B2B sales skills you need to master in the 21st century

Lead Forensics, Friday 5 January 2018

a businesswoman with several arms, each holding an item to represent a different skill

Sales people are a vital part of the chain in any B2B organization, as they are the ones who are ultimately responsible for closing deals. For any company, it’s a simple enough equation - to be successful you need to win business and make money.

However, selling doesn’t always come easily for everyone and even if you’re a natural, there will be skills that can be improved upon, or new ones that can be added.

In the past, sales teams were ruthless and never took no for an answer. Reps would work away at someone until they gave in and pretty much anything was fair game (or at least that’s the image of sales that people often have).

Nowadays, thanks to the digital world we live in, things have changed. The role of a sales person has evolved and consultative selling has come to the fore.

But one fact remains: The best sales people will always be looking at ways to enhance their skills and achieve greater things.

Whether you already work in sales and wish to upskill, or you’re new to the game and currently finding your feet, you’ll want to ensure you’ve got all bases covered. In this blog, we’re going to help you do just that.

What makes a good sales person?

So, what actually makes a good sales person? Is it about being able to sell ice to an Eskimo? Or is it about understanding a prospect’s needs and being able to present them with a solution they cannot refuse?

The time of cold calling is over. People simply don’t pick up the phone anymore. Getting to the decision maker is an art, which at the same time has been made both easier and more difficult with advances in technology.

Usually, in B2B sales you face a longer sales cycle. That means you’re in it for the long-haul and must be able to build up a relationship over time. And there are certain key skills that any sales rep needs to master, if they are to manage the intricate customer relationships needed for lasting business success. 

In the end, a great B2B sales person is one who can network, consult and form relationships by building rapport. They will be able to extract what the true value of their product or service is for an individual client. They will also be great at walking in a client’s shoes and understanding their needs, which in turn helps a potential client feel at ease and begin to trust them.

If a prospect feels valued and understood - on top of which they truly have a need for what you are offering – then the deal will happen. So-called ‘soft skills’ are therefore some of the top skills that any good sales person needs to have.

A good sales person….

  • Has empathy and develops understanding for a prospect’s needs
  • Is willing to engage with a prospect at their level
  • Can add value to a prospect’s life, not only once the deal is made but during the sales process
  • Is skilled in asking questions to get to the bottom of any hesitations or objections
  • Can quickly extract the value that their proposal will bring for the prospect’s business

The top B2B sales skills you need to master

When we talk about skills, they can broadly be categorized into two groups:

  • Soft skills - which are the ones that aren’t tangible and have more to do with you as a person
  • Hard skills - which are the tools of the trade

Soft skills

Empathy

Can you learn to have more empathy? In a word, yes! There are ways and means to increase your levels of empathy and understanding. Tips on doing so can be found in this article:

Communication

Being a good communicator often comes down to being a good listener. At the end of the day, it simply means being able to hold your own thoughts for a moment, while you consider the other person. Knowing how to truly engage with them and wanting to find out more about them is a key to success in sales:

Improving emotional intelligence (EQ)

One skill that is sometimes overlooked but is equally important for improving sales success, is working on improving your emotional intelligence (EQ). By this we mean how well you understand and work with emotions - both your own and those of the person you’re conversing with.

The easiest way to improve in this area is to work with a coach, but you can also start on your own. Read up on how to do this here:

Coachability

It’s no surprise that more and more organizations now work with professional coaches and trainers to help their work force achieve better results. The ability to take feedback on board and improve personal skills is invaluable. Coachability refers to the ability someone has to be able to receive that feedback. In sales, it is common to employ trainers to help the sales force up their game.

 

Teamwork

Star sales people rarely work alone in today’s world. A potential prospect may engage with many people within your organization before finally deciding to buy. Sharing information has become essential, as has collaboration, especially between sales, marketing and all other customer-facing teams. Teamwork and working in unity towards a shared goal, can impact on your results. We discuss this issue in more depth here:

eBook on why Sales and Marketing teams need to work more closely

Flexibility

Being able to adapt and be flexible is essential for the success of any sales team, but particularly one within in the B2B world. New ideas, new concepts, new technology, new client behavior - you name it, anything can happen! How well you can adapt to these changes will play a part in your success. Check you’re not stuck in a rut. It’s true what they say, old habits do die hard and you may need to make a conscious effort to change.

 

Decision making

A key skill for any B2B sales executive is the ability to make decisions. There is nothing wrong with telling a prospect you’ll get back to them, but in certain situations, you may just need to make a judgment call on your own. Of course, this will depend a lot on the culture of your organization and how it is setup. However, the more willing you are to make decisions and to live with the consequences, the better you will do.

Problem solving

On this blog we’ve talked a lot about consultative selling, and for good reason. It is the way forward for any B2B organization. Whether you engage in ABM (account based marketing) or simply have long sales cycles, turning your focus onto a customer centric sales model is going to win you more sales.

Hard skills

As well as these softer skills, there are some hard skills that any good sales person needs to have. These are skills that can be taught through training and mastered with practice.

 

Finding new opportunities

One of the greatest skills of any good sales rep is being able to find and spot new opportunities. This may be through networking, social selling, referral marketing or cold calling. Whatever method is being applied, if you can generate new opportunities then you’ll be winning.

In larger organizations, you may have people who are focused entirely on generating leads for you to work through. In other companies, it will be up to you to find those leads, qualify them and turn them into opportunities. Online lead generation tactics can go a very long way towards helping you to do that. Here are some ideas:

Qualifying prospects

“The bane of every B2B sales pro is the false prospect—a prospect that’s never going to become a customer.” (Geoffrey James).

If you’re a strong negotiator with serious people skills and know how to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’, then the last thing you should be doing is contacting unqualified leads. Again, online lead generation and content marketing are great tactics for helping qualify leads in a fully or semi-automated fashion. A team member may filter leads before they land in your lap but you need to know how to quickly qualify prospects, so you are only working on those worth your time.

 

Presenting / demonstration skills

Being able to put together a good presentation with a quality hand-out is clearly a vital skill. Invest in a workshop that will teach you how to do this effectively and help you avoid falling into the trap of giving death by PowerPoint!

 

Social selling

Not too long ago, social media wasn’t thought of that positively among sales circles. However, its potential has now been fully recognized. You cannot do sales without at least some level of social media understanding. Even a round of golf may include the conversation ‘so what’s your Twitter handle?’ Our blog social selling and how to use it as part of your sales funnel is a great place to start, if you’re not already in the game. And for anyone working in B2B sales, a LinkedIn profile is a must:

Product knowledge

With all your soft skills and technical skills in place, you still need to know your product inside out. There’s no way around that. Can you effectively explain the features of your product? Do you understand what the benefits are and can you extract those benefits and relate them back to the goals of your prospect?

 

Research skills

Google and LinkedIn are a sales persons most used research tools these days, but there are of course many others. Think which are the key blogs, newspapers and media, online influencers, etc. All these sources can play a role in helping you find out more about the company and/or person you want to do business with. The better prepared and informed you are before you try and engage with them, the stronger your pitch will be.

 

Time management

Time is money and that’s never going to change. What has changed though are the tools with which you can manage your time. From synchronized and shared calendars, to comprehensive task management tools, there are plenty to choose from. Don’t be afraid to use them. Investigate which ones are going to the most use for you in helping you make the best use of your time. Try and automate as much as possible, which is something it is becoming easier and easier to do by the day.

 

Closing techniques

This could equally sit on the soft skills list, but in reality you’ll never sell anything if you don’t know how to close a sale. We’ve got you covered:

Follow up relationship building

A skill that’s as old as the sales profession itself. Nowadays, the challenge is more about using the correct tools and setting them up properly so that nothing falls through the cracks. Always stick to your promises. If you said you were going to do xyz by a certain time, then do it!

 

Networking, referral marketing

Another hard skill that’s been around forever and will always be needed by sales executives is the ability to network and extract referrals from existing clients. Look for opportunities and prepare as much as you can before you go. Think about what you could be doing before, during and after, to maximize all these opportunities. Connect with offline contacts online and build your networks.

 

And if you’re really not a sales person and this all sounds rather daunting, have a read of: How to sell if you’re not a sales person and don’t worry, you will get better and more confident. It will just take practice!


Free Guide: How to write your own sales call scripts

Topics: B2B sales, Open Sales Conversation

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