There are two must have skills in the profession of sales, and neither of them has anything to do with product knowledge or industry expertize. Strong product knowledge is table stakes in sales. Today being a subject matter expert is not enough to set you apart from your competitors. Your prospects minimum expectation is you know your stuff!
Must Have Skill #1: Asking
Asking questions is the key to success in sales, and when done correctly sets you apart from your competition. The caveat to this is you have to ask excellent questions. The adage “There is no such thing as a stupid question” does not apply to the profession of sales. If you ask a stupid question, you will likely get a stupid answer if you get an answer at all!
As a Sales Professional, you need to ask great questions. Your questions need to be about them (your prospect, customer or client), and they need to be asked at the right time. Asking a prospect a question about budget too early (meaning before you’ve earned the right to) will likely go unanswered. Good questions get good answers, and great questions get great answers.
Must Have Skill #2: Listening
This second and painfully obvious skill is listening. Sales Professionals strive to listen with empathy and understanding. They listen for ideas, confirmation, contradiction, emotions, feelings, meaning and motivation.
Listening is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. We aren’t naturally wired to listen, especially salespeople. They are wired to talk. You’ll never learn anything new by pitching or presenting to a client. You can only discover what they are trying to accomplish by asking great questions and listening with the intent to understand.
Everything in life seems to fit into a two by two matrix and sales seems to be no exception. If you looked at these two skills sets in a high low, two by two matrix it would look like this
Low Ask/Low Listen = Typical Sales Person
80% of salespeople fall into this category. They don’t ask good questions, and they don’t listen well, or at all.
High Ask/Low Listen = Slick Talker
There is no shortage of sales people that have the gift of gab. They present well and can ask good questions. Often times those initial good questions get turned into multiple choice questions limiting the prospects possible answers, or worse they ask a series of questions before offering the buyer an opportunity to answer any of them.
High Ask/High Listen = Sales Professional
Great questioning and listening skills separate the top performers from everyone else in the field. The ability to ask relevant, well thought out questions in advance, and listening with empathy. Sales Professionals don’t just think about the questions, they think about the possible answers and how those possible answers might play out during their sales calls. The best place to start developing questions is by making a list of the things you should know about your prospects, customers and clients and their business. When a sales professional asks a question, they stop and allow the buyer to both think and respond, before asking a follow-up question or moving on to the next thing they need to discover.
Low Ask/High Listen = Friend
Don’t get me wrong, friends are nice, but your customers probably already have friends!