There’s no question that achieving success as a sales representative requires a wide range of practical and interpersonal skills. However, these skills don’t always come naturally nor do sales managers always have the time to coach their teams to develop them.

Those who achieve the greatest success in their careers have a deep hunger for knowledge and improving their performance. They learn from each meeting with their manager, no matter how brief.

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These successful sales performers also invite feedback from others and research the information and skills they need to grow. Here are just a handful of skills that every salesperson should possess:

  • Product knowledge: Even the most harried sales manager can’t afford to cut corners when it comes to teaching their new reps about the products they will be selling. A sales representative can only be successful if he or she understands exactly how a product works, the value it offers to the prospect, and why prospective customers inquire about it in the first place.
  • Identifying and qualifying prospects: Cold calling, social networking, and obtaining referrals from existing connections are just some of the ways that a salesperson can find potential customers. He or she should know every method of prospecting that the employer uses.
  • Professional communication skills: Effectively communicating with a prospect requires strong listening skills, the ability to probe for useful information, overcome objections, gain a commitment, close the sale, and remain in contact with the customer after the sale to ensure the product or service delivers as expected. This is a tall order that requires extensive practice and feedback from management.

Empathy: The Most Important Sales Skill of All

Many sales organizations do an excellent job of teaching the fundamentals of the job, such as in-depth product knowledge and prospecting for new clients. Unfortunately, all this hard work can be for nothing if the sales representative is missing the vital selling skill of empathy.

As an important component of emotional intelligence, empathy means a salesperson can understand what someone else thinks or feels to help him or her solve a problem. A prospect who feels neglected or misunderstood is unlikely to buy anything from the sales representative.

Having a charismatic, outgoing personality is what draws many people to a career in sales. This may be enough to get a first meeting, but it’s not enough to sustain a relationship. That is where empathy comes into play.

How to Apply Empathy in Sales

Salespeople who are trying to improve their sense of empathy towards others should always try to find common interests with everyone they meet. They won’t necessarily share the same opinions on every matter, but having common ground makes people more drawn to one another.

The sales professional should also focus on listening intently. That means not checking for texts or emails or even formulating a response.

The most successful salespeople find that giving another person their full attention is so validating to him or her that it builds trusts and inspires more purchases in the future. One way to demonstrate active listening to the prospect is to paraphrase what he or she said and ask for any necessary clarification.

Genuine concerns for others is more uncommon than it should be. That’s why practicing empathy at every sales meeting will make a lasting impression on prospects.