Sales managers know that comprehensive onboarding and training programs are the best way to ensure new hires are ready to make meaningful contributions fast.
Fundamental disciplines — like learning how to find quality prospects and how to use the team’s lead tracking software — are very important. But there are other, perhaps even more important skills that aren’t directly taught through formal sales training.
Toughest Sales Skills to Teach
- A Reward-Driven Mindset
- Indifference to Rejection
- Embracing Failure
- Empathy for the Customer
- A Team Mentality
- The “Do-What-it-Takes” Approach
That isn’t to say these sales skills are innate — acquiring these traits is still a matter of being prepared correctly. Powerpoint presentations and training videos, while great onboarding resources, will never properly teach these skills.
Here’s what successful sales representatives need to thrive, along with some ideas on how to instill them in your sales team.
A Reward-Driven Mindset
As children, we’re taught that money isn’t everything. That the relationships we build and the lessons we learn on the journey toward our authentic passions are the drivers of a life well-lived.
And this may be true, but sales professionals must value the direct rewards of their labor.
For great sales employees, simply meeting quota each month isn’t enough. The thought of winning more deals and accruing more personal wealth provide the extra inspiration to get out of bed on those mornings when it feels easier to hit the snooze button. The keyword here is more.
And this is typically what attracts new and experienced professionals to sales careers in the first place. Even an entry-level hire immediately has — in theory — limitless earning potential.
How do you build a reward-driven sales team?
In a sense, sales managers have already avoided a lot of the heavy lifting. The selling profession self-selects for ambitious individuals who desire large paychecks. However, this natural inclination can be amplified by the culture of your sales organization.
First off, individual and team successes should be acknowledged beyond mere financial compensation. Your sales reps are doing hard work every day, and they should be visibly congratulated when milestones have been reached, promotions distributed, or big deals won. The social reward of doing good work creates professional energy even more than expected, financial components.
Additionally, new hires need attainable goals. By structuring a ramp-up period into your sales onboarding, inexperienced sales reps will learn to value the results of their hard work, while avoiding the stress of quota-attainment.
It’s not uncommon for brand new reps to have a quota of 80%-90% less than their more experienced coworkers. This is the time where they’ll be learning the most about the company and how your team operates.
It’s better to have them eagerly awaiting their chances in the big leagues than burned out before the real action even starts.
It’s accepted as part of the selling profession that you will hear more noes than you will yeses, but talented sales representatives won’t give up so easily. They’ll fight for that yes.
In this sense, competition can loosely be equated to a respectful and balanced confrontation. When a prospect experiences hesitation or raises an objection, will a sales rep stay cool under pressure? Will they remember the necessary talking points? Can they stay present in the conversation and describe a functional workaround?
The fighting spirit can show itself in many forms, but it’s usually apparent in what work your new hires are putting in outside the office. Are they studying competitor pricing charts? Do they read books geared towards salespeople and professional motivation?
How do you uncover the competitive drive in your sales employees?
From the very beginning — during interviews — competitive sales reps exhibit determination and resourcefulness. If their experience doesn’t match a particular requirement, they’ll still find ways to present themselves as an ideal fit. If they aren’t familiar with a technology or lack certain experience, they’ll highlight their ability to learn new skills quickly and provide examples.
But once your employees begin sending emails and making calls, their instincts can be amplified by providing them with an accessible library of sales enablement resources. Encourage new hires to keep relevant documents open in their browser tabs before a conversation begins. This will help them reference info faster and relay it more naturally.
When your sales reps have all the information to handle objections confidently, they’ll be more likely to “stand up” for the product.
A Healthy Indifference to Rejection
Nobody likes to be rejected, but qualified sales representatives possess a character trait that lets them to bounce-back from failed selling opportunities. At least in the short term, these brush-offs and hang-ups do not affect morale or productivity in the slightest.
This is such an important skill to possess, especially since — statistically speaking — less than 2% of cold calls end in a meeting-booked.
How can you help new sales reps develop a “thick skin”?
Since rejection is an inherent part of selling, sales leaders should highlight its normalcy during formal onboarding presentations. The industry-wide statistics in themselves aren’t super encouraging, but letting them know the realities of the job will help them prepare for difficult stretches.
But the cold realities of rejection can never be fully embodied in onboarding materials. This is why assigning new representatives sales mentors within the team proves useful. Not only does a more experienced mentor provide encouragement in case of rejection, but they’re also a direct source of information.
Valuing Failure as a Learning Experience
Brush-offs and quick rejections — as we have mentioned — shouldn’t occupy too much real estate in your sales reps’ minds. Lost opportunities and deals that fell just short, however, are a different story.
While these “near misses” will hurt, it’s important that they’re still used to maximum potential. That is to say, these are important learning opportunities for sales professionals.
In a way, successful sales reps value failures for the lessons they provide. If taught correctly, your sales team will be able to turn these short-term losses into long-term wins.
How can you help your team value their failures?
The key to building a culture that values their failures is to set up some kind of lost-deal review process.
If your team is using modern communication tools, detailed notes from each interaction will be available in your CRM, and call recordings can be reviewed the same way quarterbacks watch game-footage.
This post-mortem procedure shouldn’t cause your representatives any additional anxiety. It’s an opportunity for team leaders and reps to share what their experiences were like and brainstorm positive adjustments for the next time around.
Empathy for the Customer
From what we’ve covered so far, achieving sales success requires a temporary emotional wall. This is what allows sales pros to conduct dozens (even hundreds) of conversations without significant fatigue.
However, most sales strategies require natural communication skills and keen emotional intelligence. Sales people who fail to display empathy for their potential customers’ concerns won’t establish long-term relationships and be able to engage in a consultative selling approach.
Good sales reps understand the buyer’s journey from both a technical and emotional perspective. Developing these key interpersonal skills is just as important to the bottom line as cold calling or prospecting.
How can you create empathy for the customer in your sales process?
Aside from first-hand experience, the best way for your sales team to develop empathy for the customer is to genuinely understand their unique circumstances. There are a few ways to go about doing this.
First, you should teach your team active listening techniques. This replicable process of encouraging the prospect to reveal more information through targeted follow-up questions naturally promotes empathy. The three steps are:
- Comprehension – Understand what the prospect is telling you. Learn the details surrounding the circumstances and what has made them feel the way they do.
- Retention – Store the speaker’s information metaphorically and literally. Taking notes within your CRM keeps you, and the whole team, informed.
- Response – Acknowledge the speaker’s points and use verbal cues that encourage them to continue elaborating. This begins with small phrases like, “go on,” and “I see,” and eventually leads to insightful follow up questions like, “How do you foresee this goal being reached?”
Additionally, understanding the customer means knowing what actual users of the product are thinking. Many sales teams require new hires to shadow the customer support team for a few hours each week during onboarding. This gives them an inside look at potential workarounds for customer objections and ways to convey empathy through speech.
A Team Mentality
Selling is competitive, but that doesn’t mean your reps should work in isolation. Sales teams that share knowledge and collaborate to solve problems can perform better overall and reach quota faster.
Furthermore, your team members can be a powerful support system for one another — particularly during new employee onboarding. When quota deadlines are approaching and deals begin to stall, a supportive sales team plays a crucial role in keeping everyone positive and on-target.
How do you promote a team mentality between sales reps?
Creating a sense of camaraderie amongst your sales team has a lot to do with how the organization is structured.
In other words, do the environment, procedures, and hierarchy promote independent or collaborative work?
Part of what creates bonds between employees is shared experiences. We’re more empathetic and willing to assist those who we see following the same path we did. A well-defined onboarding process makes sure all employees receive the same initial training experience. The experienced sales reps will know where new hires stumble initially and can offer assistance accordingly.
Furthermore, structuring your team into pods makes the organization feel smaller. New hires will feel more encouraged to ask for help when necessary, and these more-intimate teams will work together to reach higher targets (especially if there’s a pod-vs-pod competition involved!).
A “Do-what-it-takes” approach
There’s no substitute for hard work in the selling profession. Deadlines will — at times — loom largely overhead, and there will be late nights. Sending off extra emails and scheduling calls in distant time zones are all part of the terrain.
Sales reps that know what it takes to make important deals happen may continue conversations with leads until the last minutes of the quarter. But they also feel that these sacrifices are worth it. The satisfaction of closing a deal after a ton of hard work is one of the best feelings for sales professionals. (The only close competition is the easy win that goes from prospect, to qualified, to closed in ~48 hours.)
How can you encourage sales reps to go the extra mile?
It should be communicated to new hires — in no uncertain terms — that there will rarely be an easy day’s work. Reaching quota will take effort, every time.
Furthermore, successful sales reps can attest that the difference between meeting quota and exceeding it will sometimes take extraordinary effort. The key to supplying this type of motivation relies on the first skill in this list: A Reward-Driven Mentality.
If your employees don’t feel adequately rewarded for their labor, working outside of business hours and attentively communicating with prospects and/or leads will lead to burnout, rather than a sense of satisfaction.
But in addition to a fair compensation structure, upward mobility within your organization provides new and experienced reps with extra motivation when the going-gets-tough. Monetary compensation provides a short-term influx of satisfaction, but long-term career growth provides an even more enticing reward.
Last Thought: Lead By Example
As a sales leader, your attitude, enthusiasm, and professionalism are — in themselves — extremely powerful training tools.
Selling is like any other challenging pursuit: There will be both good days and bad. Keeping a positive outlook and exemplifying the traits you want your team to possess throughout shows them what level of commitment, professionalism, and (naturally) humor is expected.