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11 skills a sales associate needs to succeed

Sales is more than just basic product knowledge. Sales is about people—on both sides of the counter.

A good sales associate not only understands the product they are selling: they have a very particular set of skills. Liam Neeson is great but has he ever run the cash register on a Black Friday while the new stock was arriving with Head Office due to visit?

Salespeople need to wear many hats during their workday while demonstrating perfect customer service to every last shopper.

The great news is that according to Pipedrive’s State of Sales 2020-2021 report, at least 88% of sales associates regularly work on improving their soft skills. Hiring managers have a diverse and skilled talent pool they can now tap into.

You can spot and recruit these dream employees by requiring 11 must-have skills for a sales associate job during your hiring process. After reading this guide, store owners and salespeople will have a better understanding of the most vital sales associate skills and how to improve on them.

Table of contents


What are the best sales associate skills to add to or look for in a resume?

The top 11 skills needed for a sales associate are a mix of hard skills and soft skills. Both of them are needed to make sales day-to-day.

Our 2020-2021 State of Sales report also showed that associates who work on their soft skills are 11 percentage points more likely to usually or always hit their sales quota.


In this chapter, you’ll get a rundown on the most important sales associate skills, where they belong on the skill spectrum and what other phrases to look out for in a resume (or include when writing one).


1. Communication skills

Type: soft skill.

Sales associates are the first frontier representing a retail brand. They need to communicate important product info clearly, greet people and excel at small talk.

Beyond speaking, active listening is also central to assisting customers efficiently. The only way sales associates can go above and beyond is by understanding the customer’s needs on multiple levels.

Proficiency in another language can be an excellent icebreaker for multilingual customers. If you live in an area with a second language present, be sure to encourage your employees to practice their language skills.

Related sales associate skills for resumes:

  • People skills

  • Social skills

  • Soft skills

  • English/Spanish/French/etc. language skills


2. Customer service skills

Type: soft skill.

The difference between communication skills and customer service skills comes down to a combination of empathy and product knowledge.

Here are two examples:

  1. Salesperson Sam being able to recite the company’s two-week return policy from memory means they have great communication skills.

  2. On the other hand, if Salesperson Taylor tells the customer the same thing but also gives customized advice referring to the customer’s upcoming month-long business trip that they discussed just earlier, that means they have excellent customer service skills.

And there’s so much more that goes in this bucket. Customer service skills include a range of social smarts that the salesperson needs to know how and when to use. Knowing when to listen, taming irate shoppers, or simply solving a customer’s problem are all part of this skill set.

Related sales associate skills for resumes:

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Conflict resolution skills

  • Social skills

  • Personability

  • Call center skills

  • Empathy


3. Sales & marketing skills

Type: soft skill.

Without a doubt, sales and marketing skills are one of the top qualities of a salesperson.

Simply assisting customers to find what they want is good. Active selling is better. Of course, this does not mean they have to take on the persona of a pushy salesman. Rather, it’s about relationship building and relationship selling. Employees need to know what buttons to press that will seamlessly help the customer through the stages of the sale.

To some people, this skill comes naturally, while others might need some training, a script, or simple encouragement. More on this later.

Marketing and sales go hand in hand. Oftentimes, employees will be required to perform marketing-related tasks, such as visual merchandising, putting up signage, or arranging the store window.

Related sales associate skills for a resume or cover letter:

  • Persuasion skills

  • Visual merchandising skills

  • Attention to detail or being detail-oriented


4. Multitasking skills

Type: soft skill.

Even when it’s not busy, there are a myriad of things for sales associates to do in a retail store. They need to be highly efficient at multitasking.

Tasks may include maintaining stock levels, handling returns, putting out new products, managing the till, cleaning up after customers, and more. It may sound like a lot. The great news is that there’s a simple way to always know how to prioritize duties: put the customer first.

Naturally, situations may arise where two or more customers are competing for the attention of one salesperson who was already on their way to grab a size from the back and bring change for the cash register. It’s a tough position, especially if the location is understaffed.

One person cannot be expected to be in multiple places at once. Here’s where the communication skill comes in handy: it’s time to communicate to customers how each request will be fulfilled.

Related phrases for sales associate resumes:

  • Organizational skills

  • Project management skills

  • Critical thinking skills

  • Time management skills

  • Problem-solving skills


5. Team player

Type: soft skill.

Retail stores can get hectic. Being a team player is one of the most helpful skills needed for sales associates. This means helping each other out at all times. Team players can show themselves in different ways:

  • Helping coworkers when it’s busy

  • Doing a thorough job on each station so that colleagues won’t have extra work to do

  • Pitching in even after their assigned tasks have been completed

  • Jumping in when a situation is about to escalate with a customer

  • Seeing when an employee is overwhelmed and easing their work

Having a friendly, positive attitude goes a long way for both keeping the team spirit alive and for engaging with and greeting customers.

Related phrases for sales associate resumes:

  • Teamwork

  • Dependable

  • Reliable

  • Flexible


6. Attention to detail

Type: soft skill.

Sales associates need to be highly observant at all times. Whether it’s arranging products according to the most recent trends or paying attention to customer requests, attention to detail a skill that’s needed everywhere.

But detail-orientedness is not only there to complement the customer service skill. It’s also crucial for the error-free day-to-day operations of POS systems (point-of-sale) and credit card machines. The business cannot run at a loss due to absent-mindedness.

Related phrases for sales associate resumes:

  • Meticulous

  • Observant

  • Thorough

  • Attentive

  • Punctual

  • Timely


7. Leadership skills

Type: soft skill.

Leadership skills come handy to any sales position, no matter the level. Sales associates are expected to take charge in the store from time to time.

Let’s say the manager steps out for a minute. The store suddenly gets very busy. Depending on the company’s internal culture, a competent associate could step up to coordinate the flow of customers and their colleagues’ responsibilities.

At the same time, leadership skills don’t always manifest themselves in the form of authority. Oftentimes, simply displaying ownership mentality is a clue to future managerial aspirations. Going the extra mile is an example of this. If a sales associate is assigned to set up a wall with the new product line and they go out of their way to exceed expectations, that means they might be ready to take the helm in the near future.

Related phrases for sales associate resumes:

  • Management and project management skills

  • Delegation skills

  • Decision-making skills

  • Strategic planning skills

  • Negotiation skills

  • Training/mentoring/coaching skills

  • Recruiting skills

  • Conflict resolution skills

  • Relationship-building skills

  • Accountability


8. Product knowledge

Type: hard skill.

59% of shoppers do product research before they commit to a purchase, either in-store or online. They might come in knowing more about a product than the sales associates themselves. Appearing clueless in front of a customer is embarrassing and can have lasting damage to the brand’s reputation. You can go ahead of the problem by implementing comprehensive training (and re-training) for every employee.

Product knowledge is not only about passive know-how. It’s also an integral part of a store’s sales strategy. For example, if a customer is looking for a specific item, there’s an upsell opportunity to recommend products that complement the item. A suggestion like this can only land with a sufficient understanding of product features and store inventory.

What to look for/add to sales associate resumes:

  • Mentions of product names or product categories specific to the retail brand (e.g. “Lush Lotus Flower soap”)

  • Mentions of product attributes (e.g. “deeply-hydrating”)

  • Mentions of achievements related to product knowledge (e.g. “Increased store sales of Lush Lotus Flower soap by 13% by explaining its deeply-hydrating benefits to customers.”)


9. Industry knowledge

Type: hard skill.

Well-rounded retail industry knowledge is one of the most underrated sales associate skills. For example, a salesperson who knows about the latest fashion trends and can put together an outfit for a customer is a powerful asset.

An associate who is both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a product will have a greater chance of persuading the shopper.


10. Basic math skills

Type: hard skill.

Sales associates don’t need to be mathematicians. Still, a few basic skills are necessary for operating the cash register, money handling and counting back change. Basic steps to know include:

  • Addition

  • Subtraction

  • Percentages

There may be some math-related scenarios outside of the store counter, as well. Sales associates might need to help customers add up multiple coupon codes, calculate product measurements or give information about tax rates.

Related phrases for sales associate resumes:

  • Numeracy skills

  • POS skills

  • Payment processing skills


11. Basic technology skills

Type: hard skill.

In-store experience has gone digital. Retailers are expected to spend $7.3 billion on AI alone by 2022. The till is no longer the only gadget in the store. There are iPads, scan-equipped employee smartphones and even VR technology to aid customers in their shopping.

VR technology may not be popping up in every other retail location yet. Still, there is useful tech know-how surrounding our existing smart technology. It is increasingly becoming one of the most sought-after sales associate skills. For example, would you know the answer to the following questions?

  • What is NFC?

  • How do you read a QR code with a smartphone?

  • Can customers print out digital coupons and use them in-store?

  • What’s an electronic tag on a product?

Did you pass? Find the answers at the end of this article!

Related keywords for sales associate resumes:

  • Computer skills

  • Tech-savvy

  • Smartphone skills

  • Social media skills


5 skill-testing questions to ask at the interview

Having the perfect sales associate resume is still no guarantee of a job. Below, you’ll find a sample of interesting skill-testing questions that may come up at an interview.

1. You’re on the shop floor. Two customers are waiting for your assistance. You also see a line forming in front of the cash register. Where do you attend first?

This question is a great way to see how the interviewee would handle multitasking in an overwhelming situation.

Possible answer: “I let the two customers know to hang on for a second until I ring up the other transactions. If there’s a second employee, I’d ask them to assist the two customers. Depending on the staffing situation, I would do my best to have everyone served as quickly as possible. If it’s just me on duty, I would communicate this to the shoppers. If it got extremely busy, I would then contact on-call associates to come in and help with the surge.”

2. What’s your favorite product from the store?

This question aims to discover how much the interviewee knows about the store already. It doesn’t matter which product they select, as long as they can name one or two and explain why it’s their favorite.

3. What’s your favorite TV show? Why should I watch it?

This question is a fun way to get away from retail-specific questions. It measures how well the interviewee can “sell” this show to the store manager and whether they can convey their enthusiasm easily.

4. Read this paragraph, please. Then summarize the most important info in 3-4 sentences.

Give a store flyer to the applicant. Are they able to communicate the information effortlessly? This question tests the interviewee’s communication skills.

5. How many customers are in the store right now?

Oftentimes, sales associate interviews happen in the store’s back office. To get there, the interviewee has to walk through the store itself. This question aims at uncovering how observant or detail-oriented the applicant is. As long as they can provide a ballpark number, they’re good!


How can sales associates improve their skills?

Hard skills are easy targets for improvement. They usually require specific knowledge and some memorization to master. Soft skills, however, may be based more on feelings and perceived experience. Still, they are one of the most important skills to master as a retail sales associate.

The below tips aim to help elevate both hard and soft skills in the workplace.

  • Training. According to additional research conducted for the State of Sales 2020-2021 report, sales professionals who mostly trained on the job, rather than benefiting from courses, mentoring, or sales education resources, were the least likely to say they became more successful at sales in 2020. In other words, providing a mix of on-the-job and outside training methods is the most effective education for employees.

  • Courses. Salespeople can also do course studies from the comfort of their homes. LinkedIn’s free learning paths are a great place to start.

  • Role-playing. Internally re-enacting difficult situations can help sales associates become better salespersons and handle customer problems easier.

  • Scripts and techniques. Some cashiers and floor salespeople do better in upselling when there is a script or a defined sales technique available. Create a short cheat sheet to help sales associates stay on track. Take inspiration from this 17-year-old sales assistant who outsold every employee in his region with a simple mirroring technique.

  • Product training. This does not necessarily mean exhaustive training on each brand item (although that’s also beneficial). Sales associates can learn the most about store products by regularly buying them and using them. Staff discounts or giveaways can help create brand advocates among your sales associates and their friends and family.

  • Industry-relevant social media. Here’s to training that does not feel like training. To keep up with the trends, sales associates can follow relevant Instagram or TikTok accounts. For example, clothing store employees could follow popular fashion channels while drugstore employees could keep up to date with the world of skincare and beauty gurus.


Final thoughts

Those are the sales associate skills employees need the most to succeed.

Store managers, knowing about these skills will make it easier for you to spot the right resumes in your pile. Sales associates, now you’ll be able to spruce up your resume with keywords you’ve forgotten to add and get ideas and inspiration for improvement.

The bottom line is that almost every aspect of sales can be learned and mastered. It’s only a matter of dedication, hard work and some team spirit.

Bonus!

Thank you for reading this guide from start to end! Here are the answers to the questions from tip #10. Check below if you were right!

  • What is NFC? Among many uses, NFC is the technology that allows your phone to make payments at contactless readers in-store.

  • How do you read a QR code with a smartphone? On iPhone, use the phone’s camera app. On Android, press and hold the Home button for a few seconds, then tap Lens to take a picture. Find more detailed steps here (suitable for most phones).

  • Can customers print out digital coupons and use them in-store? It depends on the store and the technology used. An omnichannel approach is getting more and more popular, where all services and departments coordinate on customer-related matters, including coupons, returns and more.

  • What’s an electronic tag on a product? Some retailers, such as Lush, have started enabling scanning abilities on their products. These products are equipped with an electronic tag that can instantly provide key information about the item, like description, ingredients, price and even video.

Find the best new hires with this Sales Interview Checklist

Download this checklist complete with all of the best questions to ask during an interview with a sales candidate.

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