Convincing a customer to buy is an art form. Whether they’re switching from the competition or trying a new solution, the sales professional trying to win their business must demonstrate an adeptness for identifying pain points and navigating hurdles.
Nurturing leads and closing deals takes a mix of soft sales skills like storytelling, empathy and time management. In our 2020-2021 Sales Report, we learned that salespeople who work on their soft skills are more likely to hit their sales quota (42% “Always” or “Usually” hit their quotas) compared to those who do not (31%).
Learning soft skills can sometimes be overlooked in sales training. In fact, we found in our 2020-2021 Sales Report that 53% of salespeople mainly developed their soft skills on the job, rather than in focused training.
In this article, you’ll learn how to master the selling techniques you need to close more deals.
How to master the art of selling anything with soft skills
While product knowledge is essential, connecting with customers can make all the difference when closing a deal.
Sales reps equipped with a blend of skills and abilities can solve common problems in selling situations by overcoming objections and reinforcing value. In the sales world, these skills include:
Empathy. To connect with the prospects, understand their pain points and find the right solution to fit their needs.
Active listening. To focus completely on a potential client or prospect, identify their challenges, listen to responses without interrupting and show them you genuinely care.
Storytelling. To create a vision for the prospect so they understand what your product can do for them. Storytelling is also used to build relationships (i.e. sharing similar experiences).
Collaboration. To work with other team members toward a collective goal, supporting and leading where needed.
Soft skills like active listening and positive body language may not come naturally, but with dedicated sales training, online courses and purposeful practice, they can become routine.
Although sales reps often use sales methodologies to sell a product, building a relationship is usually the goal of every interaction with potential customers.
For example, SPIN Selling requires salespeople to understand the prospects’ situation, pain points, implications for not finding a solution and the pay-off with a solution in place. This technique requires the rep to build a strong enough relationship that the prospect will open up about their problems. It also means asking the right questions but then sitting back and listening (actively) to the response.
Customers now expect brands to be trustworthy and demonstrate that they care about the people using their products, not just the bottom line. In fact, Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer report found that when people trust brands, they give back with advocacy (61%), purchase (57%), loyalty (43%) and engagement (31%).
To demonstrate this on a call, over an email or in a demo, salespeople need a blend of skills.
6 selling skills to help you close more deals
Here is a list of six skills that help salespeople excel in their field and hit quotas.
1. Expand your knowledge to own every interaction with confidence
Talk authoritatively about your product or service every time you meet with a prospect. Confidence helps potential customers feel at ease as it shows you know what you’re talking about and that there’s support behind this product.
Put yourself in the prospect’s shoes. Imagine receiving a sales call where the rep seems nervous or unsure about the product. As the call recipient, you might have doubts about the product’s efficacy or even the brand behind it.
A major aspect of closing a deal with a prospect is building trust, which according to 53% of Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer survey respondents is the second most important factor in their purchasing decision. While there are many factors to building trust, like communicating data security and ongoing support, confidence can help add authority throughout the sales process.
Exude confidence at every touchpoint. A cold call, for example, may end with a voicemail. Instead of hesitating over why the call was made, use your time after the tone to reinforce that the call is important because you believe the product can help alleviate the prospect’s problems.
Use specific language to tie your missed call to the prospect’s specific situation (that you’ll know from your research or logged notes ahead of the call) and introduce your product. Acknowledge that the prospect is busy and propose a time for them to call you back.
To convince a prospect to return your call, try leaving a message like this:
"Mr. Jones! John here, from Pipedrive. I was hoping to catch you today to talk about the new chatbot we’ve just released that’s helping companies like [company name] find more prospects automatically. I’ve got space on my calendar later today if you are interested in a quick demo, so please give me a call back if you want to see it in action.”
Show that you have done your homework and demonstrate why the product is relevant to the prospect. Expressing confidence and authority like this each time you reach out to a prospect can help build trust in you and your brand.
2. Know which leads to prioritize to help you close deals faster
Sales reps shouldn’t waste their time on leads that aren’t a good fit for their solutions. Consider your prospect’s needs and ensure that your product can help them before you reach out for a meeting.
Find as much information as you can on their company and industry to better understand how your product can help. Look for a post they wrote on social media asking for advice or a news release about a new product, then integrate your company into these conversations.
Selecting and qualifying the right leads takes a mix of knowledge (knowing your product and customer), experience (what’s worked before) and experimentation (what could work in the future). Start by looking at your data to see who your best-fit customers are.
Identify customers who…
Signed up quickly. If your average sales cycle is 30 days, but 20% of customers signed up within 15, consider why that may be. Did you use a certain sales pitch? Did you try different sales techniques during the product demonstration? Are they in a particular segment?
Are loyal customers. Look at which customers have stuck around the longest. See if you can spot any patterns in customers with a longer lifetime value and lower churn rate.
Spend the most. Prospects from certain industries may convert at a higher percentage or buy a more premium product when they convert. These prospects are where your sales team should focus most of its time.
By combing through the data, you should notice patterns in the type of prospects that buy your products and stick around for a long time. If you are using a sales tool, like a CRM, this data will also include email trails, recorded calls and transcripts of conversations your sales team had when they were selling a product to a prospect.
This information can highlight the prospect’s main problems and why they came to your company in the first place. It’ll also uncover the messaging and strategies your sales team used to convince them that your product was a good fit for them.
Collaborate on successes to boost the bottom line. If you find a pattern in these conversations or a sales pitch that has been particularly successful, share it with the rest of the team.
3. Learn absolutely everything you can about your product
Anticipating the questions a prospect will ask can affect how customers perceive your approach and product, as well as whether the meeting ends with a sale. If you learn as much as you can about the product you’re selling before a meeting or pitch, you have a much better chance of answering their questions correctly.
Understanding the pain points of your prospect’s daily life or professional industry will help you reduce friction and build trust. You can tie your product’s benefits directly to a solution to their problems and address obstacles before they’ve had a chance to bring them up.
There is no hack to improve your product knowledge overnight, but team leaders can support reps through sales enablement (resources that support sales and marketing).
Invest some effort in getting to know the product you’re selling. Start with what’s available, including:
Knowledge banks showing a step-by-step of how different product features work and the messaging to use for each segment.
Blog posts educating readers about different pain points within your target audience’s industry and how to overcome them.
Case studies helping readers understand how the company’s product has helped existing customers reach a goal or solve a problem.
Take it one step further by speaking with other departments to find out how the product helps your customers. Reach out to product marketers and subject matter experts. Get to know the most useful features and reasons customers choose your product.
Understand that learning is a process. Even new sales reps will be more knowledgeable about its features and use cases than most prospects they meet. Draw on that knowledge whenever you talk to a prospect or demo a product to them for the first time.
4. Acknowledge that every prospect’s time is important
Not every lead will have the time to jump on a phone call or carve out time in their calendar for a demo.
When you book a face-to-face meeting with a prospect, keep your sales pitch short and do your research. Prepare an elevator pitch before the call, so the most important features of your product are mentioned and keep things conversational (no technical jargon).
Research the prospect before your call and fine-tune your pitch to touch on their possible pain points. The aim is to get your prospect to visualize your product as the solution to their problems.
A short pitch should explain:
The company. A single sentence about what your product does.
The audience. Why your customers like the product and how it helps your target businesses.
5. Think about your body language in selling situations
Prospects will pick up on everything at a pitch, from your expressions to your posture and gestures during your presentation.
They’ll know if you are reading from a script or are rehashing a generic sales pitch that you have used on other calls. When you are on a video or Zoom call, prospects can see you and pick up on your body language. Even if your camera is off, your prospects may notice your posture and body language in your tone and speech clarity.
To come across as trustworthy and genuine when you demo a product, follow these body language best practices:
Start the meeting with confidence. Open with your elevator pitch and quickly reinforce the value of your product. Be positive and display confidence to help you take control of the pitch.
Keep eye contact. Lock eyes with your prospect as soon as the video call starts to capture and keep their attention. Try to avoid looking down at notes or breaking the connection you have. It may be perceived as a lack of concentration or preparation. Place notes next to your screen or set up your video so it’s beside your notes in a document or an app.
Don’t get distracted. When your prospect is talking, make sure all of your focus is on them. Put your phone on silent and in another room and avoid rifling through notes. If you get distracted, the prospect may take it as a sign that you’re not interested in their business.
Follow their lead. Mirror the tone and body language of your prospect during the pitch. If they are talkative and confident, act the same way to show that you’re enthusiastic about your product. If they are serious and inquisitive, focus on your product knowledge and answer their questions simply to put them at ease.
If you are on a phone call instead of a video meeting, the same basic rule applies: Always give the prospect your complete attention. If you are distracted or don’t follow their questions, it may impact whether or not you can close the deal.
6. Sell your company’s story to every potential client
Integrate your company’s story into your sales strategy to help bring your product to life. One of the best ways to differentiate your product from your competitors is through storytelling.
Save the talk about revenue, profit or price points. Instead, build a story about your product and tell your prospect why the company created it in the first place and what you are hoping to achieve.
For example, Pipedrive’s story weaves through our website, where readers are reminded that our CRM platform is run by salespeople.
Here is an example of storytelling in action on our About page:
If your product has similar features to others on the market, your best bet is to lead with brand storytelling. Let prospects know what makes your brand unique and why it’s a good fit for their business.
Say a sales rep who sells chatbot software is about to meet with a prospect who runs an online clothing store. During the pitch, the sales rep discovers that the prospect wants to invest in chatbot software to avoid losing customers with questions outside operating hours.
The sales rep can use this information and tie it to a case study from an existing customer in a similar situation. Perhaps this is the reason the chatbot was built in the first place, to help entrepreneurs with a tight budget provide great customer service online. Reps can then help prospects visualize themselves in the same situation.
Sales is all about building relationships with prospects while introducing your product as the solution to their problems. If you can sell your story and make your prospect believe in why you created it, it’s a lot easier to convince them that it’s the right fit for their business.
Mastering the art of selling is a combination of skills and sales experience. As with the visual arts, it’s something you continually practice and study until you reach a level of mastery.
Hone the skills that help you build relationships with customers, like listening and showing confidence. Learn how to tell stories to keep your prospects engaged and help them see themselves using your solution.
Once you’ve built trust with prospects, it’s easier to turn them into paying customers.
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