For many people, a salesperson is someone who has the ability to sell any product at any price – a stereotype which has been widely adopted by popular culture. However, Jean-Claude Convenant of the comedy series Caméra Café is far from reality. Today, as a salesperson, you are no longer trying to sell, but to help your customers make the right choice while creating a pleasant and positive experience. Behind this paradigm shift, technology and the digitalisation of the relationship play an important role, of course. But it is not the only one, because the human element is more essential than ever.
The importance of bringing together soft and hard skills
For a very long time, the key competencies of salespeople were based exclusively on the candidate's knowledge and experience, or so-called hard skills. Technical skills, level of expertise and practical abilities took precedence over the rest. A salesperson was recruited because he or she knew how to sell, talk to the customer, had a sense of communication etc. However, over the last fifteen years or so, things have changed. What's the point of being an expert in a field if you don't know how to work in a team or how to evolve thanks to new tools? Now you must rely as much on your behavioural qualities as on your technical qualities. Hard skills and soft skills are becoming complementary, and are inseparable in a fast-changing world. The World Economic Forum goes even further and says that half of all employees will have to reinvent themselves by 2025. This means learning new skills to meet the challenges ahead, which will be driven in particular by digital transformation.
Skills can be acquired through experience or through specific training. In some cases, we also talk about upskilling to integrate people with good human qualities, but without commercial experience, which the company can train in sales at a later stage. Faced with a shortage of talent in certain markets, the sales function must evolve, train and adapt to change, because it is on the front line with customers.
To find out how to perform in 2022, here are 10 essential skills and qualities that will make the difference in optimising your business, increasing your turnover and creating a long-term relationship with your customers.
Good product knowledge
This is the foundation for any good salesperson: understanding what they are selling and mastering the intricacies to meet the expectations of prospects. It is important to gather as much information as possible about every aspect of the product, but also about the positioning of the competition's offerings. This will help you to present a solid argument, to reassure, and to gain the trust of customers. Customers today spend a lot of time researching online before contacting a salesperson. When the salesperson comes into play, he or she must therefore provide real added value and not recite the arguments on the product sheet. To do this, they must have an excellent knowledge of products and use cases in order to personalise their approach to their contacts, whether by e-mail, video conference or face-to-face meeting.
Find out more about sales enablement
It is always important to be able to put yourself in someone else's shoes, especially as a salesperson. When you are able to understand what people are thinking or feeling, you are able to guide conversations in a productive way. You can uncover motivations, friction points and have a better sense of the context of the sale. Empathy will also help you build meaningful relationships with your prospects. They may not remember what you said, but they will certainly remember how you made them feel. The last thing you want in a sales situation is for a customer to feel aggrieved or that you are not looking out for their interests. In a sales relationship, there should never be a loser. It is a win-win contract.
This is a human quality that allows you to understand the feelings of others and to manage both your own emotions and those they feel towards you. With emotional intelligence, you are able to perceive emotions in order to adapt to them; use them to take full advantage of mood changes in order to best adapt to the situation; understand them to appreciate complex relationships and be able to change them over time; and manage them to regulate emotions in yourself and in others.
As a salesperson, your aim is to understand the prospect's problem and try to provide a useful response. This involves listening and understanding what they are saying, rather than rushing through a sales pitch without listening to objections and questions. Working on listening to your prospects, asking the right questions in order to get the information you need, is strategic for collecting the right data and personalising the sales relationship. You need to be on the customer's side and make them feel good about the exchange.
Selling is the art of negotiation. After presenting a proposal, you need to guide your customers through a negotiation process with clear objectives and alternative scenarios. What matters is to be able to conduct negotiations that result in mutual benefits for both the seller and the buyer. A good negotiator does not give in easily to the customer's objections, but is prepared to present convincing alternative proposals that will make the customer reconsider his offer. Sometimes it is necessary to take risks, keep calm, remain polite and respectful, and control your body language in order to build a relationship of trust that can lead to a contract.
Storytelling and presentation
Many sales presentations are too focused on functionality when they should be more focused on the buyer's needs. The content of the presentation needs to be engaging and informative, otherwise you risk putting your buyers to sleep or, worse, losing them completely. This is where storytelling is important. Your goal is not to sell, but to tell a story that resonates with prospects with the right medium and impactful marketing tools. It is therefore crucial to have excellent oral and written communication skills to get the right messages across. This is also the case in video conferencing where the context is different, as it is difficult to 'feel' the emotions of your interlocutors. This means keeping your sentences short, not overloading your PowerPoint slides, asking questions often and relying on interpersonal interaction.
Agility and flexibility
In sales, nothing can be taken for granted. Meetings are moved, prospects ask confusing questions, a contract that is about to be signed is delayed, a new manager challenges the client's project etc. You have to accept this and know how to adapt. You have to accept this and be agile and flexible, while being prepared to change your plans at a moment's notice, in a positive and constructive way.
Make technology an ally
Gone are the notebooks or business cards that used to be the salesperson's war chest. Today, a good salesperson must know how to use and understand digital tools. Email marketing, automation, CRM, data management... these are all key topics for optimising prospecting and monitoring the health of prospects. Technology is transforming salespeople into 'augmented salespeople' capable of acting at the right time based on the right data.
Working in a multidisciplinary team
To be effective, you need to work with people from other departments. This is known as 'smarketing' and aligns the marketing and sales teams. The two teams build a strong relationship based on common goals and a unified strategy to achieve them. This is a technological, human and structural transformation for your organisation that requires the ability to share, explain, convince and work as a team to go further together.
Know how to manage your time
Working 60 hours a week and barely reaching your sales targets cannot be a sustainable solution. Of course, every week is different, but if you are able to prioritise and delegate your work effectively, it can be a game changer. To be more productive and not waste time on low-value tasks, you should look at automation for example. Why waste time doing what a program or software can do for you, continuously, and without risk of error? Good time management is also based on data. If your CRM points out that a prospect is particularly active (reading newsletters, signing up for webinars etc.), this may be the right time to contact him or her rather than exhausting yourself blindly with prospects too far upstream in the decision-making process.
Between remote working, digitalisation and changing customer expectations, 2022 is shaping up to be a particularly exciting year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic that seems to be taking hold. More than ever, you will need resilience and optimism. Two qualities that are also highly contagious and can do your colleagues and managers a lot of good!