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Key skills for sales jobs

Find out five skills that could improve your sales CV, along with exactly what each entails, so you can talk confidently about them at interview.

Often, you'll have the most contact with those who directly provide your employer with revenue – those who every employee has a vested interest in impressing.

Communication | Resilience | Customer service | Commercial awareness | Teamwork

You’ve got your sights set on a sales job but, while you reckon you could encourage clients to part ways with their money, maybe you don’t feel quite ready to effectively sell yourself to recruiters.

Step away from your USPs and add-ons for the moment. Your ability to headstand for five minutes or complete a Rubik’s Cube in under that time will have its moment (perhaps when you’re discussing your ability to work hard to achieve an end goal at interview). To start with, however, it might help you to focus on showing that you have the basics – the key sales skills and competencies.

This article lets you in on the aptitudes that we have seen crop up again and again during discussions with sales recruiters. It’s a good idea to emphasise these on CVs and application forms, as well as during interviews, where you can. The skills discussed here will likely be desirable across many sales roles but they do not account for the specific requirements of a certain employer or position – so it’s important to look closely at the job description for each role you apply for.

Sales skill one: communication

Whether you’re contacting clients or colleagues, the ability to communicate in a friendly, professional and productive manner is crucial in sales positions. Our article on communication skills discusses how you can show this during applications, interviews and presentations. For the purposes of this article, however, we thought it would be a good idea to hone in on some important – but sometimes overlooked – characteristics of an effective communicator in a sales position.

Listening

When it comes to figuring out the best solution for both your employer and your client – so the latter remains happy and loyal – listening is key. Listening carefully will mean you’re more likely to give the client exactly what they want and less likely to annoy them by trying to offer the things they don’t want.

By really considering and understanding the needs and priorities of whoever you’re selling to, you can find out:

  • whether your offerings are suitable for them (ie whether they are a cold, hot or warm lead) and so whether to pursue the sale
  • how to position your products or services in a way that will most encourage a purchase
  • what you could offer in the future and any upsells or add-ons they may be interested in
  • any kinds of support/training they might need to understand the product or service.

Writing

You'll probably be aware that jobs in sales require effective verbal communication, whether its via telephone or video call or talking to clients face-to-face. What some people overlook, however, is the value of polite, professional and persuasive written communication.

If you work in customer or client development, or as a sales executive, you may find that a client’s first contact with your company is reading what you’ve written, whether that’s an email or social media post. Inaccurate spelling or appearing to offer lots more than seems reasonable can be off-putting (let alone potential grounds for false advertisement!), as can writing that comes across as dull or unenthusiastic. Being able to match your written tone to your verbal one is likely to stand you in good stead.

Knowing the channels

Knowing the best channels with which to discover and connect with potential clients is something that you will hone across your sales career, so don’t panic too much if you’re not totally clued up on this just yet.

However, it will work in your favour if you familiarise yourself with some of the most popular forms of social media and the ways that companies (particularly any you’re applying to work for) use them to market to and communicate with individuals and organisations. While roles in marketing and sales are definitely distinct from each other, they can overlap in many companies – and it’s often part of the job of a sales person to encourage as many potential customers to engage with your employer as possible.

Persuading

It may seem obvious, but the ability to influence and persuade others to believe that their experience will be improved by purchasing whatever you are selling is vital if you’re going to be effective in sales. This is something that comes more naturally to some than others. Perhaps you and your friends always go to the restaurant you pick out? Or you always manage to encourage your sibling to part ways with their favourite pair of shoes when you want to wear them for the evening? These are the kinds of things that point towards a natural ability to persuade.

Nonetheless, this isn’t the only important aptitude for sales (as this long article highlights) and you can learn techniques to develop your ability to persuade others. It’s a skill that many people working in sales improve and work on throughout their career.

Sales skill two: resilience

Sales is a career area notoriously characterised by targets. Perhaps your employer will expect you to make a certain number of sales or bring on board a certain number of clients every day, week, month and/or year. So, you will have to maintain a level of resilience while under pressure.

At certain points in your sales career you may not be able to meet targets, even those you were easily managing to exceed last month. Sales is a fast-paced and rapidly changing career area, which can be impacted by a whole host of factors such as new competitors and/or reduced income of clients. The ability to maintain a positive outlook – thinking about how you can overcome or learn from challenges rather than becoming overwhelmed by them – will be valued by many employers.

Sales skill three: customer service

Customer service is closely related to the skill of communication discussed above, but it goes further than this. For many employers, it’s about having the right set of priorities – often recruiters will refer to a ‘customer first’ or ‘client first’ attitude, for example. So, you will have to demonstrate that you can treat each company or person you work with individually and carefully consider how to provide the product or service that will improve their experience in some way.

Sales skill four: commercial awareness

If you’re going to effectively sell something to someone, you won’t only need to know the features, pros and (potentially) cons of whatever that is – you’ll need to place it in the context of similar products or services as well as the companies selling them. Being able to do this is part of having strong commercial awareness. This will enable you to foresee potential competition and position your offerings in a way that makes them seem superior – whether that’s due to a USP, low price, robust ethical standards or great aftercare service, as a few examples. Research and analysis are particularly important skills when it comes to building commercial awareness.

Sales skill five: teamwork

This article has focused a lot on the communication between salespeople and clients/customers. In order to make any transaction mutually beneficial, you will have to collaborate effectively. This is especially important for roles such as client relationship manager, in which your focus will be on supporting the client to reach their goals.

However, it’s important to remember that working in sales also involves communication with colleagues. Often, you as a salesperson will have the most contact with those who directly provide your employer with revenue – those who every employee, in some way or another, will have a vested interest in impressing. Relaying customer feedback and inside knowledge to different teams, such as marketing or design, will improve your colleagues’ ability to give customers what they want. This might be through informal catch ups, joining the meetings of other teams or giving presentations.

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