8 Sales Skills the Top 5% of Professionals Possess

Emily Kingland
March 10, 2020
8 Sales Skills the Top 5% of Professionals Possess

As an advocate for women in sales, I get asked a lot about the most important skills for sales professionals to possess.

Oftentimes, answers to this question are a little subjective. It really depends on what your experience in sales has taught you.

However, if you’re searching for an answer established in quantitative data, you’ve clicked on the right post.

B2B sales titan Dave Kurlan has dedicated his career to helping sales pros hone their craft. This commitment has yielded detailed research on the top skills salespeople should work towards.

In this post, I’ll break down eight abilities Dave and his colleagues have found the top 5 percent of sales pros possessing. I’ll also answer questions such as…

What are the skills top sales professionals possess? Skills the top 5 percent of sales professionals possess are

  1. Active listening
  2. Apt questioning
  3. Appropriate tonality
  4. Business and financial savviness
  5. Self-assurance
  6. Mindfulness
  7. Confidence in speaking about money
  8. Ability to follow a sales process

Let’s unpack these eight qualities of top salespeople!

This post is based on a podcast featuring Lori Richardson of Score More Sales and James Carbary of Sweet Fish Media. To hear this episode and more like it, subscribe to The B2B Sales Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

1. Active listening

Ah, the old active listening adage. You’ve probably heard this a million times, but here’s a new way of viewing active listening.

Active listening in sales IS NOT…

… making unhelpful assumptions.

… simply waiting until you can come back with a response.

… patronizing.

Active listening in sales IS…

… listening “between the lines.”

… taking in the information to respond in a helpful manner.

… reading body language.

… empathizing with the other party.

"Active listening is much more focused and intentional." — Lori Richardson

In order to actively listen in a B2B sales situation, you will need a deep understanding of your product and the individual’s challenges. Acting like you’re taking in the information the other person is telling you won’t benefit you or them.

Although it sounds cliché, active listening is one of the most crucial skills of the top 5 percent of sales professionals. Don’t take it for granted!

2. Apt questioning abilities

The other half of active listening is relevant questioning. Using canned questions is not going to get you to your desired destination.

Try asking followup questions that uncover more of the individual’s motive. These more revealing questions can include:

  1. What’s holding you back from reaching your goals?
  2. How did you come to that conclusion?
  3. Why are looking for a solution now?
  4. What would it mean to you to overcome these challenges?
  5. What does success look like for you?
  6. What are your biggest pain points?
  7. You specialize in *blank.* Why did you choose that niche?

Top sales pros have the skills to ask the right questions at the right time. Actively listening to the other person and asking open-ended questions will help you quickly qualify or disqualify the lead.

3. Appropriate tonality

Since the beginning of the spoken word, there’s always been this thing called tonality. It’s the flexion of your voice. The tone in which your words are delivered.

Mastering tonality is undoubtedly a skill of top sales professionals. Some salespeople struggle with tonality even if they know the right questions to ask.

"We can ask questions. But, not everyone can ask them in a way they don't offend people." — Lori Richardson

Through active listening and an appropriate amount of empathy, you should be able to complement the other person’s tonality.

For instance, if you’re trying to figure who the final decision-maker is, phrase the question in a way it won’t offend the present party. “Who — in addition to you — is involved with this decision?”

4. Business and financial savviness

You might be surprised to find out how many people go into sales without a solid understanding of business. While not every person needs to take the business school route, it’s important to have a grasp on business and finance when working in sales.

There are numerous options for deepening your business knowledge aside from going (back) to college. Take these for example:

  1. LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com)
  2. Coursera
  3. edX
  4. Alison
  5. Subscribing to The B2B Sales Show
  6. Business Insider YouTube channel
  7. Interviewing the finance pro at your company
  8. Watching TED Talks

Sometimes the greatest source of business insight is right inside your own company. Strike up a conversation with your CFO or VP of finance and see what you can learn.

The top 5 percent of sales pros use their resourcefulness to continue learning about their trade.

5. Self-assurance

Even though some salespeople see their job as a way to make friends, it’s more efficient to keep it professional. Let me explain.

High-performing sales professionals need self-assurance in order to…

… approach other people.

… not be worried about being liked.

… respect themselves and other people in the business.

… ask the tough questions that need to be asked.

… get over rejection.

"I'd rather be respected than liked." — Lori Richardson

Don’t get me wrong: Many times friendships do develop out of business relationships. However, it shouldn’t be your priority when stepping into a B2B sales situation.

6. Mindfulness

B2B sales situations can unearth a lot of emotions if we’re not careful.

Mindfulness helps the top sales professionals stay even-keeled in sensitive circumstances. Having a clear mind allows salespeople to make the most logical decisions instead of acting on emotions.

7. Comfortable with money talk

This skill of the top sales professionals cannot be stressed enough: Get comfortable talking about money.

According to a Kurlan & Associates study, weak salespeople reported a comfort level of 41 percent when speaking about money with customers. On the other hand, top salespeople reported a 91 percent comfort level when talking about finances.

Although it’s a popular assumption, many salespeople are not confident when money comes up in the conversation. Sometimes it doesn’t come up at all.

In those scenarios, neither party wins. Transparency is best when it comes to costs.

To become more comfortable with money talk, try role-playing a sales situation with a coworker. The more you practice, the more natural it will feel.

8. The ability to follow a sales process

I oftentimes compare the sales process to project management. As the sales pro, you’re in charge of seeing the deal through and supporting it whenever possible.

As long as your company has a proven sales process, you should strive to follow it step-by-step. Each phase of the process probably lines up with the different phases of the buyer’s journey.

This top sales pro skill ties in perfectly with coachability. If you’re not willing to learn from more experienced salespeople, you’re bound to run into more bumps in the road. You might not even reach your destination.

Follow the process available to you and optimize it according to your strengths.

Additional insights

What are the skills top sales professionals possess?

We know the answer is oftentimes subjective. It’s important, though, to have an objective way of assessing salespeople.

Plus, using an objective assessment will organically expand the talent pool you’re picking from.

"Just because somebody looks good on paper, doesn't mean they'll be a top sales producer for you." — Lori Richardson

Remember: The aforementioned eight skills the top 5 percent of sales professionals possess are based on real data.

Salespeople who can lock down those skills will be well on their way to a successful career.

Want more top-notch B2B sales insights? Subscribe to The B2B Sales Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

By Lori Richardson of Score More Sales

No items found.