Contributed by Jen McKenzie
Jen McKenzie is an independent business consultant from New York. She writes extensively on business, education and human resource topics. When Jennifer is not at her desk working, you can usually find her hiking or taking a road trip with her two dogs. You can reach Jennifer on Twitter @jenmcknzie.
With several vaccines having been given the green light and more coming in the pipeline, experts are declaring that the end of the pandemic is in sight. Soon, the global economy is expected to bounce back.
As the economy starts growing again and global GDPs start returning to normal, businesses need to capitalize on this opportunity. For starters, they should look for inefficiencies and seek to rectify them. They should also try to maximize their cash flow by following a growth plan, increasing production, and hiring more people.
However, hiring the right people is always easier said than done. There are countless factors you need to take into consideration, and yet, luck will still play a large part in whether your hire will succeed or fail.
Nevertheless, to increase your chances of picking the right team, you should do your homework, starting with seeing whether the candidate fits the requirements of the post you are trying to fill.
One of the most important positions to fill tends to be in the sales department. (After all, what’s the point of increasing your productivity if you can’t sell to new customers?) As anyone who has filled a sales position probably knows, perhaps the trickiest aspect of hiring a sales team is that it’s a job that depends mostly on an abundance of soft skills.
What Does Sales Boil Down To?
At the end of the day, sales is about communicating with a client to help them solve a problem; that’s the simplest way to put it.
Ergo, you want to first look for communication skills as well as problem-solving skills.
However, you also want your sales team to have the temperament to both close deals and get better with time.
This means you want them to have a winner’s mentality while also possessing a growth mindset.
Even though sales should be about solving problems, it is actually a little more nuanced than that.
You have to be able to communicate the value of your solution to the customer. Here are some skills you will need.
In reality, sales is about using the skills and capabilities you have to solve a problem the customer perceives they have.
In other words, if a customer thinks that something isn’t a big deal, regardless of what you think, they likely won’t pay you money to solve it for them.
So, sales reps need to start by understanding what problems their customers believe they have, and this is achieved through active listening.
Effective listening skills will entail signaling your interest in what the other person is saying both through your body language (by keeping eye contact, nodding, or mirroring their posture), as well as by giving verbal cues.
The best way to show that your interlocutor has your full attention is to ask meaningful questions, reflect and summarize what they’re saying, and offer positive reinforcement through words of encouragement.
All of this will let them know you are fully focused on understanding their point of view and likely to remember the information they offered.
Sales representatives need to be able to place themselves in the prospect’s shoes. On the one hand, it gives them a better understanding of the problem they are trying to solve.
On the other, it provides a window into the objections the client might have.
Most importantly, empathy helps build rapport between the sales rep and the client, paving the way for nurturing a healthy relationship.
At the end of the day, sales is more of an emotional decision rather than a rational one. Clients will usually rely on emotional factors, such as how much they like the salesperson, to make a snap decision.
Afterward, the client will justify their initial decision with rational arguments, but the justification will be after the fact.
Ergo, one of the most important skills a sales representative can have is emotional intelligence.
Not only will it enable them to understand how others are feeling and to use that information, but it will also provide insight into their own emotions at any given moment, allowing them to manage their reactions.
Seeing as sales is all about emotions, sales reps need to have different tools in their arsenal to be able to communicate directly with their clients’ emotions.
With that in mind, one of the most powerful tools that speak to our emotions as human beings is storytelling.
Consequently, sales reps ought to be able to create compelling stories that will compel customers to purchase.
These stories can show customers how the company will help them solve their problems, how their lives will be different once the problem is solved, and how, looking back, they will regret not getting into business with your company sooner.
Although effective communication is a prerequisite for establishing a rapport, in the end, sales is about offering clients constructive solutions.
To be able to do that, you will have to devote enough time to each client, research their needs and then coordinate the efforts of your team to tailor the best offerings.
Even though sales reps need to help clients solve their problems, the truth of the matter is that each rep has only a limited amount of time to devote to each client.
After all, there are only 24 hours in a day. You want each rep to make the most of the time they devote to each client, and this requires excellent time management skills.
So, what does a sales rep need to be able to manage their time effectively?
Well, first off, they need to understand that it is better to be good and on time rather than perfect but late.
Reps also need to learn how to prioritize their work and how to delegate different parts of their job in order to save as much time as possible.
Simply put, time management is all about working smarter rather than harder.
While reps need to listen to their clients to see how they can help them, they also need to be willing to do their own research and gather necessary information if they are to add value.
In fact, one of the worst things a rep can do is to go unprepared to a meeting with a client.
Not only does this waste both the rep’s and the client’s time, but it also leaves the client with a horrible impression of the company, convincing them of its lack of professionalism.
Conversely, if a rep walks into a meeting armed with a clear understanding of the client’s business, including the day-to-day operations, the market trends, and the competition, this convinces them they are in good hands.
They will trust that the rep knows what they’re talking about, rather than just trying to peddle their product or service blindly.
You want a rep who is a team player, someone who doesn’t just work towards their own quotas.
After all, if sales is about solving your customers’ problems, then your reps need to become customer-centric and place the customers’ needs above their own.
Ergo, you should look for a rep who endeavors to achieve shared goals and who always makes sure that their actions are always in the best interest of your business.
This means that they should be willing to help and aid other struggling team members whenever possible.
In sales, projecting confidence and authority is crucial to success. The salesperson has to be able to adapt to any circumstance with optimism, integrity, and perseverance.
Whether we like it or not, a big motivator that will decide whether the client will choose to buy or not is how they perceive the sales rep.
A rep that exudes confidence is bound to inspire that same confidence in the client, making them feel good about their purchase.
Alternatively, reps who seem unsure about their product or service make the customer second-guess the entire transaction.
After all, why would a rep seem so timid unless there were something wrong with their product or service, something they are desperately trying to hide?
Therefore, project confidence, and the client will rely on you and your product.
A sales rep needs to be able to think quickly on their feet and go with the flow when necessary; at the end of the day, the wind does not break a tree that can bend.
So, what does flexibility look like here?
Well, sales representatives need to be able to answer surprise questions from clients.
They need to adjust both their schedules and their plans to accommodate changing circumstances.
In a nutshell, sales reps need to be comfortable with change and to acclimate to it quickly.
All that said, it is also important for reps to know when they should refuse a request or just say “no.”
Seeing as sales reps have to deal with rejection constantly, they need to have an optimistic disposition towards life and to be able to remain positive when tackling any challenge.
After all, without optimism, it is difficult to be confident or to have grit.
And, this is not to mention that in a stressful job like sales, having a sunny disposition can be one of the best ways to handle said stress.
Integrity is one of those qualities that almost anyone can pick up on during the first five minutes of meeting someone. It’s also one of those qualities that can make or break a salesman.
When you consider that sales has a bad reputation, with salesmen often depicted as sleazy conmen who will do anything to close the sale, you will realize that one of the simplest ways to combat this narrative is to hire people with integrity.
People of character can convince even the most ardent skeptic that they have his or her best interests at heart.
Not every sale will go according to plan: There will be countless times when things look bleak or when the client blows up an entire deal over some minute detail.
In these moments, a sales rep needs to have grit and to be able to persevere in the face of adversity.
In fact, given the large number of rejections a sales rep is bound to face in any given month, grit is a necessary quality. For instance, cold calling is only successful two percent of the time, which means that out of every 100 phone calls a rep makes, only two will result in a sale.
Perseverance is key to success.
Salespeople have to be able to adapt to changing circumstances quickly.
This means they have to be open to new ideas, aware that they can develop new skills and even shape desirable traits within themselves through concentrated effort.
Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between curiosity and the ability to learn, This should come as no surprise: people who are inquisitive and ask more questions about the world around them are bound to find more answers and learn more information than people who don’t want to challenge themselves.
Getting better with time takes hard work and effort; it’s not something that happens overnight. Nevertheless, to truly grow, a sales rep has to believe that they have the capacity to acquire new skills and abilities over time.
They also have to invest in themselves by reading a lot or taking different courses every so often.
Most important of all, growth requires making mistakes and learning from them, something that few people consistently do.
As a matter of fact, there is scientific evidence that ties being growth-minded with being a high achiever.
If we were to go back to the previous example of cold calling, it would be easy to see that an improvement of a mere half percent could mean millions in revenue for the company.
Ergo, like anything else they do, sales representatives should invest their time trying to learn the best way to cold call clients.
Unfortunately, many reps let their egos get the best of them, refusing to even implement the simplest feedback given to them by their peers or by their superiors.
Being coachable is not just about listening to those who have more experience than you; it is also about having the humility to realize that others might know best.
The best salespeople will seek out opportunities to learn.
Even though, as of this writing, we are still making our way out of a recession that has cost millions of people their job, the fact of the matter is that a lot of companies will be vying to maximize their market share during the coming surge.
In other words, you can expect the competition to be fierce.
This is why you need to make sure that you hire the right people, the kind of people that can give you a leg up over the competition.
When it comes to sales, you want to look for a resilient problem solver who likes people and always tries to grow as a person and as a professional.