If you could only train 1 skill to sales people, what is that?

I have often asked people in many professions the question when they are trying to prioritize their tasks “If you are only allowed to do 1 thing, what is that”? It is amazing how that gets the person to absolutely prioritize and suddenly they have great clarity on what to do first.

So why don’t we do that in sales development. Why don’t we ask the question :

If you could only train 1 skill to sales people, what is that?

And of so what is that skill.

Yet we see the same tendency of sales performance. Some salespeople are so much more successful than others. The Pareto principle (20% of sales people do 80%) is even more active in the sales arena, because it is so easily measurable. Top performers often outperform their colleagues by 10 to 30 times.

So what is it? Even more important … if we could only train one thing, what is that one thing?

Some research from different sources :

  • Harvard Business Review in the article “What Separates the Strongest Salespeople from the Weakest” by Steve W. Martin lists the first point as Verbal Acuity. This refers to a communication level where the meaning, nature, and importance of the words spoken by the salesperson are personally understood by the customer.
  • The National Association of Sales Professionals in the article “Selling Skills… Communication is Key” by Leigh Ashton highlights that “Having excellent communication skills is vital if you are going to achieve sales success”.
  • Inc.com‘s article “Without This Skill, You Won’t Succeed” by Jeff Haden it so clearly states “In essence, sales skills are communication skills”.
  • thesalesblog.com also highlights communication in the article “4 Ways To Improve Your Communication Skills for Sales” by Anthony Iannarino … “Great salespeople have the ability to speak well and to convey their ideas and their solutions”.
  • In the article “9 Traits That Sales Stars Share” (inc.com) by Geoffrey James the number 1 trait is listed as Communication skills.
  • And the list goes on …

It is so obvious from all the research that communication is the key skill. So why don’t we do just that. Start with communication, start with what the number 1 contributor is to some people being superstars in sales.

The answer must lie in the fact that a lot of times sales development decisions are made by people that have never been in sales, or we need the training so that we can police the sales people (e.g. methodology and pipeline management) or the sales training company did a great job (which never flows over to our own sales people).

I am not saying that the people are wrong or that methodology is wrong. It stays important, but not the differentiating factor.

But there is a caveat. Many companies will say they do communication, many give tips and techniques. Many esoteric examples are given. Yet people still battle with this concept.

What people want to improve communication :

  • A model for communication – e.g. some people like the big picture, some people like the detail, some people like emotions and some people like structure.
  • An assessment to understand my own preference (not a personality profile as people filter their communication. A true communication profile)
  • Make it practical for what I sell and for my company.

It is that simple. Don’t make it esoteric, or too process driven, or too predictive.

Remember experiences sell. When you communicate and interact you are creating an experience for the other person. Every interaction has an impact. Every word has an impact.

So that number 1 skill is communication, but do it correctly otherwise your sales people might spend so much time trying to alter communication that they forget to sell.