosure: We are reader-supported. If you click on a link and purchase items linked to below we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.

Use a tool like Grammarly for every communication. Grammarly will help with grammar and spelling, of course, but also provide you with feedback on how your message will “sound” to readers, helping you gauge if you need to soften your language, cut the point, and so on.

Our Founder swears by it.

Relationship Building

Relationships are critical to your success as a sales professional.

The ability to build strong relationships with clients is mutually beneficial and critical to your long-term sales success.

To improve takes practice and requires genuine empathy

  • Take the time to learn about your prospects and customers.
  • Asking questions focused on open-ended ones (i.e., questions that require more than a one-word answer).
  • Be genuinely interested in their responses. If you seem like you don’t care, your prospect will shut you down.
  • Go above and beyond and expect nothing in return (e.g., buy them a cup of coffee on the way to a meeting with them, send them a get-well card, etc.). Demonstrating genuine empathy when not required goes a long way towards your efforts to build rapport.
  • When doing remote meetings, turn on the camera, even if the client does not.
  • Meet in person at the office of your potential customer for meetings when possible.

Oh, yes, we will repeat it. To learn to build rapport, practice.

Persuasion and Influence

This sales skill requires putting together multiple skills such as those discussed above (e.g., relationship building)

Persuasion and influence both take time to build.

How do you improve these skills?

Beyond the two skills already mentioned:

  • Increase your product knowledge
  • Understand your customer’s pain points
  • Dig into your industry to see how others overcome the same pain points.
  • Develop your emotional intelligence

The more you can teach your buyers, the more influence you will gain.

And practice.


Sales may look like an individual sport from the outside of the revenue team.

But great salespeople are great teammates who collaborate and communicate effectively to bring all the resources necessary to support prospects, make the sale, and achieve their sales goals.

A successful rep should spend time with teammates to learn their strengths and weaknesses, to understand their roles, and get to know them as human beings (this is critical).

It’s easier to ask Sally for help than the sales engineer in the corner you never spoke to before.

This is equally important with working with customers, prospects, and partners. Learn what makes people tick, help them, and collaborate to create the right solution in a manner that lets each person shine and rewards them appropriately.

5 tips to improve your collaboration skills

To get better at collaboration:

  • Get to know your teammates and understand their strengths and weaknesses
  • Understand each person’s role on the team
  • Communicate effectively with everyone on the team
  • Ask for help when you need it
  • Be open to feedback from your teammates

Setting goals and managing time

Sellers don’t spend nearly enough time selling.

Use your CRM to forecast your deals (and don’t sandbag them), project planning tools like to manage tasks customer projects, and monitor how you spend your time. logoUse the data you pull from your CRM,, and other tools.

Tips for managing your time better

Here’s my suggestion for you, every Friday as you reach the end of your week:

  • Review your goals for the week, quarter, and year.
  • Review your calendar, to-do list, and accomplishments.
  • Did you focus on activities that align with your goals?
  • Did you waste time on activities that you should automate? Delegated? Stopped altogether?

Are there tools already in-house that you can use to help? To get a sense of the best sales tools on the market today to help with this activity, check out our site, The Best Sales Tools.

Time management is hard, but a great salesperson maximizes their time every day.


Prospecting takes time and effort, but it’s worth it! You can improve your prospecting skills by using various methods such as online research, networking events, or cold calling.

Please read our article on sales prospecting to learn more.

This is a skill that, with practice, you will increase your confidence and results.

To prospect well:

  • Use data to identify each lead
  • Create value with each prospect

To many salespeople, this form of lead generation is challenging.

But it is rewarding, as effective prospecting can lead to faster deal cycles and higher win rates as the salesperson connects with the right prospects, not simply ever lead that matched the buyer persona.


To be a successful negotiator, you need to be patient, understand the other person’s needs, and be prepared to compromise.

You must understand how the client defines value and the critical areas of focus they bring to the conversation. This awareness, a mix of great listening and empathy, will help you uncover where give and take can occur to craft the best possible deal for the customer and the business.

5 tips for negotiating deals

Before negotiating, work through what your must-haves vs. nice-to-haves are so you are clear about what matters to you.

Always be prepared to walk away if the must-haves are not achievable. Of course, make sure your sales leadership is on board with this first.

Roleplay with a peer or manager. Practice is key.

Don’t negotiate the win while losing the relationship.


There are a few key things to keep in mind when closing a sale: always be professional, know your product inside and out, and be prepared to answer any objections the customer may have.

Too many sellers have the confidence to take prospects through the sales process to the final step, only to lack the skill to close the deal.

Practice both negotiation and closing using role-plays with your leaders and teammates.

Account Management

To be a successful account manager, you need to be organized, efficient, and have excellent interpersonal skills.

You must ensure the client is achieving results via the product or service they bought and the ability to help customers recognize the need is being met while demonstrating confidence in your team to continue meeting the customers growing needs.

Business Development

There are a few key things to keep in mind when developing new business opportunities: always be professional, know your product inside and out, and be prepared to answer any objections the customer may have.

Using the sales process

Some sellers view the sales process as the enemy of productivity. Using the sales process collaborating with the team to improve the process where needed creates multiple points of value, including:

  • Critical client data is available in the CRM.
  • Sales reps and leaders can leverage that data vs. asking salespeople to update them in meeting after meeting.
  • Confidence, based upon the data, confidence is in the team’s short-term ability to focus on quarterly goals while growing confidence in long-term strategic planning.


Buyer’s often don’t fully understand their challenges. They have a challenge and want to solve it.

They don’t always know that solving their problem may cause problems for someone else in the business.

Sellers must dig deep to learn the root causes of the challenges buyers have and the impacts of solving, and not solving, the challenges.

How can you tell if a seller is curious?

Do they probe during discovery conversations?

Do they keep asking why like a three-year-old child until they get to the root cause?

How can you build curiosity in your sales team?

Sales managers need to role play with their sales teams, modeling the behavior, teaching it.

Leaders should watch reps on calls, listen to post-meeting recordings, and provide feedback on how the seller could have dug deeper.

Accepting of Feedback – Be coachable

There is no perfect sales rep.

People’s needs change, communication styles, technologies, the latest sales techniques do as well.

Every rep must be comfortable accepting feedback, both directly from their manager and peers, and indirectly based upon feedback during a win-loss analysis, meeting recording review, or any other means.

How can you tell if a seller is coachable?

Are they open to your feedback without becoming defensive?

Do they create a plan, either in collaboration with their manager or on their own?

Do they make the change?

Empathy for the customer

Sellers want to close deals — and we want them to do so.

However, in most sales scenarios today you need to actually care about having the customer achieve results.

Empathy allows them to understand the prospect’s perspective, why it matters, and from that viewpoint co-develop a winning proposal that helps the prospect and the rep win.

How do you build empathy?

Some people are born with more empathy than others. However, we can all learn to be more empathetic.

  • It starts with curiosity. Don’t settle for the surface-level answers, dig into the underlying WHY behind things and you’ll get to the root cause.
  • Actively listen to all information and seek to understand how what you are hearing is impacting the prospect as both a person and a business professional.
  • Consider how you would feel or behave in their situation — wouldn’t you want a genuine partner?


Nothing engages prospects better than telling a story.

Showing them as the hero of the story, battling the challenging issues before them drives this engagement.

Helping them visualize how you will walk with them as a trusted guide, supporting the hero of the story (the buyer), to come through these challenges.

And make them feel and see what it will be like when they, as the hero of the story, are victorious. The cheering, the bonuses, and all the accolades.

How do you become a better storyteller?

Here are a few ideas for you to consider.

  • Write it out.
  • Roleplay with peers and get feedback on your storytelling.
  • Make improvements as necessary.
  • Keep practicing.

Customer case studies are fantastic places to use your storytelling skills, helping your prospect feel the journey the other buyer went on and helping them want to take the same journey.


In our opinion, these are the most important sales skills today. Would you add others?