Sales Skills *Only* The Best Sales Reps Have

Written byGerald Vanderpuye

December 1, 2017

Now I know what you might be thinking… another blog post providing an itemised list of desirable sales skills. A search on Google for “skills only the best sales reps have” turns up hundreds of interesting blogs and articles listing desirable skills. Most outline skills such as empathy, rapport building, the art of asking questions, understanding ones buyer and so on….

So why another blog Gerald?

I hear you, and I don’t disagree that many of skills these articles highlight are essential and often possessed by the best salespeople. My beef with these articles is that they are hardly ever truly insightful, but rather a list of well-known skills, rarely exclusive to only the best salespeople. I’d argue if you don’t understand your buyer, don’t communicate value, don’t build trust you would make zero sales. The challenge for most organisations is not salespeople selling nothing; it’s instead how to get the many average salespeople to target.

The question, should not be “what sales skills do the best sales reps have?” but “what sales skills do only the best salespeople possess?”.  This question highlights unique and rare sales skills that should help us identify the best salespeople in the absence of data, and help the rest of us raise our game.


Who Are Your Best Salespeople?

sales skills, salespeople


The majority of salespeople and certainly the best ones are competitive by nature, and I would argue no true competitor plays the game to finish second.

In many ways sales is comparable to my favourite sports: boxing, MMA and Formula One. Individual games like these give the players nowhere to hide in the long run, the numbers won’t lie, ultimately revealing the best players, fighters, and drivers. Love him or hate him, most people would agree that Floyd Money Mayweather is one of the best boxers of our time finishing his career with a record of 50wins and 0 losses. Can’t argue with that.

The challenge for most sales organisations is identifying these great salespeople because they often operate in an environment with minimal data, which only looks at the short term. In these situations, the numbers can be misleading and at worst useless.  How Leads and Accounts are distributed to salespeople can play a massive part in assessing performance.  Jenson Button can win one F1 World Championship with the best car in that season, but over the long term, there is no denying Lewis Hamilton is the best of his era.

Working with sales reps, sales leaders and sales enablement experts at BuyerDeck has given me some insight into the mindset of the best salespeople.  From the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with the best sales reps and watching them in action, I’ve learnt that being the best starts well before they engage with a buyer. Their approach reminds me more of how top sportspeople operate.


sales skills

Skating to where the puck is going to be

The best boxers like Mayweather seem to possess the gift to pick the right opponent at just the right time during their career, looking good on their way to becoming the best.  The best Formula One drivers drive for the best teams and the best salespeople seem to have this rare ability to pick and join the most innovative companies at just the right time.  I suspect luck has some part to play, but this has a smaller part compared to the skills that ensure they end up in the best companies and the best roles at just the right time.

These sales people have consistently demonstrated to me very rare skills and expert level behaviours in their pursuit of to be the best.

These reps seem to understand that to master the selling of any product takes more than general sales skills like empathy, understanding your customer or other skills listed by industry experts. For them the battle to be the best starts much earlier, before they’re in any company role or start selling.

Their advantage starts with their approach to choosing who they sell for and when they join them. The majority of salespeople seem to jump from one company to another often directed by luck, randomness, falling victim to smart recruiting practices, or choosing one of the few companies that offer them a position. Whereas in my experience the best salespeople seem highly organised and strategic with their approach to their search and selection.

Search, selection and timing

When they are ready to move on or are actively searching for their next move, salespeople often ask me for referrals into companies.  I love to make introductions, but I get particularly excited about making introductions for those I believe to fall in the category of  “best salesperson” or have that potential.  I am particularly impressed with those that have looked at many companies and shortlisted a few they believe fit their culture and are positioned to solve the most significant problems in the most prominent markets.

These salespeople seem to go beyond the basic research of looking at a company’s financials on Duedil or their sales team growth on LinkedIn.  They will often subscribe to platforms like Crunchbase, Techcrunch and AngelList following the progress of the companies they have an interest in, and keeping a close eye on the stage they are at through funding or significant financial milestones like acquisitions.

In their research they will go so far as contacting other salespeople who work for the prospective employer to get first-hand knowledge on whether they are ready to scale. The best reps would even solicit referrals from the salespeople they speak to ensuring they have a head start on other candidates.  This is often a win-win because most companies will incentivise their reps to refer talent.

I once heard from a sales guy who wanted an introduction to interview a customer of his prospective employer.  I assumed he was trying to understand their perceived value, turns out it was a tactic to get a reliable referral into that company. “Gerald wouldn’t you listen to your biggest customer?” he said. Now that was a first and new even to me.  I didn’t need convincing why this guarantees him an interview and put him in a strong position to negotiate for things not on the table for the average sales rep.

The Interview

A friend of mine was recently interviewing for a sales role with a high profile company.  He started off the interview asking a few questions, and the hiring manager responded with  “This is not one of those interviews where you get to ask lots of questions”. What that hiring manager is missing is that the best salespeople have more questions because they are conducting their own interview; they want to understand whether the opportunity is a good fit.

Navigating to the best sales position within the company

Ever wondered why the best salespeople seem to get the best leads, best accounts, best package? I can tell you that this is by no means an accident. It’s a skill, and a skill you can develop. “We’re not here to take part; we’re here to take over,” said Conor McGregor, after taking out Diego Brandao in the UFC 2014. Similarly the best salespeople don’t just want to succeed, they’re looking for the opportunity to overachieve and stand above all.

If being the best is part of your sales goals, then call their tactics “politics” at your peril. Their plan to navigate to the best sales position in the company starts early. Every success they have presents an opportunity to engage with leadership and ask for more responsibility and more opportunities fast-tracking things like promotions, securing the best clients, best accounts and subsequently opportunities to negotiate and renegotiate everything from Targets, Shares and Salary. When was the last time you asked for anything in your company? If you don’t ask you won’t get.


sales skills

Now I know this might seem insatiable to some, on the other hand I would argue its similar to expecting a presidential candidate not to possess some narcissistic personality traits.  To be the best requires some single-mindedness, perhaps explaining why the best football strikers (think Ronaldo) have a selfish streak.

The best salespeople are always on the lookout for the most significant opportunity to demonstrate their superiority and ultimately beat their competition.


sales skills

In summary…

If you are a hiring manager, do you have salespeople that demonstrate characteristics suggesting they are in pursuit of greatness?  If you are a Salesperson looking for a new job, I hope this blog has provided you with some ideas on how to position yourself to become the best, because to become a player requires more than just hard work.

For the best players the competition starts before the whistle is blown.

I hope you found this interesting, and welcome relief from all the sales skills lists. Let me know your thoughts on this subject, use the comments below…

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