Career Strategies Mar 22 2011

Ten Ways to Improve Your Sales Skills

By alina dizik

As consumers and companies are inundated with sales offers, getting your own sales message across is becoming a greater challenge.

Here are ten things you can do to improve your sales skills now to make those tough sells later:

Manage Time Wisely

Time management skills are more important than ever, points out Jeremy Ulmer, president of Sales Coaching Habits, a Chicago-based sales consultancy. "With so many technology distractions today, it is easy for a day or a week to pass with little sales results to show," he says. One way to stay productive is by "focusing on the most important sales activities in the morning [instead of] putting them off until later in the day," he suggests.

Rely on Portable Devices

Instead of lugging your laptop around to give a lengthy presentation, use mobile or tablet devices to make your pitch smarter, recommends Caroline Avey, director of innovative learning solutions at ACS Learning Services, a Dallas-based subsidiary of Xerox that provides corporate training services. Using these devices can help you address consumer questions, demonstrate uses or look up information that you can't recall on the spot.

Take Time to Prepare

Even if you've sold the product or service before, preparing your questions and materials before you speak to a customer can help you perfect your approach. As you get ready, think about what questions you're going to ask to really understand the consumer's needs, says Cathy Hogan, a learning strategist at ACS. This preparation can help you shape your approach with the customer.

Listen More

After spending years speaking to prospects, it's easy to tune out instead of listening to every single person during a potential sale. Instead, take time to refocus and find the value in the specific feedback you get each time. "Make sure you are hearing the situation and not just trying to sell," advises Hogan.

Connect With High-Quality Prospects

Finding the right types of customers is getting more difficult than ever. "People have learned to turn the noise off," says Paul McCord, president of McCord Training, a Midland, Texas-based firm specializing in sales training and consulting. Learn to connect with clients by asking your current professional network for specific referrals or introductions to high-quality prospects. When asking for a referral, McCord advises people to "do their homework" about which connections are actually worth pursuing. Simply asking for your name to be passed along others is not enough, he says.

Clearly Discuss Next Steps

Just because a prospect implied a sale might happen in the future doesn't mean it's time to relax. Many sales professionals make the mistake of not getting a concrete answer about the next steps in the sales process, says McCord. "What sales people have to learn is how to keep the sale moving forward," he notes. After a meeting, it's important to work out a time frame for your next interaction or have an oral agreement about the next steps.

Become a Valuable Resource

Knowing everything about your product, business and even your industry is much more important these days. "Prospects and clients have access to far more information than they've ever had before," explains Jim Keenan, founder of, a sales website. "Sales people aren't the customer educators they once were." Being able to compete with the information available online means truly understanding what you're selling and being transparent when dealing with prospects.

Understand Your Customer's Issues

"We used to be able to get into a prospect's office and talk about products and services, [which meant] we could actually get prospects to respond to us," McCord says. "They are so busy today that they really don't have time to consider the products and services." Piecing together customer issues has become tougher but is just as important as ever. Find new ways and forums for customers to give you valuable feedback as a way to refine your sales approach.

Stay Up-to-Date

Not only are sales people required to have extensive knowledge about their specific product, understanding the changes and trends in the entire industry can help improve your sales potential. No one wants to invest in a product that will quickly become obsolete, and sales people can help prospects with that decision-making process. "Sales people now need to understand market trends, they need to know where things are going, [and] why they are headed that way," says Keenan.

Keep an Online Presence

While there's no need to send Twitter updates on an hourly basis, using tools like Facebook and LinkedIn or contributing to a career-related blog will help you build an online audience and brand. Creating an online presence is a great way to connect with potential customers during their planning process and without sales pressure. That said, positioning yourself as a resource will help you make an instant connection.

Write to Alina Dizik

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