5 Skills Your Sales Team Must Learn
The inherent problem with professional sales is the knowledge gap. Years ago, I heard someone say expertise requires the accumulation of 50,000 units of knowledge. The problem occurs when people reach 10,000 units of knowledge and believe they know the subject at a high level while being utterly unaware of the remaining 40,000 units of knowledge.
The 40,000-unit deficit is routine in the field of professional sales. This reality is called the sales skills gap (SSG), a significant challenge facing most sales teams today. They do know what they do not know. More significantly, companies do not seek to resolve the SSG because they are entirely unaware of its existence. Below are five of the most common skills that comprise a much larger ecosystem of unawareness in professional sales.
I teach sales professionals to uncover these gaps and treat them as learning opportunities, not signs of weakness. Successful sales innovation rests on the assumption that you have a high-quality understanding of the problem. This reality uncovers a flaw in that assumption that will help you find a sales solution. Many sales reps find they cannot explain the workings of skills they think they understand when put to the test. There are gaps in knowledge (SSG) and instances where they are clueless as to their ignorance.
- Discovery. Struggling sales reps believe discovery is a passive, organic action that occurs in brief bursts during the buying journey. They do not know there are techniques (skills) to enhance discovering what the buyer wants, needs, or the emotions behind the desire to purchase. There are active skills that dig deep into the psychological journey of a typical buyer. They also do not know how to leverage this information to understand, accelerate, and close more deals. I teach a process of alternating between calibrated questions and specific labels to get the buyer to disclose more information to build buyer trust and commit to making a purchase.
- Prospecting. Many sales reps are scattered and lack focus during prospecting if they do it all. That is correct, and many sales reps avoid prospecting because it is difficult and involves rejection by a potential buyer. Organic prospecting is common. They are active on social media, attend events, and hope for leads from marketing. They are not true hunters (and killers) as sales reps. They lack segmentation skills (see number 5) that provide focus and a target-rich environment for success. They believe anyone with money is a potentially good prospect for their time. This belief dilutes effort, and precious time gets wasted on the wrong people. The ideal client profile (ICP) is an essential prospecting tool to target profitable business opportunities.
- Pipelining. When asked, many sales reps cannot dollarize their pipeline. Most lack sophistication and rely on a hodgepodge of tools to track deals. If they have a CRM platform, they either do not know how to use it properly or enter the minimum amount of information to satisfy the boss. Companies rarely “murder board” pipelines during occasional or ineffective sales meetings. A clearly articulated sales funnel with financial confidence is the exception rather than the rule. Statistical probabilities based on historical data are extremely rare. The variability of each customer creates a misconception about consistencies in buying patterns or sales cycles. They miss market patterns and lose opportunities to move favorable deals closer to ink.
- Sales Forecasting. Forecasting is more common in larger businesses. However, small to medium size businesses struggle with forecasting sales. A well-constructed pipeline gives sales reps confidence that future sales are imminent based on deal velocity and past sales cycle calculations. I recommend a ninety-day sales forecast as the maximum confidence interval for the individual sales rep due to the lower confidence in early-stage pipeline deals. Ninety days is also the product of the 30-day rule. (The work you do in the current 30 days will impact your sales for the next 90 days.) Smaller firm CEOs are less likely to require sales forecasting, so many sales reps have never learned the skill at the most basic level.
- Segmenting Prospects. Time is the primary resource for sales reps. Just because all money is green, it does not mean all prospects are created equal. When business is good, sales reps need to segment prospects into different categories. This action may mean you should turn down some business altogether. Allocate time to serve top customers and limit time with less profitable customers. Time wasted on low-profit prospects restricts the ability to seek, qualify, and help those who move quickly and easily through the pipeline. I teach four segments for targets: A, B, C, D. When business is good, 90% of a sales rep’s time should be on A and B prospects. This changes when business slows or economic conditions necessitate revenue as the priority. You next consider C prospects until it becomes necessary to pursue any business opportunity, including D prospects.
As you can see, these skills are part of a more complex process. The casual baseball fan may not know (or see) the complex number of skills required to turn a double play in baseball. Experienced baseball players (and coaches) know that many sub-skills like the ball flip, footwork, and base-approach angle are executed in harmony to make the complex play look simple to the casual observer.
Professional sales are no different. Casual observers see simplicity in sales when true professionals know differently. High-performing sales professionals build skills over time with practice and failure—incremental improvements in skills like leaving a voicemail or overcoming objections. Solving the sales skills gap (SSG) is an approach to making sales teams perform better and close more deals. Non-salespeople think selling is easy. Sadly, too many business owners and executives do not realize the SSG exists. They do not know they have a problem, so they do not address it as part of the business. They are not aware of the SSG, so it is not a factor during hiring. The only way to see the impact of the SSG is the results. The sales rep is closing deals or not.