9 expert-backed sales principles for successful deals

Sales Principles
Sales principle 1: selling is about balancing speaking and listening
Sales principle 2: rejection is an unavoidable part of the process
Sales principle 3: weave a compelling narrative to keep prospects engaged
Sales principle 4: treat people as individuals so they know you’re on their side
Sales principle 5: know your product inside out
Sales principle 6: remember that smart work beats hard work
Sales principle 7: following up is critical if you want to make sales
Sales principle 8: focus on activities over the end result to stay motivated
Sales principle 9: use LinkedIn to build B2B credibility
Final thoughts

Sales principles are proven strategies that salespeople use to convince and persuade potential customers.

Rooted in widely accepted psychological concepts, these sales fundamentals have a demonstrated track record with successful salespeople today.

In this article, you’ll learn nine key principles of selling backed by psychology, recent studies and contemporary experts to help you stay competitive.

Sales principle 1: selling is about balancing speaking and listening

Many salespeople mistake sales for talking prospects into a deal with cleverly worded tactics. However, a sales strategy is as much about listening as it is about carefully choosing your verbal messaging.

Be sure to create space in your sales pitch for active listening. This communication technique helps you stay on top of any critical detail that can help close the deal.

Studies suggest that participants who experience active listening feel more understood and satisfied with interactions.

Regularly practicing active listening (especially in initial customer interactions) can help you lay the foundations to build trust that leads to sales.

How to balance listening and speaking in sales

The outdated “80/20 rule” of active listening assumes that reps should spend 80% of their time listening and 20% talking. The balance really depends on several factors, such as your product and prospect.

According to ExecVision research, the ideal speaking vs. listening split depends on four factors:

  • What you’re selling (e.g., complex software vs. office equipment)

  • Who you’re speaking to (e.g., technical buyers vs. end users)

  • Your company’s standardized sales methodology (e.g., initial in-person vs. late-stage calls)

  • The type of sales call (e.g., cold call, discovery, demo, etc.)

For example, when speaking to C-level executives, you’ll speak roughly 60%–75% of the time and listen for the rest. When cold calling, you’ll speak 45%–55% of the time.

Prioritizing listening in sales enables you to digest different people’s wants and needs. You only offer solutions once you’ve understood what the prospect is looking for – a process known as consultative selling.

On the other hand, you’ll prioritize speaking when your product is complex and needs explaining. You’ll also do this when you need to prove you’re knowledgeable about the prospect’s sales organization needs.

Sales conversations should be just that: conversations. Reframe these interactions as two-way encounters instead of monologues. This way, you’ll connect more deeply with prospects as you move them along your sales cycle.

Sales principle 2: rejection is an unavoidable part of the process

Rejection and objection are typical of any sales career. For most reps, it’s a significant part of mastering the industry.

It’s natural to want to avoid the hurt associated with rejection. In fact, a cognitive bias known as the Ostrich Effect can lead to us avoiding negative feedback (even when constructive) and burying our heads in the sand.

Sales coach Miles Croft compares sales rejection to boxing:

“Rejection is one of the hardest things to take, and it’s something that happens a lot in sales. Every rejection is like taking a punch, and even the best boxers in the world go down after a certain number of punches.

What makes the most successful boxers of all time different is that they just keep getting back up. When a boxer gets punched, it doesn’t mean they failed. They just need to learn how not to get punched like that again.”

For all salespeople, experience can have a significant impact. A new rep may take rejection personally and feel anxious in their next meeting. However, the same rep may be able to brush off similar rejections a year later.

As Miles says, salespeople must keep putting themselves out there to get comfortable with customers saying “no”.

How to minimize the fear of rejection

One of the best ways to get past rejection is through reframing. Reframe past rejections and use them to get closer to people who want to speak with you.

“The King of Social Selling on LinkedIn” Daniel Disney agrees in his post:

Sales principles Pipedrive Daniel Disney

With almost 130,000 LinkedIn followers, Daniel stresses the importance of pushing through the no-shows and hang-ups to find the people who need what you’re selling.

If you’re in sales management, make it a point to share experiences of rejection with your team. You can also use software like Pipedrive to share relevant activity metrics (e.g., the average number of calls it takes to make a sale).

Reps will learn they aren’t alone in needing multiple activities to close deals and may feel less pressure.

As a rep, you can minimize your fear of rejection in the following ways:

  • Practice on low-risk prospects (e.g., an employee who isn’t the decision-maker) to reduce the pressure

  • Analyze call recordings to improve future outreach

  • Remember that every “no” puts you one step closer to a “yes”

  • Build confidence by taking part in ongoing sales training

  • Research different ways to handle objections so you’re better prepared

Reframe your rejections as a learning experience. Take detailed notes, learn from others and build a bank of appropriate responses to common objections throughout the sales process.

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Sales principle 3: weave a compelling narrative to keep prospects engaged

The more engaged your prospects are, the more likely they’ll listen to and trust you. You can achieve this effectively by telling stories the right way.

Storytelling is an established practice in sales training that takes skill. To do it successfully, you’ll need to weave a narrative that sells your product and makes your listener the hero of your story.

Studies indicate that narratives stimulate our brains as if we’re re-enacting the experience ourselves. Stanford University research proposes that people remember stories 22 times more than facts.

Using storytelling as a psychological tactic when selling can make your pitch feel more memorable and personal. Remember that stories only work in sales when the participant is engaged, focused and involved.

Writing for Medium, Taylor Wilson highlights the need to make the participant feel “safe” throughout your story:

“When using stories to create interest, it is important to keep the consumer’s subconscious desire for safety in mind. Using vivid details and positive emotions will help evoke feelings of comfort and connection between the customer and seller. A story should have a strong beginning that grabs attention right away, while also providing enough context so that it makes sense later down the road.

Taylor adds that a sense of safety can make your audience feel more comfortable investing their time in you and your pitch. Using this technique effectively in sales can hold customers’ attention and motivate them to buy.

How to use the right kind of storytelling in sales

The most effective stories when you’re selling will capture the listener’s imagination and draw them into the narrative.

One study on consumer psychology asked participants to compare two travel brochures. Respondents viewed the vacation described in a narrative more favorably than the other (listed in features), demonstrating the power of storytelling.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example of pitches for a fictional data analytics platform.

  • Pitch one: “Our data analytics platform offers robust reporting, customizable dashboards and seamless integration with your existing systems.”

  • Pitch two: “Imagine it’s a sunny Friday. All you want to do is start your weekend but you’ve got an important meeting with the executives. Instead of sweating as you scramble together stats from colleagues, emails and paper files into a PowerPoint, you simply click ‘Create report’ and it’s all done for you.”

In the second pitch, you make the listener the protagonist and stimulate their imagination with emotion and visualization.

You can adapt the “Pixar Pitch” (often used to tell brand stories) to tell your story. Keynote sales speaker John Hall explains how to draw your prospects in:

Take your audience on a journey, starting with identifying the status quo, the inciting incident, and the actions that follow. Use your company’s origin story as a template for a compelling conversation. What may seem old hat to you may be a relevant, relatable story to your audience.

Break down your company’s origins using openers like “once upon a time”, “one day” and “because of that” to find an effective storytelling angle. Then, slot the listener into appropriate parts of the narrative for maximum engagement.

Here’s an example of an engaging narrative for a software pitch:

“Once upon a time, a small business struggled to manage its growing workload.

Every day, they spent countless hours on tedious manual tasks.

One day, they discovered our innovative software solution.

Because of that, they automated their processes and increased efficiency.

Therefore, they had more time to focus on their customers and strategic growth.

Until, finally, they transformed into an industry leader that thrived.”

Your company creates products to solve problems. So, use narratives to help people visualize how you’ll help them fix their issues (instead of how your product works).

Sales principle 4: treat people as individuals so they know you’re on their side

Remember, selling is about building relationships with people. Sales professionals may use ideal customer profiles (ICPs) and buyer personas to group and segment potential customers, but they should always speak to each prospect as an individual.

If someone believes you have their best interest at heart and are not just after a sale, they’re more likely to trust you and your judgment.

Even if the answer is “no” right now, going above and beyond to support your prospects could lead to a referral or a direct sale in the future.

Enter each conversation with the mantra that everyone is an individual with unique needs, wants and preferences. Meaningfully interacting with each person can even help you uncover new behaviors and traits that lead to richer, more targeted ICPs and personas.

How to treat prospects, leads and customers as individuals

A social psychology study determined that having similar body language can help build rapport. In other words, mirroring another person’s gestures or expressions may lead them to feel more connected to you.

The FBI even uses mirroring in negotiations to reveal important details, clarify points and progress conversations.

Author and expert FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss highlights the significance of keeping the focus on the other party:

Negotiate in their world. Persuasion is not about how bright or smooth or forceful you are. It’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea. So don’t beat them with logic or brute force. Ask them questions that open paths to your goals.

You can implement the widely used mirroring tactic in sales to delve deeper into each prospect’s personal situation.

Repeat the crucial part of what your prospect says back to them. For example, “We really love the product but we just can’t progress right now” becomes “You can’t progress right now?”

Say you discover that the entrepreneur can’t progress because they have financial struggles due to a personal issue. You can use this information to display the most receptive level of empathy and progress more sensitively.

In addition to mirroring, spend time chatting with leads instead of diving straight into a sales pitch. Take a genuine interest in their challenges and listen intently to pick up on small details.

Doing so will give you more information to qualify leads further and move them along your sales pipeline or direct them elsewhere.

Below are a few sales skills that can help you treat prospects as individuals:

  • Converse naturally and avoid scripted pitches

  • Tailor the features you highlight to each person

  • Listen and adjust your sales tactics based on each person’s feedback

  • Share personal, relevant stories to connect more deeply

Immersing yourself in each interaction will help you get to know each person more deeply and determine how best to connect with them.

Sales principle 5: know your product inside out

In-depth product knowledge ensures you offer the right features, use cases and pricing plans to meet each customer’s needs. It can also guide your conversations and empower you to answer questions or handle objections confidently.

Through sales enablement, businesses provide reps with the necessary tools and content to sell more effectively.

That said, bridging the gap between training and selling can have varying degrees of success. Allego research on sales enablement indicates that reps still can’t answer around 40% of customer product questions.

While you may think sales onboarding will give you sufficient product knowledge, Gartner research shows that B2B sales reps forget 70% of their training information within a week.

It’s up to you as a sales professional to stay consistent and keep learning to drive results.

How to build product knowledge

Become a product expert on your own time to match best-fit features to a prospect’s pain point. You’ll also be able to upsell and cross-sell more effectively.

Let’s say you sell accounting software to B2B companies. You spend time learning how to navigate the product like a user. When an HR lead mentions having trouble with expense tracking, you can demonstrate how to snap photos of receipts on the app to fix their problem.

You also find out that a small business owner who already uses your payroll software is considering competitor products as they scale. You inform them about a soon-to-be-released cloud accounting and financial management plan for growing mid-sized businesses. You know about it by reading your company’s “Announcements” webpage.

If you’re a manager, consider implementing a sales enablement platform that holds all key information. According to the Allego report, reps who use the technology in training are 73% more effective when presenting products in the field.

Here are four ways you can grow product knowledge post-training and onboarding to approach your pitch from the customer’s point of view and stand out:

  • Read blog posts and how-to guides (e.g., Pipedrive’s blog)

  • Digest your company’s knowledge base regularly

  • Listen to industry podcasts (e.g., Evolve Pipedrive Podcast)

  • Watch your own company’s video series (or any customer-facing content)

As a sales leader, allow your team to keep learning by organizing talks and workshops with industry experts. Make sure reps know they can ask for help during these set sessions.

Sales principle 6: remember that smart work beats hard work

While you’ll need to work hard initially to gain experience, you don’t always need to be at 110% capacity to fill your pipeline and close deals.

Consider this scenario: two reps may close the same number of deals. One works to qualify the leads, get to know the individuals and weave a story pitch. The other has to prospect twice as many contacts for the same result.

The second rep may think they’re getting a lot done with a longer list of people to call. After spending considerable time on unqualified leads, they find their close rate is significantly lower.

The first rep has more opportunity for growth and pulls in higher-value customers over the long term.

Consider the key tips below to ensure you always work smarter, not harder.

How to work smarter in sales

Focusing your energy on the right activities can impact buying decisions while avoiding burnout.

Business growth specialist Ian Brigden attributes “working smarter” to working more efficiently:

“Being efficient is super important for businesses to succeed these days. If you can get more done in less time, you’ll have a huge advantage over your competitors. Plus, if you can streamline your processes and make things run more smoothly, you’ll make your customers happier too.

By getting rid of things that slow you down, you can put more effort into things that matter. That means you can focus on making more sales instead of doing boring admin stuff.”

Ian’s advice involves using data and analytics to spot what’s working and areas for improvement – which you can do with sales reporting software like Pipedrive.

Pipedrive’s Insights feature lets you visualize your team’s performance via charts, graphs and interactive tables to help you improve future sales processes.

Sales principles Pipedrive Insights

Aside from better lead qualification, here are four more ways you can sell smarter:

  • Measure your stage-to-stage conversion rate and compare it with your team (using Pipedrive)

  • Reduce cold calling and ask for references instead

  • Pinpoint and cut out tasks that don’t positively impact conversions

  • Aim for bigger deals that bring in more revenue

By working smarter, you can spend more time on what matters: identifying and doing high-priority activities that drive sales.

Sales principle 7: following up is critical if you want to make sales

A sale rarely happens after the first outreach. Becoming comfortable with the idea that “no” can really mean “not right now” is crucial to staying motivated.

Sales prospecting research by RAIN Group calculates an average of eight touches for securing an initial sales meeting or other conversion. In most cases, it then takes two to five meetings to generate a qualified sales opportunity.

Number of meetings, conversations, or demos to generate qualified opportunity

Your sales cadence is the sequence of activities and touchpoints you use to contact prospects and leads. Usually, these are spread out over a predetermined time.

You’ll also tailor your follow-up activities (every interaction after the initial outreach that forms your cadence) to each potential customer.

For instance, if you don’t hear back from a prospect after a couple of emails, consider trying a different platform or medium (e.g., social media messaging) to reconnect.

How to follow up effectively

Let’s say you contact a busy CEO and solopreneur. While the solopreneur may hop on a call immediately, the CEO may take a LinkedIn message, several emails and a nudge from a colleague to do so.

Follow up using a set sales cadence so you don’t miss any opportunities. You can combine various activities, including calls, emails, SMS and social media messages.

Here’s an example of a follow-up email on Pipedrive.

Sales principles Pipedrive email

In this particular email, the sender keeps the tone light and friendly. They also attach a company brochure with more information to keep the main body concise.

As we mentioned earlier, every sales interaction and participant is different. You must also factor in timing, budget and urgency (how much the lead needs your product).

One lead may close the deal in a couple of calls and a fortnight, while another will need months and multiple touchpoints.

Here’s how you can increase the chances of follow-up responses for successful sales:

  • Experiment with cadence to find the best times to email or call

  • Send valuable content that helps the other person solve a problem

  • Create unique email subject lines to prompt opening

  • Track results to see which tactics work better than others

Pipedrive Campaigns’ email analytics feature can help you analyze performance over time and create more engaging follow-ups that boost sales.

Sales principle 8: focus on activities over the end result to stay motivated

While every rep’s end goal is to close deals and make sales, reaching the desired targets can be a long road.

When salespeople focus on results (rather than the actions that lead to those results), they can put a lot of pressure on themselves that impacts their day-to-day tasks.

It’s essential to focus on the sales activities you can fully manage (e.g., calling, emailing and arranging sales demos) rather than worry over outcomes you don’t have control over (e.g., closed deals).

Flipping your sales approach (from long to short term) will help you shift the fear of the unknown to the confidence you gain by completing each activity.

How to take control with activity-based selling

To successfully implement activity-based selling, determine your goal and the number of activities necessary to achieve it.

Say you need to focus on closing two high-value deals this month. When you look at your sales data, you see it takes an average of 50 phone calls to make that type of sale.

With that information, you can break down those 100 calls (50 per deal) into smaller daily and weekly tasks. These may include 25 calls per week or around five per average workday. You may even need to send 30 cold emails and 40 social media messages to get someone on the phone.

Completing these granular tasks gives you confidence in your abilities, which transpires when you speak to prospects and pitch your product.

You’ll also optimize your time and be more productive. Instead of spending time on tasks that don’t impact your bottom line, you fill your day with activities that keep deals moving.

The more activity-based selling you do, the faster you’ll become at it and the more valuable the deals entering your pipeline will be.

Sales leaders use customer relationship management (CRM) software like Pipedrive to encourage activity-based selling and give each rep an overview of their daily, weekly and monthly tasks.

Sales principles Pipedrive CRM

Salespersons can schedule and check off tasks that lead to closing deals, whether a lunch meeting or a cold email.

Pipedrive’s platform also gives managers an overview of their team, helping them spot winning trends and opportunities for more training or mentorship.

Sales principle 9: use LinkedIn to build B2B credibility

Research indicates that potential customers are pretty set on what they want before speaking to salespeople. By the time they get in touch, they’ll have researched your company to understand whether you can solve their problems.

According to a 6sense report, B2B buyers are already 70% of the way through their buying process when they contact a sales team – roughly eight months in.

Sales principles buyer journey

Such studies suggest that buyers are often close to making purchasing decisions from a small pool of sellers when they contact you.

It isn’t only B2B buyers this applies to, either. When buying software, G2 respondents say they spend most of their buying journey in the research stage.

Everything prospects see before they contact you will impact their purchasing decisions. Alongside your marketing efforts, build personal credibility and influence to help you gain a competitive advantage – authority bias will play a crucial role here.

How to optimize your LinkedIn

Produce authoritative industry content under your own name (even unrelated to your company) to help people view you as a credible expert during the research stage.

You won’t feel like a sales rep for the brand; you’ll appear as someone buyers can trust.

Many salespeople focus on standing out on social media platforms with their content. Remember to put the same effort into your profiles.

Timothy Hughes, author, co-founder and CEO of Digital Leadership Associates, agrees:

The problem that salespeople have today is nobody believes what they say. Often, their business has armed them with the same messaging as every other company: ‘Buy my stuff because we are great’. Sellers have to break out of this downward spiral. They need to be different and approachable and show people they are the experts.

One of Timothy’s suggestions is to create a buyer-centric LinkedIn profile to stand out as a salesperson:

LinkedIn is your store window to the world – a billion people walk past your profile every day. Do they stop and think, ‘That’s interesting’ and walk towards you for help? Or do they walk past and ignore, thinking, ‘Yet another salesperson trying to sell me something I don’t want’?

Here are several ways to create a customer-centric LinkedIn profile and appear as an authority for your prospects in the research stage:

  • Use a friendly, professional profile photo that mirrors your target market (e.g., wear something informal to appeal to a younger, more casual audience)

  • Highlight achievements in your summary that matter to your target audience (e.g., “I increase my clients’ social following by up to 700%”)

  • Create engaging, helpful content people can access for free in their own time

  • Use simple, clear language at all times

  • Keep all parts of your profile updated with recent, relevant information

  • Add social proof and statistics (e.g., “Trusted by 100,000+ companies in 179 countries”)

You can also establish credibility offline by speaking at industry events, maintaining eye contact during conversations and always providing honest advice.

Note: For more helpful sales tips, check out our 40 pieces of advice for each stage of your customer journey.

Final thoughts

The guiding principles of sales we’ve explored can help you and your team stay on track with data-based tactics and expert-backed best practices.

The nine sales principles focus on building trust, being knowledgeable and staying focused on the short term to drive sustained performance.

Alongside these core sales basics, you can streamline sales success by monitoring your entire process with easy-to-use CRM software like Pipedrive.

Sign up for a 14-day free trial to see how the platform built by salespeople for salespeople can meet your business needs.

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