General sales skills

General sales skills
General sales skills

Now that we have examined the development of sales methods and interactions over time, we will look at what it takes to be successful in sales today. As customers grow to expect more from their customers, you must be willing and able to respond to and fulfill those expectations in order to move ahead

The good thing about these skills is that they can all be learned. As you read through this information, try to identify where your own weaknesses might be. Then you'll have an idea of what you need to work on in order to improve your own sales skills.

As you read this information, try to identify where your own weaknesses might be.

Listening Skills

As we've learned, a successful sales relationship today involves the seller being able to help the buyer identify his or his organization's true needs. The seller helps this process by being able to listen to and understand what the buyer is telling him.

Studies have shown that listeners retain less than 50% of what they hear.

Good listeners are rare these days. Studies have shown that listeners retain less than 50% of what they hear. Imagine what that means when it comes to a conversation that you might have with your boss, a colleague, or a customer. If you speak for ten minutes, chances are that you have only heard about half of that conversation - and so have they. No wonder miscommunications happen so frequently!

In order to be a good listener, you should practice active listening skills. There are five key aspects of becoming an active listener. You are probably already employing some of them but may need to practice others. However, once you are using these tools over time, you will find that they get easier and easier. Plus, you'll learn so much about your customers and have such better conversations that you will be positively reinforced each time you practice.

Pay close attention.

With this step, you learn to give the speaker your undivided attention. But you also let the speaker know that you are listening by using acknowledgments - types of verbal and non-verbal tools that help add proof that you are truly listening.

  •  Look the speaker in the eyes
  •  Stop any mental chatter
  •  Don't start preparing your response or rebuttal while the other person is talking
  •  Make sure your environment doesn't distract you
  •  Notice the speaker's body language and tone of voice- what are the non-verbal messages telling you?
  • If you are in a group, avoid side conversations
Principles of communication skills

Demonstrate physically that you are listening.

Use non-verbal and verbal signals that you are listening to the speaker attentively.

  •  Nod from time to time, when appropriate
  •        Use appropriate facial expressions
  •       Monitor your own body language. Be sure you remain open and relaxed rather than closed and tense.
  •       Use small comments like 'uh-huh', 'yes', and 'right'.

Check for understanding.

It is possible for the other person's message to get mistranslated or misinterpreted so that we hear a message that was not intended. Before responding, it's essential to check for understanding using these tools.

Use reflecting and paraphrasing. Check that you heard the message correctly by saying things like "What I hear you saying is..." or "If I'm hearing you correctly, you're saying....." or "I think you're talking about....".

Ask questions that will help clarify the speaker's meaning. Suggestions include things like,

"Can you tell me more about.....?" or "What did you mean when you said...?" or? "I think

you're saying... is that right?" Summarize what you've heard occasionally - don't wait until the end or you might not remember exactly what was said.

Don't interrupt!

There is nothing good that comes from interrupting the speaker. You will only be limiting your chance of understanding the message because you won't hear it all and because the speaker will get frustrated!

Respond Appropriately.

When you are actively listening, you are showing your respect for the speaker, as well as gaining the information that you need to form your response. Once you have that information and have clarified it, it's time to form your reply. When expressing your thoughts:

  •  Be honest and open
  • Be respectful
  • Be thorough

Effective Communication Skills

Effective Communication Skills - in addition to listening, you must be able to respond well, whether in person, over the phone, or in writing. You must be able to offer solutions to the customer's problems if the customer is ever going to buy from you or your company.

Communication skills are the tools that we use to remove the barriers to effective communication.

Imagine you are on one side of a wall and the person you want to communicate with is on the other side of the wall. But there's more than the wall in the way. The wall is surrounded by barriers. These barriers could be things like different cultures, different expectations, different experiences, different perspectives, or different communication styles, to name just a few.

You might experience only one of these barriers at a time, or you might find yourself facing them all. Getting your message to the other person requires that you recognize these barriers exist between you and that you then apply the proper tools, or communication skills, to remove those barriers preventing your message from getting through.

Of course, communication is a two-way street. The person on the other side of those barriers will also try to send messages back to you. Your ability to understand them clearly could be left to dependence on their ability to use communication skills. But that's leaving the success of the communication to chance. Instead, you can also use your own communication skills to ensure that you receive messages clearly as well.

We instinctively recognize what body language and other non-verbal forms of communication are telling us.

Finally, there isn't only one point in your communication with another person at which you have to watch out for barriers. To be successful at communicating, it's important to recognize that these barriers to communication can occur at multiple points in the communication process.

Remember that communication skills involve both verbal and non-verbal communication. When communicating with others, the non-verbal aspects of what we are saying are actually more important than the words that we use. In fact, if the two conflict, we will automatically believe the non-verbal communication we are receiving over the verbal.

So what do we mean by non-verbal communication? Mainly, we are referring to tone of voice and body language. The tone of voice is responsible for about 35-40 percent of the message we are sending. It involves the volume, emotion, and emphasis in our voice when we speak.

Over half of the messages we are sending can be due to body language. Body language is a subconscious way that we communicate, but it is one that we recognize in others on instinct. Examples of body language include:

  • Facial expressions
  •  The way they are standing or sitting
  • Any swaying or other movement
  • Gestures with their arms or hands
  • Eye contact (or lack thereof)
  •  Breathing rate
  • Swallowing or coughing
  • Blushing
  • Fidgeting

Basically, body language includes anything they are doing with their body besides speaking. We recognize this communication instinctively, without having to be told what it means. It is important that when you speak to a customer, your body language supports rather than contrasts what you are saying.

Problem-Solving Skills

The salesperson of today is a problem-solver who works in conjunction with the customer to identify any issues that the customer has and then uses that information to offer solutions to the customer's problems or situations. The tricky part of this situation is ensuring that the problem the customer is attempting to solve is the actual problem.

For example, a customer might come to you saying that they need a specific type of software. You could just sell the customer the software and that would be the end of it. Or instead, you could ask the customer questions in order to determine what the problem is that they are trying to solve. You may then be able to:

  •  Offer a better product or solution than the specific one the customer asked for
  •  Offer a broader solution that the customer didn't even know they needed or wanted
  • Offer additional products or services that enhance your sale and also exceed the customer's expectations
  •  Identify additional needs that the customer has which you can then offer to resolve with other products or services
  •  Determine that you don't actually have a product or service that will solve the customer's problem

The first step in problem-solving is to ensure that the problem the customer is trying to solve is the actual problem that needs solving.

The final point above may not seem like a solution you would want to offer. But the fact is that telling the customer the truth will establish you as a reliable, trustworthy source of information for the next time they need something.

One simple problem-solving tool is to use something called "The Five Whys." It is simple because it uses the question "why" up to five times in order to help get to the root of a problem. But remember that it is indeed a simple tool - if you are dealing with a more complex problem, you may need to learn other problem-solving skills. An example of how to use this tool is shown in Figure 4 below. Notice that in this case, it's not necessary to use five 'why' questions to get to the root of the problem.

Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills are more than just communication skills. They are the 'people skills that seem to come to some of us so naturally, while others of us may struggle with them. Interpersonal skills will help you to work with your customers and build rapport with them, but it will also help you to advocate for your customer with your colleagues across your organization. Interpersonal skills also help you to build the type of long-term relationships that are important in maintaining customers over time.

Interpersonal skills are the 'people skills that help you to work with and build rapport with customers, as well as to advocate for your customer within your own organization.

Some interpersonal skills include:

  •  Courtesy - it's been said that good manners cost nothing, and that's the truth. There is no reason to be anything but courteous when dealing with your customers and colleagues. It fosters relationships and shows that you care about making the other person comfortable.
  • Respect for others - you've heard the 'golden rule", that you should treat others the way that you would like to be treated. But the true expression of respect is something called the 'platinum rule 
  •  Treat others the way that they would like for you to treat them.
  • Ability to see things from others' perspectives - if you have a customer who is upset about something, you might feel as if they have overreacted at first. But you need to be able to understand how what has happened is affecting your customer.
  • Perhaps to you, having the order arrive one day late is not a big deal. But to your customer, it could mean lost sales, lost productivity, embarrassment for him in dealing with his own customers, or any number of things. Your job is to understand - and express that understanding so that the customer feels heard and acknowledged.
  • Ability to understand various communication styles - each of us has a way of communicating with the world, and your customers could be very different from your own. These differences could create barriers to relationship building if you don't understand how they may show up.
  • For example, a person who you perceive as being rude or cold may simply be reserved or shy. Or a person you see as intrusive or forward may simply be interested in people in general and is not meaning any disrespect. This is just one form of keeping an open mind when working with others - a huge factor in interpersonal skills!

Organization Skills

If you are going to be a success as a salesperson, you have to be well-organized. You'll have information on your own products and services to keep track of, information on your customers and their businesses, information on prospects that might become customers, and any other information that your organization might provide.

Plus, you'll have information relevant to the job itself. You'll have to keep track of any sales you make if you are paid by commission or quota. You will have information on internal promotions and procedures, as well as information on how to use any data, tools, or software that you need to use. You'll also have a calendar to keep track of involving any meetings with clients or internal support people.

So what can you do to help improve your organizational skills? Here are some suggestions:

  •  Keep one calendar that has both business and personal appointments on it. Whether electronic or written, include the location of the meeting as well as the contact information for the person you are meeting with.
  • Create a sales 'funnel" to track which stage of a sale your customers are in. An example of a sales funnel is shown in Figure 5. The numbers in parentheses represent the number of customers in each stage of the funnel. You would create a spreadsheet or file for each of the customers at each stage in order to track when you move them from stage to stage through the funnel.
  • The funnel should represent a specific period of time such as a month or quarter, at the end of which you can evaluate how well you are doing at moving customers towards a sale.
Sales Funnel
Sales Funnel

  •  Get in the habit of creating a "to-do list at the end of your workday of things that you need to get done the next day. Label them in order of priority in case you aren't able to complete them all. If something doesn't get completed, move it to the next day's to-do list.
  •  Use a contact management system software system, if possible, which will help you keep track of when you have spoken to, sent mail to, or sent an email to a customer, as well as when you need to contact them again.

If you can't get a content management system, create one of your own using Microsoft Access or Excel. You should be able to sort by different values that are important in determining how and when you contact each customer (size of the organization, type of industry, current products the customer has, date(s) you promised to follow up with customers, etc.)

Self-Motivation Skills

As a salesperson, you have to be able to motivate yourself. There will be those times when you don't want to take the next step in the sales process or to make that phone call to the next customer. But you'll need to know how to work through those feelings and take the steps that your customers need - and that will help you be successful in your job.

Motivation requires a goal to strive for. You can get as creative as you want in the goals that you set for yourself, as long as they will help you to take the next action(s) that are necessary in moving through the sales funnel. The goals don't have to be related to your sales funnel- they could also be related to your own personal growth.

Here are some tips for how to keep yourself motivated:

  • As we said, motivation requires goals. Decide on what your goals are - and write them down. Consider short, medium, and long-term goals.
  • Do it anyway. We all have days where we just don't feel like doing our work. But in a job like sales, every day and every contact can be important. So even if you don't feel like doing something on your list - do it anyway. The more practice you get at this, the easier it will become.
  •  Stop procrastinating. It's very easy to find things to do other than what is on your list. You need to recognize when you are procrastinating and nip it in the bud. The sooner you get whatever it is you are procrastinating over finished, the sooner you will be free of it and ready to move on to the next thing on your list.
  • Set rewards for yourself. As you complete your goals, be sure to celebrate your successes with rewards for yourself. This positive reinforcement will then motivate you to work towards the next goal - and the next corresponding reward.

There will be times when you don't want to take the next step in the sales process. Self-motivation will help you work through those times.

Persuasion Skills

In today's competitive marketplaces, customers have a choice in where they will take their business. Persuasion skills are the tools that you can use to encourage the customer to choose your product or service over the competition.

The most important skill in persuasion is understanding the point of view of your customers and providing information on the benefits of your offer. As salespeople, we tend to focus on the features of our offering, when what we truly need is to focus on how the customer will benefit from our product or service. Let's imagine that we sell alarm clocks - a simple example, certainly, but it will help you to see the difference between features and benefits in Figure 6 below.



Dual Alarms

Let's you set a backup to be sure that you don't oversleep, or lets you set different alarm times for different people.

Large, Illuminated LED Numbers

Makes it easy to see the time without turning on any lights. Easy to see even if you are sleeping without glasses or contacts.

AM/FM Radio

Allows you to enjoy music at any time, or to set your alarm to activate on the music station of your choice.

MP3 Player Jack

Turns your alarm clock into speakers for your MP3 player for use at any time of day. You can also program the clock so that you wake up to your favorite songs on your MP3 player.

Durable Plastic Casing

This clock can withstand those early morning slaps to turn the clock off.

One-Year Manufacturer's Warranty

Protects your investment. With any malfunction of the clock, you can get a replacement in the first year.


The most important skill in persuasion is understanding the point of view of your customers and providing information on the benefits of your offer.

For more complex offerings, you'll need to consider what the benefits of your product are and focus on them in order to help persuade the customer.

Here are some more tips on how to persuade your customers:

Demonstrate Your Understanding

Putting yourself in your customer's shoes lets you look at the scenarios they are facing and helps you to concentrate on finding the best solution for their scenarios. When you work with your customer, the interaction is not about you- it's about them. Ask questions that demonstrate you are well-informed about their business their needs, and how your organization can help them to be more successful in their own business.

Generate a Friendly, Responsive Environment

Don't underestimate the impact of being friendly and responsive. Your attitude in working with the customer, meeting their needs, and handling their requests says a great deal about you and your organization to the customer. Plus, your responsiveness-how quickly you respond and how well you meet their expectations - will be an important decision point for any customer. One good rule of thumb is to under-promise and over-deliver for your customers. You'll be demonstrating an exceptional level of customer service that they will want to experience again in the future.

Provide Evidence and More Evidence

You need to be able to demonstrate to your customer that you, your organization, and your product or service are the best choice for the customer. Be able to explain precisely how your offering will benefit the customer in ways that the competition cannot. Give the customer testimonials from other customers and show them before and after scenarios that prove how your product or service has made a difference for other customers and how it can do the same for them. No matter what you do, be sure that anything you share is fully verifiable.

Demonstrate Your Expertise

Who would you be more apt to buy from someone who knows the basics about your industry or someone who you see as an expert in your field? As you work with the customer, demonstrate that you understand what you are presenting to them. Share information that shows you understand their field, the upcoming trends, and the challenges people in that industry are facing. You'll instill confidence in the customer to choose your product or service over the next provider.

Customer Service Skills

Customer service is not just a series of steps that you complete. It is an attitude and a way of looking at customers that enables you to provide the best level of service that you and your organization are capable of providing. Don't underestimate the power of customer service when it comes to making sales and keeping customers - many customers are willing to pay a higher price or go without certain features if they know that they have access to excellent customer service people who will be responsive and effective whenever they are needed.

Customer service is an attitude and a way of looking at customers that enables you to provide the best level of service that you and your organization are capable of providing.

So what does it take to provide excellent customer service skills? The answer to that question could fill books of its own, but here are a few tips on some main points:

  • Take responsibility for the customer's experience - from first contact and beyond the sale. Customers might only make one purchase from you- or they might make repeat purchases over time. But even if they don't ever buy from you, they can carry an impression of your customer service with them and tell others about you- the good and the bad.
  • Remember that even if you have dealt with this same issue a hundred times already today, it is the first time that your customer is dealing with it. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand how their problem is impacting them and their business.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Whether you have good news or bad news or just some interesting news, you need to remain in communication with your customers. Many times a customer will be understanding about a situation as long as you keep them informed about what is going on.
  • Honor your word. When you make a promise, be sure that you can deliver on it- and hopefully, exceed what you've promised. Your word is very fragile with customers-it takes only one time of failing to deliver on your word for you to destroy the reputation that you've built with the customer.


As in any relationship, integrity is vital in your relationships with your customers. What do we mean by integrity? A simple definition is that someone with integrity acts in accordance with their values and their commitments. This means that if you act with integrity, you will be fulfilling not only your organization's values but your own.

When you demonstrate that you have integrity, you show that you are someone who can be trusted and that you have the best intentions for your customers. This can make you a valuable partner and a trusted colleague. It can take multiple interactions to show that you have integrity-but, as mentioned above, you can damage your integrity with only one failed interaction. Remember that every time you work with your customer, you have an opportunity to demonstrate your integrity.

The Buyer Decision Process for New Products

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