"The Navigator" News Blog

The Most Valuable Skill in Sales

Time for another “updating an old article” post.  This article holds up well, except that it’s too short – there’s definitely more to be said about generating new business.  This time I’m going to say it.  As always, updates in italics.

Selling involves many skills, but in terms of their value, one rises above the others.

I received a call the other day.  It was like many calls that I have received over the years.  The caller explained that he had a long background in selling, sales management, and training, and was interested to know if I was looking to add to my ‘team.’  Now, let me pull back the curtain a little bit.  My ‘team,’ such as it is, consists of myself and some trusted associates to whom I outsource administrative and marketing work.  This is not a conglomerate.

In the five and a half years since I wrote this piece, I’ve had a similar call about a dozen more times – and they’ve all progressed like this one.

Still, you never know, so I asked him what he was seeking to do.  He’d emphasized a long background and a large amount of contacts – was he wanting to bring me new business?  No, it turned out; he wanted to know if I was looking for a new trainer.  That’s the way this call almost always goes.  Everyone who approaches me wants to train the clients that I already have; nobody wants to bring me new clients.

That’s common in the world of selling, as well.  When I’m doing searches for my clients, the most common questions that applicants ask are, “Is there existing business?”; “How do I get my leads?”; “What does the company do for marketing?”; etc.  Only a small minority of candidates volunteer that they want to BUILD a territory – most want to RIDE a territory.

Unfortunately for them, the most valuable skill in sales – the skill that will get you employed time and again, and have you at the top of the sales boards time and again – is the ability to consistently bring on and develop new customers.  Period.

The good news is that this is a skill, not a trait.  Traits are who we are; they are not learned and usually not coachable to any strong degree.  Skills are learned, and coachable.  But you have to start with the willingness to learn.  If you’re not interested in learning how to prospect, you’re probably not going to be extremely successful in selling, and when you do have to enter the hiring market, you’re not going to be in demand.  My #1 piece of advice to build your career?  Learn how to successfully prospect for new business.  That’s the most valuable skill in sales.

So what does that successful prospecting look like?  It’s obviously different than it was in 2015.  What hasn’t changed is that salespeople should be self-contained business generation machines, and that machine has several components.  Today’s salesperson must be adept in:

1.  Data-driven telephone prospecting.  That means that today’s salesperson must know and understand how to use databases to find not only the right company but the right person; they must be able to capture the prospect’s attention quickly; and they must be able to work with the fact that contact ratios (the ratio of calls picked up to dials) is anywhere between 1/2 and 2/3 what it was five years ago.  That doesn’t mean that teleprospecting is a waste of time – it means that you have to be better and more efficient at it.

2.  Face to face networking.  Yes, that part of the world has been hit hard by the current year’s events, but that doesn’t mean that the skill of face to face networking for referral generation is going away or has gone away – it means that you have to be good at it and efficient at it.

3. Online social networking (particularly LinkedIn for most of my readers).  LinkedIn is potentially either the best or the worst social networking platform for salespeople to use for prospecting – if you understand that LinkedIn requires building and nurturing relationships, you’re going to do well and it’s the best.  If you hit everyone with a hard-sell message as soon as they connect with you, it will be the worst, no question.

4.  Using technology to connect.  Video and other messaging platforms are here to stay, gang.  That means that if you don’t know how to use Zoom, Skype, Marco Polo, and other communication apps in your prospecting and business generation strategies, you’re in trouble.

The best and highest-paid salespeople are still those who can reliably and consistently bring on and nurture new business.  That’s not going to change, and that will always be the most valuable skill in sales.  And I still don’t need another trainer.