What are basics selling skills?

It’s a question I’ve asked a couple of times in workshops and online, and it’s a question that was triggered by a few ‘posts’ I read, stating that

Salespeople today don’t execute on the basics.

And my response is – what are the basics then?

And as would have it on social, there was a plethora of responses, from which I randomly collected this bakers dozen:

1.    Understand your customer’s business issues and what they want

2.    Ask intelligent and strategic questions

3.    Listen a lot more than you talk

4.    Make your key objective to help the customer, not to close a sale

5.    Know your prospects.

6.    Know your competition

7.  Solve their problems

8.  Know your company story

9.  Build rapport

10. Understand the buyers needs and KPIs

11. Networking

12. Storytelling

13. Find the problem, discover solution, present why solution is best for prospect

Are any of these wrong? Far from it.

Whilst these are skills that every salesperson must have and is typically the focus traditional sales training provides, I don’t believe they are the basics, nor do I believe they are the focus for the future sales professional that business wants and needs.

Whilst they are a combination of general sales skills ie networking and storytelling, as well as role based sales skills ie account management and marketing, as well as communication sales skills ie rapport and listening, I would suggest they are, what I call, ‘surface basics’.

I believe there must be another layer beneath these ‘surface basics’ that make results stick, that make people execute and that provide an environment of growth – something essential, primary almost. Something that forms a solid foundation for these ‘surface basics’ to sit on.

And I’d like to refer to them as Identity Skills.

It’s almost a Simon Sinek moment with a fundamental circle missing. We know what we need to do, how and why we have to do things, and if your people don’t know any of those three areas, then they are taught, coached, mentored or shadowed until they do. We would hope!!

The Science of Basic Selling Skills

Even if that is the case, sometimes many still don’t get it!! There is a gap. And for those that feel there is a gap, then this might help… it’s drilling down into the WHO – and accessing what I term my ChangeMaker Circle. The Basics of any form of Leadership.

According to the World Economic Forum, ‘by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today …”

Based on this, the top 10 job skills you will need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, The Connection Economy or the Imagination Era are:

1.      Complex problem solving

2.      Critical thinking

3.      Creativity

4.      People management

5.      Co-ordinating with others

6.      Emotional intelligence

7.      Judgment and decision making

8.      Service orientation

9.      Negotiation

10.   Cognitive flexibility

(Source: Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum)

So, if we take the top three as a sample and reframe them as our foundational basics, our previously shared ‘surface basics’ seem a little lacking:

Complex Problem Solving Skills

How do we develop our complex problem solving skills? What part of the brain is defaulting to emotions or confusion which means you get anxious, overwhelmed or stressed because you can’t quite compute something fast enough, or deep enough? If most salespeople struggle with selling value or holding margin when they are in a crucial conversation, then what value would building their ‘problem-solving skills’ give them instead of ‘overcoming objection’ training? If the role of a sales leader is to lift others, then how are they teaching, coaching or mentoring their team to solve ever increasing complex problems or deal with the complexities in today’s economic climate. Somehow, focusing on ‘closing skills’ doesn’t seem enough.

Critical Thinking

How about critical thinking? Negotiation was one of the must have ‘basic skills’ a few years back as was ‘active listening’, but it has been overtaken, well and truly by the need to tap into the ‘executive brain’, assess what’s important and make connections between what you already know and potentially create new ideas and information that would create value for others. With so much data, insights, analytics and business intelligence, being able to see patterns, or keep an open mind and override those unconscious biases that rise-up when we hear things, or see or notice different things is crucial. Just uncovering the buyer’s problems or challenges is not enough today, it’s being able to make that mean something which is the skill we need to learn.


The Science of Basic Selling Skills

And creativity. How often do we need to come up with fresh ideas. or need to be more creative in our approach, our conversations and our outcomes, especially with so much volatility in the market through new products, price fluctuations, new roles that haven’t even been thought of yet and new ways of working within this new economy. Artificial Intelligence may help us do things more productively and efficiently but those algorithms aren’t quite ready to be ‘creatives’ just yet. We need to tap into our ‘imaginations’ more to get those fresh and competitive ideas flowing more freely and to also help inspire ourselves and those around us.

So, the grass-root basics in this interconnected and imagination era look a little different today than they used to in the industrial economy, and even the previous knowledge/informationeconomy as shown in this ‘evolution of leadership’ model by the About My Brain Institute.

For us to move with the times means unlearning, learning and relearning what we need to, especially when it comes to the basics.

Respectfully, the basics shared earlier, whilst important, are certainly no longer enough, moving forward, for the salesperson of the future to hang their hat on.

Can you experiment with what it takes to be a real problem solver, a deep thinker and an inspired creative? If so, then you have a surefire head start as someone people want to work with.

Be Bold, Brave and Brilliant

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Bernadette McClelland
Heading up Melbourne Sales and Sales Leadership Consultancy, 3 Red Folders, Bernadette McClelland works with CEOs, Business Owners and Sales Leaders in businesses that manufacture, distribute and supply capital equipment and tangible goods to create sales smart cultures. This enables and empowers these same businesses to connect, convert and close more business, faster by strengthening their commercial conversations. Bernadette has also proudly coached Harvard MBA students on their sales enablement curriculum • Been the Master Asia Pacific coach for Anthony Robbins across twelve countries • Been recognised internationally for her books and articles on leadership and sales transformation • Named in the Top 50 Speakers globally by Top Sales World for 2019 and 2020 • Been recognized as one of the 35 Most Influential Women In Sales globally by SalesHacker • Spoken on stages that include Paris and Portugal, Atlanta and Alice Springs, New Delhi, New South Wales and New York City, Bangkok and Brisbane, Chicago and Christchurch, Queenstown and Queensland, Melbourne and Minneapolis sharing her cutting edge thought leadership.