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Nick Lignier

5 Essential Skills to Succeed in Sales

What do employers look for in new sales recruits?

We all know that ‘hot-shot’ salesperson who could sell ‘coal to Newcastle’ and ‘ice to the Inuit’.

However, there are key sales skills and attributes which differentiate the exceptional sales performers from the ‘mavericks’ and the merely mediocre performers who happen to be good at serving customers and taking orders?

Ask any sales leader what she wants from her sales team, as well as the necessary qualities to communicate, engage, enthuse and be persuasive, and these will be the top five in her wish list:

  1. Positive attitude
  2. Hard-working
  3. Works to a proven process
  4. Keeps skills up to date
  5. Has personal goals that align with business goals

Of course, these are useful pointers for being successful in many roles, but in sales positions they are paramount.

Positivity is an essential sales trait

Sales staff must be positive. They have to sound enthusiastic about the product or service they are selling to convince the prospective customer to buy.

That’s the reason why so many sales staff can come across as almost falsely passionate about what you perceive to be quite an inane product! If a sales professional's enthusiasm isn’t catching, then they won’t make the sale, whether that’s a new bed, software or a peristaltic pump into the medical devices sector!

Positivity must also embrace the belief that any targets are reachable so that drive is maintained. And an overall positive mindset helps anyone get along.

Sales CVs must highlight hard work

Hard work comes with the territory of sales and is not a career path for the ‘faint-hearted’.  Be that hitting the phones repetitively, facing rejection when cold-calling, or driving 20,000 miles or so a year to make a sale. 

Being good at sales is hard work.  And, to succeed consistently in sales, month after month, year after year, is even harder.

All hiring managers are looking for proof of hard work on the CVs they receive.  So, if you are a CCTV salesman, you should not only detail your headline sales income and performance against targets but also describe things like:

  • The number of customers’ homes you visit in a day;
  • The number of quotes you raise;
  • Your quote conversion ratios;
  • Performance against key performance indicators, or KPIs;
  • The size of the patch covered;
  • The research you undertake to ‘keep your saw sharpened’ to be able to answer every possible question the buyers may ask;
  • The exhibition stands that you’ve manned from 8 AM to 9 PM;
  • The records you keep on your CRM of your pipeline and the accuracy of your forecasting;
  • The level of going above and beyond all expectations to deliver phenomenal service to your customers;
  • How you’ve not only done it for your interests but helped others too by covering their patch due to sickness, mentoring, coaching, introducing new products, services, and better ways of operating.

You’re a sales professional.  Yes, we know it’s British to be humble but also don’t fear to boast a little on your CV!

Top performers work to a proven process

A diligent and successful salesperson will follow proven methods to meet sales and targets.  All businesses should look to their top performers to see how they operate and what they do to set them apart. 

Every organisation has ways of working, but in sales, there are specific processes that must be followed. Such as prospecting for new business even when you’re having your best month ever, or following up a sale from the previous month to ensure you’re at the forefront of their mind when they next purchase.

Usually, these are measured by key performance indicators so that no matter how well you’re doing against your targets, you are still doing the fundamental things every day that will lead to consistently high performance.

We all know that salespeople hate paperwork, but the top sales performers appreciate the links between appointments/quotes/sales,  and it’s proven that the best are also great predictors of pipeline and forecasted sales. 

Top performers value CRM systems; they appreciate the link between data and more vibrant client relationships and, therefore, higher commissions. They also look at ways to use technology that help them be on the frontline with clients more often. 

However, today's best practices may not be in a decade’s time, so sales leaders and true sales professionals must look at their sales processes at least once a year to see what can be improved. 

Keeping sales skills up to date

A top salesperson must always be trying to improve. Standing still leads to being comfortable and becoming complacent. Sales staff must, therefore, research and train in new sales and marketing methodologies. In the 1970’s it was ‘Xerox Professional Selling’, the ’80s was ‘SPIN’, then ‘consultative selling’ in the ‘90s through early 2000s and now ‘The Challenger Sale’ and ‘Social Selling’.

Top sales performers today operate in a completely different way to than twenty years ago and use ‘social selling’ techniques that would have very much been in the domain of the marketing department.

Top salespeople must also research likely questions from leads and be knowledgeable across all facets of the product they sell.  Top performers read trade websites, subscribe to trade journals and attend trade exhibitions to ensure they’re up to speed with clients, competitors’ products and market trends.

Goal-setting is an essential sales characteristic

Every business has its goals, and every member of staff, particularly salespeople, must have their own goals. Business set goals are likely a monthly sales target, but may also include factors such as positive referrals, customer satisfaction surveys or meeting sales targets in conjunction with ‘soft targets’ such as improving CRM usage.

A good salesperson will reach the targets his employer sets, but also has their personal objectives, such as earning enough for a deposit on a home, a new car or some other luxury that is truly important to them. Doing so keeps them focused, passionate for consistent performance and motivated to succeed.

“Recruit for attitude and train for skills”

If a candidate’s attitude isn’t right to start with, they won’t go far in sales, no matter how much training the company offers them.  

However, if they have ambition, determination, a natural ability to engage and persuade and an abundance of purpose, then the foundation blocks are there. All specifics relating to a product, or an industry sector can be taught, and knowledge will be developed over time. 

Sales is an instinct, an intuition, an attitude, and yes, these can be enhanced with training and experience.  However, the ability to engage and interact, together with ‘go-getting’ traits such as drive, perseverance, confidence and ambition, are forged long before a sales career commences.

Define your sales skills in your CV

The importance of highlighting suitable skills when applying and interviewing for any job is now a standard tactic. Most companies use keywords and AI software to help with sourcing and shortlisting the best applicants.  To compete, and be seen by hiring managers among thousands of other potential applicants, you must detail your skills. 

We recommend that you specify on your CV, all sales training courses that you have undertaken and perhaps even name the authors or sales books/methodologies that you have read or listened to. Also, detail any sales conferences that you have attended. 

This information could trigger the interest of a hiring manager that for instance, is passionate about a particular sales methodology.  However, there is a caveat; keywords are only half the battle - they may land you an interview, but if you can’t back up your CV with concrete examples of particular sales skills, methodologies or knowledge, you will not get hired!

Date published: 26th Feb 2024

Rob Scott, Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment, Author Photo

About the author

Rob Scott

Rob is the Managing Director of Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment, a national recruitment agency specialising in sourcing sales and marketing staff for businesses across a broad range of commercial sectors. Before setting up Aaron Wallis, Rob spent ten years at a specialist Sales and Marketing recruitment division of a £0.5BN recruitment group, leaving in 2007 as Marketing & Sales Director to establish Aaron Wallis.
With over 24 years of experience in sales recruitment, Rob is a History graduate with an MBA (Merit) and a PgCert in Management Practice.  In 2007, 2009 and 2013 Rob conducted the most extensive surveys of sales professionals in the UK and is a trusted authority in the sales industry. From guiding employers through the recruitment process to helping candidates find their dream job, Rob's advice has been quoted in leading publications such as Business Insider and The Independent, as well as OnRec, which host The Online Recruitment Awards every year.

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I can't fault Sam or AW! Sam was a pleasure to work with and provided great support from the start. Sam always provided me with timely updates when required and provided outstanding candidates!

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CEO, Friday Ad Online Services

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Managing Director, Leisuresec plc

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In an industry where people over promise and under deliver, Rob and his teams have consistently provided a high-quality service. It is great to deal with someone that has an excellent understanding of UK industry, and a passion for sales.

Sales Manager, TR Fasteners

Thank you for your dedicated help during the recruitment process - we came to you after unsuccessfully searching elsewhere, and hired, not one, but two! Quick response times, and a really personal approach, without being pushy.

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Since joining DSGi, Rob has been a supplier of permanent staff and has performed to an extremely high standard, successfully filling 98% of roles he has worked on. If anyone is looking for a good sales and marketing based consultancy with an informal yet professional approach, I would recommend Rob.

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HR Manager, The Data Privacy Group Ltd

George came recommended by a colleague and has been a pleasure to work with. He was great at updating us on his progress and ensured a great experience for both client and candidate.

HR Manager, Annapurna Recruitment Ltd

I could not suggest anything I would like you to do better. The service you provided materially exceeded my expectations. I would especially like to commend Simon Bonner; he is easily the best recruitment consultant I have ever dealt with. I particularly valued his advice and guidance throughout the recruitment process. 

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I have used Aaron Wallis to fill a number of our Sales Development Manager roles and I have found them to provide a very professional service. I will use their services again in future recruitment campaigns.

HR Business Partner, Greene King

Giles Phillips is a rare find in the minefield of sales recruitment; an honest and thoughtful recruiter who considers the needs of both the client AND the candidate to create perfect role matches. I look forward to working with him again in the future.

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We were impressed not only by the quality of candidates you found for us but also the level of information, preparation and qualification you put into the process. You continually kept us informed of each person’s feelings about the process, which is very important but often overlooked. I am looking forward to working with your company again in the future.

Commercial Director, Incentive Facilities Management

Aaron Wallis has continuously provided us with suitable candidates that have been proactively sourced. Having used countless recruitment companies, Aaron Wallis are the only company that I can count on to deliver.

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George is a joy to work with, and I'd recommend him to anyone seeking that unicorn hire - he found me mine, and I'm delighted!

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George is a rare find in the world of recruitment - communicative without being pushy or over-bearing. He listens and understands what the customer needs as gets to know the business to ensure he provides fully competent candidates who fit.

HR Manager, Big Dug

Rob is a true recruitment professional that goes the extra mile that I have never experienced from any other recruitment agency before. If you need sales people call Rob or someone in his team, as they really are experts in sales recruitment.

Sales Director, Inside Business

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G. Thompson, Candidate

The most professional recruitment agency I've ever worked with. Robert Scott was extremely proactive and send me a detailed briefing before each interview, ensuring I was well prepared.

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Aaron Wallis is an outstanding recruitment agency specialising in high calibre sales positions. I was working directly with Darren Dewrance who went above and beyond my expectations in sourcing me my perfect role. I was kept in regular communication with Darren and he worked extremely hard to secure my dream job. Highly recommended and Thanks Darren for all your expertise and hard work.

R. Sealy, Candidate

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J. Parnham, Candidate

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N. Leney, Candidate

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S. Powell, Candidate

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I had a very good experience with Aaron Wallis. The company itself is offering great content for all things related to the hiring process. I definitely recommend.

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The detail put into the preparation for interviews and the detail of the job description was first class. Rob and Simon in particular are amongst the best I've ever dealt with.

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