In personal or professional development, you can’t cheat. To improve yourself or your teams, you must do the work. The skills you need to improve in sales are mostly found in the fundamentals. While there are a great number of people and companies that promise that this technology or that one will improve your sales results, you are better off working on improving your ability to conduct a sales conversation with your prospective clients.
The skills you need to improve your sales include:
- Gaining commitments
- Scheduling a first meeting
- Creating value in the sales conversation
- Diagnosing client scenarios
- Modern storytelling
Before we look at each of the primary skills that make great salespeople, it's important to recognize that selling is a craft. The only way you can improve your results is through practice, and studying what works, what doesn't, and when and how to use certain strategies, tactics, and conversations.
When working to improve in any endeavor, it’s necessary to develop skills that support the outcomes you need. Selling is a series of conversations. The greater your skills, the better these conversations will be, and the more they help the client improve their outcomes. You have to practice these skills to learn them.
The first outcome a salesperson needs to create is a first meeting, so the first skill of a great salesperson is the ability to obtain a commitment from a prospective client. Every step forward requires you to gain another commitment from your contacts.
In the Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales, you will find 10 different commitments that allow you to facilitate the client's buyer's journey. This starts with the commitment for time, exploring change, committing to change, collaborating, building consensus, investments, reviewing solutions, resolving concerns, deciding, and executing. In this book, you will find the Trading Value Rule, which helps your clients commit to the next step.
You can improve your sales skills by practicing and improving your ability to gain commitments.
Scheduling a First Meeting
The goal of prospecting is creating a first meeting, which requires picking up the phone and calling a stranger. Those who do well at booking meetings are not conflict averse and don't worry much about the occasional grouchy person hanging up on them. They have the thick skin that prevents them from believing they were personally rejected.
Salespeople who are skilled at scheduling a first meeting trade value for the client's time. When a contact refuses the meeting, the salesperson gently restates the value the client will receive by taking the meeting. They are also skilled at addressing the client's concern that a meeting will be a waste of time.
Improving this skill means making many hundreds of calls and becoming immune to any negative outcomes. By practicing each day, you'll improve your sales results.
Creating Value in the Sales Conversation
This is a higher hurdle to clear. It's also the most important skill when you are sitting across the table from your contacts. To enable this skill, you must bring business acumen to a conversation with your clients. When we talk about creating value, your primary goal is to educate your clients on a key aspect of their business. While your ultimate goal is helping the client make the best decision for their business, you achieve this through a series of business conversations.
This sales skill is the one to rule them all. If you are unable to create value for your clients in a sales conversation, improving your outcomes is close to impossible. This higher-level skill requires that you study the modern sales approach and possess the insights that your contacts find valuable. This skill is one you must practice every day, in every sales call. It is more difficult to acquire, but by studying, you can improve faster.
Diagnosing Client Scenarios
Your client has problems and challenges. What once worked for them now fails. They are uncertain about what to do or who to work with to turn things around. The person who can explain why the client has the problems that harm their results will grab their attention. Following that explanation, a highly skilled salesperson will diagnose the root cause of the problem and what the client will need to do to improve their results.
Having practiced this for years, you will find that, at some point, you can immediately recognize the pattern that allows you to assess the scenario in a blink of an eye. The education you develop over hundreds of meetings with your clients adds up, making you a sort of expert in the different client scenarios you encounter over time.
There are a lot of people who believe the stories salespeople tell should be about their company and all the ways they have helped their clients. While these stories are sometimes helpful, modern storytelling is about the external environment and its impact on the client's business. It also tells a story about what works now, what doesn't, and why. These stories depend on business acumen and a perspective that helps clients learn and understand how to turn things around.
One way to think about your stories is that you are making sense of your clients’ world and how to best address their challenges. These stories carry more weight than some of the legacy stories about your company and your solutions.
In many deals, improving your sales skills will require you to negotiate with your contacts, even the nice ones who must do right by their company and ask for a discount or concession. When you are new to sales, you might fear that pushing back will cause you to lose deals. By improving your skills over time, you will learn to ask for something valuable in exchange for whatever you give your new client.
Like all the skills here, the only way to acquire them is to practice. Selling isn't something that you can learn from books alone. Reading can help you get started, but you need to practice to improve your skills.