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Fiona Reith, associate career coach’s associate career coach Fiona Reith explains why turning our noses up at salespeople is unwise and how we can all learn many lessons from such multi-skilled individuals.

For many of us, the idea of selling conjures up images of unscrupulous estate agents or worse still barrow boys trying to make a few quid flogging counterfeit goods out of suitcases.

Whether we like them or not, there’s little denying that sales professionals are currently in high demand across many industries. LinkedIn, for instance, estimated openings for sales talent jumped by a sizeable 45% between 2019 and 2020. The professional networking site also claims sales as being the second biggest job area for 2021.

Such stats are understandable given all businesses, however good their product(s) or service(s), need client-facing teams who can effectively bring their offering(s) to market and in turn generate a steady and reliable revenue stream.

But it’s not just salespeople who need to master this all-important art, which so many of us are guilty of relegating to the lower ranks of our skillset. Selling is a key business skill for individuals working across numerous sectors, including professional services such as banking and law. Also, believe it or not, even jobs in areas with no obvious links to business such as journalism incorporate many elements of selling! But if you still need convincing think about the importance of learning to ‘sell yourself’ to a future employer. The usefulness of selling skills are limitless.

As a former sales leader myself I love working with early career sales professionals as they start hitting targets and look to hone their skills further and move up the ladder.

Though you can’t study selling per se at university, many professional salespeople do have a degree in areas such as business studies or management. But beyond academic credentials, the other most common strengths and attributes typically shared by successful sales professionals include the following:

Strong interpersonal skills – the key to selling is getting to know your buyer. That means rather than doing all the talking, you actively listen to their needs. Only then will you appreciate what a client or customer is really looking for and start noticing those all-important buying signals that indicate whether they are genuinely interested in closing a deal. Inspiring trust is also important here – your buyer is more likely to proceed if they feel confident about not getting conned. Sharpening your people skills will also help to develop longer-term meaningful relationships with your clients or customers, which will in turn enhance your chances of securing repeat sales.

Commercial awareness or business acumen – understanding your target sector and the organisations that operate within it, including how they make money and potential future challenges they might face, will help you to more precisely identify potential clients / customers. But it doesn’t stop there. Commercial awareness is also about appreciating your own company’s values, needs, priorities, strengths and weakness, including its competitors. That in turn will help you to put your key performance targets into a budgetary context as well as track them more accurately by referring to data analysis.

Problem-solving – this is an underrated skill of multi-tasking sales experts. Consultative, long lead-time sales of complex solutions often require an innovative service or product to successfully solve a problem for a client. And it is the sales professionals who facilitate such processes. With experience, the sales lead can generate ideas for new products and services and go on to you working in areas like innovation and project management.

Negotiation and persuasion – though these might seem obvious, both are crucial from the outset to secure initial meetings with potential new clients, and again, as you look to close deals and finalise contracts. Perhaps, surprisingly, it is in internal discussions with cross-functional colleagues where these skills really come to the fore and learning about situational awareness and style flex can become useful extensions of these skills, leading many sales professionals on to general management roles.

Organisation and time management – sales professionals must be diligent and super organised so they can properly understand which activities are generating the best results, keep track of busy diaries and respond quickly to clients as well as ensure sales are keeping pace with the forecasted budget. Going on to lead a team means even greater focus in this area to ensure you can both support your team and reach your own targets whilst building systems that scale as the business grows.

If you’re an aspiring sales professional, or you know of one, don’t underestimate the multi-tasking that is required, or indeed, the capacity for growth and progression.