What Skills Do I Need to Get a Job in Sales?

Let’s just re-word that title a bit eh?

The fact is, anyone can become a salesperson, but the real question should be, “what skills do I need to become a *great* salesman?”, because that brings into play a whole set of competencies that while some take for granted, others will never be able to emulate.

The first thing to bear in mind is what sort of salesperson you intend to be. Let me give you a story from the days when selling wasn’t really selling, it was, in fact, just entering data into a computer.

Way back when I started out in the job world, I worked for a huge steel manufacturer. We had all kinds of departments from accounting through personnel and testing through dispatch. We also had a dedicated, and large, sales department. This office consisted of 30 sales staff. These staff had a phone and a computer. To give you an indication of my age, these computers were actually what we used to call “dumb terminals”, they were nothing more than screens connected to the mainframe sat in some far away place.

The staff would be on the phone all day, but not usually making calls. No, they would spend their time *taking* calls because in those days there weren’t many places to get steel from. If you wanted a particular type of steel made to a specific tolerance in a particular way, you called us and ordered it. The sales staff didn’t sell; they took orders, but because each order was a sale, they were sales staff.

Just up the road from us there was a used car sales forecourt. Every now and then we’d pop up there to see if there were any new cars in worth looking at. We’d be approached by a salesman, and he had a different way of handling it. He wouldn’t be there to simply take an order (unless someone had already made a decision), but he would be there to advise and to find the ideal car for you. Maybe you were just browsing today? Well, his role would be to ensure you drove away with one of his cars, ideally the one he wanted to get rid of that day, and ideally he could sell it to you for a decent profit.

This meant he had to have skills, but they weren’t the kind of skills you could pick up at school. No, most of these skills would be what are known as “soft skills”. They’re things you learn through experience, and I’ve discovered that many sales people have them in abundance, but also many people who are not in sales have them, too. They’re actually good skills whatever job you’re in because everyone is selling. If you’re looking for a new job, you’re selling. If you’re trying to get a report past the boss, you’re selling.

So what are these skills and can they be bottled?

An ability to listen

This is probably the hardest skill of all because so many people find it difficult to shut up for a few minutes and listen to what someone is saying. When people are talking, they’re probably telling you all the information you need in order to be able to sell to them, but so often people just won’t be quiet. I heard a great salesman say that the other person needs to be talking for at least 70% of the time in order for there to be a chance to sell to them. If it turns out you’re speaking all the time, you’re probably not going to get the sale.

A great communicator

This isn’t just about talking, but let’s start with that. Your voice needs to be clear; you need to be concise, and you need to be succinct. Mumbling your words will mean people won’t understand you, and if they don’t understand you, you won’t get the sale. If you find that you need to repeat yourself often, then it’s probably because you’re not speaking clearly enough, so work on that.

But there are other areas of communication where you need to make sure you up your game. For example, do you use email effectively? Yes, email is an excellent form of communication but it can also be abused. Remember, sarcasm and wit don’t usually scan in plain text. You can’t provide intonation to an email, so it has to be crafted well so people don’t get the wrong end of the stick. Being clear in an email or, indeed, any written communication, can take a lot of practice, so be sure to practice. Also, make sure you use a spell and grammar checker to ensure you don’t let any ridiculous mistakes through.

You can use a sale simply because you get your spelling wrong in an email to a prospect. Yes, some are as shallow as that so make sure your written communication is spot on.

Remember, your prospect won’t give you the problem straight away

Let’s say you’re attempting to sell software into a manufacturing company. Do you just open up and provide the answer there and then? Or do you listen to what they have to say and ask questions along the way? The latter is ideal, but you know what’s better? If you ask deeper questions and dig down into the real problems that they’re trying to solve, you will be a better sales person.

Years ago I worked for a company that was looking for a new production scheduling solution for the factory floor. Three vendors turned up, and two of them demonstrated the software straight away, explaining how it was quick, it was resilient and how it helped other companies thrive. The third didn’t bring any software. They asked for a tour of the factory and asked questions all the way round. They asked for explanations of where things were going wrong, what we wanted to measure and what sort of reports were needed. Importantly, they wanted to find out where costs could be saved.

This was incredibly refreshing, and they got the job. We didn’t even see their solution before we bought it. We trusted them, and then they delivered.

Ask questions and when they tell you an answer, dig deeper.

Be positive

This doesn’t mean that you have to power dress and give positive vibes out whenever you walk into a room, but rather, you should be positive and optimistic in every meeting. People don’t want to deal with those who are miserable, and a healthy, positive attitude can do wonders.

Don’t be ‘salesy’

Although you need to be positive, some of the best salespeople I’ve met do not actually go for the sale. They, in fact, go for the “no”. They go into a meeting with the express wish of getting through every objection up front. Let’s face it, any buyer worth his salt is going to ask difficult questions, so why not deal with them before they do?

A great example is with price. Some purchasing managers are hell bent on reducing the prices they have to pay for absolutely everything. They do it to the point where they see it as a sport. So deal with it early on.

One guy I met was quite up front about it. He started every meeting with a very simple statement:

“Now, we’re not like other software vendors, our systems are expensive, a typical installation is at least 20K because we like to do it right first time, can I ask, are you OK spending that amount in order to get it right?”

That’s a hell of a question, and it makes it clear that the salesman isn’t going to be beaten down on price.

Be courteous, not arrogant

Finally, this is one thing that many people need to learn, not just sales staff. If you want to get on in business then it’s absolutely essential you make time for people, and you are well mannered. Sales staff often get called arrogant because many will attempt to be better than you. They exude an air of “I’m selling this product, it’s up to me to decide if it’s the best fit.” That doesn’t wash, and you’ll end up putting people off.

This is by far one of the most important skills you can have in any position, not just sales, and sadly, it’s the one missing in so many people’s skillsets.