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Learn sales by mastering these 13 skills

Learn Sales
Topics
Soft skills vs. hard skills
1Communication
2Product and industry knowledge
3Collaboration
4Relationship building
5Honesty
6Adaptability
7Problem-solving
8Customer service
9Negotiating
10Prospecting
11Following up
12Closing
13Data analysis
Final thoughts

Every good salesperson brings unique talents to their role. However, the best sales professionals all have a core set of skills that help them excel.

If you want to progress in your sales career, learn sales skills that will help you nurture leads and close more deals.

In this article, we’ll discuss the difference between hard and soft sales skills and why both are important. We’ll then cover 13 skills every successful salesperson should have and tips for improving each.

Soft skills vs. hard skills

When you’re researching how to learn sales, you’ll soon find that there are two types of skills you need to master.

Soft skills: General, non-job-specific character traits that determine how you work with others.

Hard skills: Job-specific technical skills, typically acquired through education, training and experience.


Soft skills determine how people work together. They define an employee’s personality rather than their job-specific knowledge.

High-performing salespeople use soft skills to build rapport and trust with customers. These skills also help them contribute to a healthy sales culture and a positive working environment.

Hard skills are typically industry-specific but may be transferable across roles and industries. For example, proficiency in Microsoft Excel is a hard skill that benefits a wide range of industries.

Let’s take a look at some specific hard and soft skills you should add to your professional development plan.


1. Communication

Clear, effective communication is vital in nurturing leads and closing deals. Salespeople need to know how to make a sales pitch. They also ask the right questions and listen to customer pain points to know how to best address customer concerns.

Communication skills extend to both verbal and written conversations. From drafting sales emails to giving sales presentations to making informative sales calls, you’re building foundational customer relationships.

Note: Build up your sales-specific communication skills with Pipedrive’s guide on How to level up your sales communication and seal more deals.


Internal communication is just as important to sales success. It ensures the sales team is working to reach the same goals. It also helps your sales efforts sync with the company’s marketing strategy so you know you’re working toward the right objectives.

Learning sales skills like active listening and speaking (or writing) with conciseness and empathy will help you deliver your messages clearly and understand client emotions and perspectives.

How to improve

  • Learn the basics from a formal course like Pipedrive Academy’s Unlocking the power of sales communication

  • Role-play common conversations with a colleague or friend and focus on responding to needs and concerns rather than sticking to a script

  • Ask mentors or peers for constructive criticism to identify your strengths and weaknesses and work on enhancing them

  • Dive into books, blogs or podcasts by seasoned sales professionals to learn their techniques and adapt their successful strategies to your style


2. Product and industry knowledge

Knowing the ins and outs of your product and your industry is a top priority. You should understand the needs of your market and how your product or service meets those needs.

Competent salespeople know exactly where their company products or services fit against the competition.

They also know how customers use their products, how the products improve the customers’ lives and what pain points you solve.

How to improve

  • Study your marketing materials to learn about your product’s features and the various pricing plans or subscriptions you offer

  • Get some experience using your solution so you can see it from a user’s perspective

  • Subscribe to industry publications or blogs and keep up on market trends

  • Research who your competition serves and how they market their solution to get an idea of what works and help you see any gaps in the market that you can fill

Use a 30-60-90 day sales plan to set goals for building a base knowledge of the industry, company processes and your target customer


3. Collaboration

Collaboration allows employees to work together effectively to reach shared objectives and company goals.

Using a team-based approach boosts the productivity and creativity of the workplace and leads to a healthy sales culture. The healthier a company’s culture, the happier the employees in their positions.

In-person collaboration might look like holding ideation sessions and creative meetings. You’ll need to Practice active listening and express genuine interest in others’ perspectives to foster meaningful connections.

In today’s remote and hybrid workplaces, technical know-how is also crucial to strong teamwork. This can mean sharing information through customer relationship management (CRM) software and messaging apps.

Good collaboration takes a mix of hard and soft skills. You want to build a working knowledge of the tools and processes your company uses for effective collaboration and keep up to date with trends and changes.

How to improve

  • Join collaborative projects in your team or across departments to understand different working styles, share ideas and contribute to a common goal

  • Familiarize yourself with various communication tools like project management software, instant messaging apps and video conferencing platforms

  • Attend industry conferences or networking events to expand your network and open doors for potential collaborations


4. Relationship building

Good salespeople build strong relationships with customers to create trust, improve the customer experience and help increase the lifetime value (LTV) of each customer.

Building good relationships within the company is equally crucial. Sales success often depends on teamwork with other departments like marketing and customer support.

Strong internal relationships make sure information flows smoothly, aligning sales plans with the overall goals of the business.

How to improve

  • Attend industry-related networking events to practice initiating conversations. Focus on active listening, ask open-ended questions and exchange contact information to nurture connections beyond the event

  • Seek out mentorship from experienced professionals to learn from someone who has excelled in relationship-building

  • Role-play real-life sales scenarios with colleagues or friends, focusing on building rapport and addressing client needs


5. Honesty

Honesty in sales is about ethical selling and doing what is best for the customer. It offers several long and short-term benefits.

Sales ethics keeps salespeople focused on the best-fit prospects for your product or service.

In the short term, being honest about who needs your product and how they’ll benefit leads to...

In the long term, ethical selling can strengthen your brand reputation. When customers know you’re honest and reliable, they’ll return again and again. They’ll also become ambassadors, spreading the word about your brand as they offer positive reviews and referrals.

In some cases, salespeople need to learn and follow industry-specific ethics laws and codes of conduct.

How to improve

  • Seek out articles and podcasts on relevant topics, like ethical sales techniques or ethical cold-calling scripts

  • If sales management and decision-makers have prioritized an ethical culture, make sure you’re familiar with relevant company policies

Complete compliance training to learn the fundamentals of ethics for your organization or industry


6. Adaptability

The ability to adapt to an ever-changing market is vital to keeping up with customer wants and needs.

The most effective sales technique will be different for different customers. You need to know when to switch your approach or adapt to mid-negotiation customer demands.

It’s also important to be ready to adapt to industry-wide changes and cutting-edge technology. Developing the skills to be flexible will help you stay ahead of the curve so you can offer the best customer service.

How to improve

  • Read industry publications to get informed about changes in your industry, market trends and customer preferences

  • Take a course to learn the fundamentals of effective sales methodologies, then regularly step out of your comfort zone to try out alternative methodologies and strategies

  • Create buyer personas for your target audience so you can understand how to best serve each


7. Problem-solving

Great salespeople know that the selling process isn’t just about closing the deal. It’s about solving the prospect’s problems, thus creating a positive customer experience and making the close more likely.

The best salespeople not only solve problems as they arise but also forecast future challenges and prepare solutions in advance.

Problem-solving extends into the internal process as well as the external. When you know how to address concerns and find solutions, you make leadership’s job easier. You also help boost team morale.

How to improve

  • Read case studies that highlight complex sales challenges and analyze how successful sales professionals approached and resolved these issues

  • Collaborate with colleagues from different departments to strengthen your problem-solving abilities by incorporating a range of viewpoints

  • Develop problem-solving skills by studying specific sales strategies so you have a toolset to draw from when customer concerns or problems arise


8. Customer service

Providing high-level customer service helps foster strong client relationships.

Good customer service ensures happy customers now. It also creates a foundation for reselling or upselling down the road.

When people have success with your product or service, they’re likely to give you repeat business. They’re also more likely to share their experience with other potential customers.

How to improve

  • Regularly review customer feedback, both positive and negative so you know how to adapt your approach and address potential pain points

  • Attend workshops or sales training specifically focused on customer service in sales

  • Ask a sales leader or mentor to regularly assess your communication skills

  • Proactively anticipate the needs of your customers so you can offer solutions before issues arise


9. Negotiating

Sales negotiation involves strategic discussions between the prospect and sales rep that ideally lead to an agreed-upon sales deal.

Top salespeople know how to navigate these conversations in a way that leaves customers satisfied and creates positive revenue for the company.

Research from RAIN Group suggests that highly skilled negotiators are up to three times more likely to achieve their pricing target.

The main objective of a sales negotiation is to reach a deal that both parties accept. Communication plays a vital role in the negotiation process. Prospects and sellers must effectively communicate their position, must-haves and potential compromises in the sales process.

Negotiations can begin as early as the lead generation stage in the sales pipeline. By qualifying and nurturing leads through the funnel, effective salespeople can negotiate with confidence thanks to an accurate picture of pain points from the data.

How to improve

  • Seek mentorship from experienced negotiators within your organization or industry

  • Attend workshops or training sessions specifically focused on negotiation skills, providing hands-on experience and expert guidance

  • Seek out articles or sales training podcasts to learn about techniques and tactics used by successful negotiators


10. Prospecting

Sales prospecting is the process of identifying and reaching out to new prospects to grow revenue.

Prospecting requires research and communication skills. You need to know what types of leads to look for, where to find them and how to reach out in a way they’ll respond to.

Is all this work worth it?

According to research, 82% of buyers accept meetings when salespeople reach out. That’s a lot of new doors opening for your business. It’s also a big motivation to know how to research and contact qualified leads in your market.

How to improve

  • Research potential clients so you can target those who align with your product or service offerings

  • Become familiar with sales prospecting tools and technologies to streamline prospecting activities

  • Actively engage in networking and relationship-building events in your industry to expand your pool of prospects

  • Regularly analyze the outcomes of your prospecting efforts. Adapt your approach to continually improve


11. Following up

Following up with prospects helps nurture warm leads through the sales funnel to turn them into conversions.

Not every lead is going to be ready to make a purchase after your initial interactions. You’ll need to know how to nurture new prospects down the sales funnel, and that means following up at key points to keep your leads “warm”.

When you know best practices for using follow-up emails, phone calls and in-person exchanges, you can create additional meaningful touchpoints.

More communication gives customers more opportunities to consider your product and see how it can address their pain points.

How to improve

  • Create a systematic schedule for follow-up activities, ensuring that you maintain consistent communication with potential and existing clients

  • Leverage lead follow-up software that can automate your follow-up processes, helping you stay on top of key interactions

  • Tailor your follow-up messages to each client to show a personalized understanding of their needs and concerns

  • Implement email templates to make follow-up easier and more efficient. Build standard templates that you can personalize for each prospect.


12. Closing

Closing refers to the final stage of the selling process where the customer signs a contract or makes a purchase. It’s not always a given that a prospect who has gone through the sales pipeline will end with a deal.

To make sure you complete the sales cycle, you need to know how to finish the job. When you get to this last stage, individual prospects will have different concerns. You need to know how to respond to any roadblocks and clear the way to make the sale.

How to improve

  • Shadow experienced salespeople during their closing interactions

  • Engage in role-playing exercises to simulate various closing scenarios and practice different closing techniques

  • Study different closing strategies used by successful sales professionals in your industry

  • Seek feedback on your approach from accomplished closers within your organization


13. Data analysis

Collecting and analyzing sales data enables reps to spot trends in the selling process. Tracking and visualizing trends will help you develop a better sales process and forecast future revenue.

You can collect sales data with either a simple spreadsheet or a sophisticated CRM platform that generates automated reports and insights based on the data. The more complex the tool, the more thorough and efficient your analysis will be.

Use metrics such as win rate, average deal size, average time to close, number of deals in your pipelines and sales revenue to build a picture of your business.

How to improve

  • Enroll in online sales courses focused on data analytics

  • Use resources from your CRM provider (like Pipedrive Academy’s video tutorials) to learn how to get the most out of your tools

  • Volunteer to help in hands-on data analysis projects, applying concepts learned in courses to real-world sales data for practical experience

  • Familiarize yourself with the analytics features of tools and platforms like Pipedrive to enhance your proficiency in working with sales data


Final thoughts

Great salespeople rely on their selling skills in day-to-day operations. Focus on improving both hard and soft skills to boost sales performance, meet sales goals and build a successful career.

The right sales training can jump-start your sales career.Pipedrive Academy’s online training and video courses can help you hone your sales skills and boost your sales process efficiency so you can close more deals faster.

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