21 Sales Representative Skills to Start & Grow Your Career
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The ongoing tech boom has created abundant opportunities for software engineers, web developers, designers, and analysts. It’s also created lucrative career paths for sales representatives, who play a crucial role in helping tech companies expand their reach, identify new business opportunities, and grow their customer base.
So important are software sales reps to an organization’s growth that a career in software sales is regarded as one of the fastest paths to a six-figure salary. The rising demand for sales reps also means that it’s a profession that offers stability, opportunities for advancement, and specialization.
Read on to learn about the different types of skills sales reps need to break into and succeed in their roles.
Related Read: What is Tech Sales?
What Is a Sales Representative?
To understand what a software sales representative does, it helps to understand the purpose of software sales. As the name suggests, software sales refers to the selling of software to organizations of all sizes, from mom and pop businesses to multinational corporations. Almost every company that builds software—from Microsoft and IBM to Slack, Stripe, and Amazon—has a sales team that gets their products into the hands of prospective customers and convinces them to use their tools.
This is where sales reps enter the picture. They gather business intelligence, identify potential customers, develop an intimate knowledge of the products they’re selling as well as market conditions and competitor offerings, pitch to prospective clients, negotiate and close deals, conduct customer relationship management, and help set and meet sales targets. It’s a job that requires impeccable soft sales skills such as strong communication, organization, and problem-solving abilities, as well as deep technical knowledge of the product, business, and industry.
Related Read: Technical Sales Representative Job Description
Sales Representative Skills
Software sales can be a demanding job—sales reps need to have the soft skills to ensure that prospective and current customers feel understood and heard, the technical knowledge to sell prospective customers on their products, and the specialized sales skills of prospecting, negotiating, and closing deals. Below is a breakdown of the specific types of skills sales reps need to develop in order to be at the top of their game.
Soft Skills for Sales Representatives
“Soft skills” are usually understood to be communication skills. But in software sales, there’s more to soft skills than being able to articulate what you mean.
Active listening is an important component of sales conversations. Current and prospective clients will often talk about the issues they’re hoping to address, the problems they’ve faced in the past, and the types of solutions they’re looking for. The best software sales reps are able to make current and future clients feel heard, whether a meeting takes place over the phone, a video conference, or in person.
Good storytelling can help a product stand out from the competition. Telling an engaging and authentic story—whether through case studies or research—will give a product or service emotional resonance and help potential clients envision themselves as customers whose problems are solved through using the software you’re selling.
A large part of being a sales rep is building and managing relationships with clients. As a sales rep, you’ll be interacting with a wide variety of personality types, and it’s important to have strong interpersonal skills that allow you to create connections and build trust with all kinds of people.
Successful sales associates have an intimate knowledge of the types of problems that current and prospective clients are facing, understand how the products they’re selling can fit into a client’s business strategy, and know-how to craft their pitches to appeal to different people within an organization. They’re detail-oriented and know how to customize their pitches for different audiences.
Able To Present to Groups
Sales presentations and product demonstrations are a big part of a sales rep’s pitch. In addition to showing prospective clients product features and sharing customer success stories, the presentation is an opportunity to build a rapport with clients, to show that you understand the nature of their problems and that you can offer a compelling solution. Here, effective communication, active listening, and being able to focus on the challenges the prospective client faces are important skills to have.
Not all sales leads will automatically transform into closed deals. In fact, sales leads often need to be nurtured. This means taking the time to understand prospective clients’ challenges, needs, budgets, timelines, whether they’re using or considering competitor software, whether your contact at the organization has the authority to make deal decisions, and figuring out what it might take to usher a potential client further along the sales process.
Similar to active listening skills, the best sales reps are empathetic and can understand the issues, challenges, and frustrations that prospective clients need to solve. This empathy can inform how a sales rep approaches a prospective client, how they frame their product, the types of case studies they choose to highlight, and the kinds of support a client might need if they sign on.
Technical Skills for Sales Representatives
What sets software sales reps apart from other types of sales representatives are their technical skills and in-depth knowledge of their particular product and industry.
The Ability To Explain Complex Details
It’s one thing to know in great detail how a product or service works; it’s another to be able to explain it to people in a clear, concise, and accessible way. During sales pitches and product demonstrations, software sales reps need to be able to explain complex and often highly technical details about their product or services and to tailor their explanations to prospective clients who have different levels of technical experience.
As a sales rep, you are an ambassador for your organization and its products. This means you need to be able to answer any question a client might have about the product you’re selling, the company that built it, its place in the market, and how it performs against the competition. The best sales reps have a deep understanding of market trends, understand their organization’s value proposition, and know product features back to front.
Sales reps need to employ research skills to learn about competitors, market trends, current vendors, and potential customers. The more you know about where your organization and product sits in comparison to others, the better your chances of selling it to the right people.
There are many tools that facilitate customer relationship management, and knowing how to use these tools is an important skill for any sales rep. Many CRM tools can make life a lot easier for sales reps and help them stay on top of customer satisfaction, such as reminders to circle back with prospective and current clients and sending bulk emails.
Social Media Skills
While sales reps don’t have to be expert social media users, platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter can be a good way for identifying prospects and understanding the chain of authority within an organization. Sales reps should have at least a basic understanding of using social media to identify potential buyers.
A lot of the cold outreach that sales reps do is over email, so it’s important to have strong written communication that piques the interest of prospective clients, moves the sales process forward, and maintains a good rapport once a deal has closed.
Sales reps don’t need to be mathematicians, but being able to cite relevant and meaningful stats, set reasonable sales targets, and perform the basic math to prove the efficacy of your team or products is an important part of being a successful sales rep.
Career Skills of Sales Representatives
Sales reps also possess a broad range of skills specific to the profession—skills that they can draw on throughout their career, regardless of the industry or organization they join.
Prospecting is a core part of the sales profession. It’s the process through which sales reps conduct research to identify prospective customers, perform cold outreach, and create new opportunities for expanding the customer base.
Contract negotiation can be a fickle part of the sales process—sales reps need to walk the fine line between offering clients a package that feels favorable to them, while also not giving out steep discounts that can ultimately hurt the business they represent. Protecting the value of a sale while persuading a client that the solution you offer is worth paying for is an important skill that comes from experience, coaching, and practicing the soft skills of communication, active listening, and having a strong rapport with the client.
Sales reps often juggle multiple leads and are at different stages of the sales process with different clients. Good time management, knowing how long each task in the sales process takes, the ability to prioritize the most important tasks, and the ability to shuffle and reshuffle tasks as priorities change, is a skill that all good sales reps possess.
Conflict Management Skills
There are many different roles on a sales team, and the sales process is often a collaborative effort with representatives handing off leads and clients to one another. Being able to keep your cool, de-escalate misunderstandings, and shift the focus from conflict to collaboration is an important quality for sales reps, particularly sales managers who oversee teams of representatives.
Problem-solving might seem like a vague skill to have, but in software sales, where current and prospective clients are sharing all manner of business and technological challenges and are looking for solutions, sales reps need to be agile and creative thinkers who can help deliver on those solutions.
Given how much falls to sales reps, the most effective representatives are self-motivated and don’t wait for orders. They set sales goals and meet them. They are able to work in a fast-paced environment without compromising on relationships with customers or their teams. They have a growth mindset, take on sales activities that will lead to better customer satisfaction, and are always developing new ways to improve sales performance.
Working with experienced sales managers, the most successful sales reps are open-minded and take on feedback that improves their performance. Being coachable is thus an important skill for sales reps because the more you can learn from others, the better you’ll be at your job.
How Can You Improve Your Sales Representative Skills?
Looking for ways to improve your sales skills? Check out our tips below.
- Take a course. A comprehensive class—whether it’s a degree in business or an online bootcamp—that teaches the latest sales industry tools, hosts live workshops, and offers personalized coaching from experienced sales professionals can give you an edge when applying to software sales roles. In addition to ensuring that you have a firm grasp of the technical skills expected of every sales rep, courses like Springboard’s Tech Sales Career Track offer opportunities to develop and practice the soft skills needed to succeed, and professional guidance at every stage of the job search.
- Practice active listening. Being a good listener—paying attention, maintaining eye contact, not interrupting the speaker, and being mindful of body language—is a skill that can be practiced and fostered outside of the workplace. When communicating with family and friends, practice being engaged and catch yourself if you are talking over people, tuning out, or displaying closed-off body language.
- Learn from others. There is no shortage of resources when it comes to learning from sales professionals. If you work at an organization that has a sales team, consider carving out time to chat with sales reps and managers to learn more about their roles, responsibilities, and any advice they have to offer. If you don’t have access to sales reps, there are many videos and YouTube channels dedicated to shedding light on what software sales reps do and the latest best practices.
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