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Sales skills: top skills for 2020

Are you potentially looking to start a career in sales? Find out which sales skills and traits are essential to succeed as a sales professional in 2020 and beyond.



Certain personality traits are more likely to put you in good stead to become a successful sales professional. If you’re confident, outgoing, friendly, likeable, positive, driven, ambitious, resilient, fun, self-motivated with a keen entrepreneurial spirit, sales is likely to be a good career choice for you. You will spend a great deal of your time communicating with potential and existing clients, be it through face-to-face meetings, over the phone or via email and it’s therefore essential that you are easy to get along with and are capable of a making a positive and lasting first impression. Confidence is the key to making sure you’re able to put yourself forward and embrace challenges that less outgoing individuals may shy away from.


Communication skills

Both strong verbal and written communication skills are vital sales skills to ensure excellent customer service. Individuals working in sales roles should be professional, approachable, helpful, informative and personable, particularly when communicating with customers. Excellent listening skills are of paramount importance, as this is how any sales professional can truly find out about a client’s needs. Strong written communication skills will also be necessary when compiling proposals or contracts. Being a confident public speaker will benefit pitches and presentations, as well as any events or seminars that they might be speaking at as part of a brand awareness or network-building exercise.


Relationship building skills

Being able to form and sustain relationships with clients and other key stakeholders is an essential sales skill for any sales professional. Building lasting relationships with clients is more likely to create repeat business opportunities and also result in referrals, recommendations and positive customer feedback. Keeping in regular contact with key decision makers, attending networking events and being generous with your knowledge and expertise by using a more consultative approach is likely to help you solidify these relationships. Making use of social media to share regular industry insights and updates with a network of potential and existing clients is another way to reinforce these ties. Demonstrating your integrity by always being open and honest as well as admitting to your mistakes and taking responsibility is also important in retaining relationships.


Product/service knowledge

Sales professionals must be able to demonstrate excellent knowledge of their company’s products or services. Being able to communicate the unique selling points (USPs) of a company’s offering, along with a thorough understanding of how it can really solve a customer’s problem or reveal new untapped opportunities for them is key. Selling these products or services is always so much easier if it’s clear that the salesperson truly believes in the product or service themselves, with apparent enthusiasm. People working in sales should be adept at storytelling, confident in using product demonstrations and ensuring that their pitch is tailored specifically for the needs of the (potential) client, rather than trying to deliver a one-size-fits-all solution.


Negotiation skills

Sales professionals should be effective persuaders as well as prepared to handle objections and close deals. You should always be aware of your bottom line when agreeing costs and conditions to ensure profitability and securing a deal that is beneficial to you and your company. It is important to be aware of when compromise can be achieved (such as around pricing or service level) but also when to stand your ground. Negotiation is one of the sales skills you can't afford not to possess in a sales role.


Business development skills

Business development is a large part of any sales role, with sales professionals being expected to generate their own pipeline through research and prospecting. Cold calling may play a part in lead generation and therefore sales professionals will need to demonstrate resilience and being able to cope with rejection and criticism. Perseverance, self-motivation and creativity are needed in order to drum up new business on a continual basis.


Time management skills

Working in sales will require you to be able to juggle numerous tasks and priorities, including winning new work, building your pipeline, writing up proposals and presentations, preparing for pitches, client meetings, team meetings, training and development sessions, record keeping, setting goals and account management. It’s particularly important for sales professionals to ensure that they constantly work on developing their pipeline by identifying new prospects to target, whilst maintaining existing customer relationships – allocating specific time during any given day for business development activity is crucial.


Teamwork and collaboration skills

Selling is not as individualistic a pursuit as one might first imagine, but in fact requires the ability to work with others on a regular basis. The sales team, as well as those within the wider company, should be working towards common goals and it therefore necessary to collaborate on how to best achieve those goals – something which will constantly change with time. Sales professionals will share leads with other members of the sales team and also work together on pitches and presentations. The sales team will also collaborate with other teams across the business including marketing, IT, finance and HR, perhaps in producing new marketing materials, implementing new sales software, chasing up clients for payments or hiring new members for the sales team.


Record keeping and administration skills

Although perhaps not the most glamorous part of a sales role, record keeping is a critical sales skill as it ensures a useful and relevant database of contacts is maintained. Sales teams will need to know how to use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software in order to log contact details, previous correspondence, previous work and many other details that can be referred back to or viewed by other team members to avoid duplicated efforts or communication. This information is also vital to other departments across any given business for reporting and additional communication.

Nigel Wright Recruitment is a recruitment agency specialising in placing permanent and temporary sales professionals in companies across a wide number of industries. Find out more about our sales specialism or view current sales roles.

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