5 Skills Needed to Succeed in B2B Sales

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B2B sales is a unique animal. Your job is to help other businesses do things better while acting as the heart of your own company, pumping revenue into the rest of the organization. That’s why it also takes a unique set of skills to succeed in B2B sales.

What are those skills?

Brian Elrod is a serial entrepreneur who’s founded successful logistics, retail, and software companies. In all cases he’s been responsible for sales and partnership negotiations. He’s also our CEO.

In his experience, these are the five skills needed to succeed in B2B sales. I’m going to share each with you below, offer ways you can improve, and then give you Brian’s #1 way to get better at B2B sales.

1. Listen like you actually care about the person.

The first instinct of a salesman is often to pitch - “Here’s why this thing I’ve got is so great.” But in B2B sales, you’re more of a consultant than a pitchman.

You want someone to get excited about your product and buy it, but it’s your job to show the prospect how your offering will solve their problem and make their life better. That’s why, according to Elrod:

Listening is the most overlooked and important skill for a good B2B salesperson. You have to listen to your prospect’s wants and needs to work with them.

How can you improve your listening skills?

There are lots of ways to get better at listening. One simple way is to wait three seconds after the prospect finishes speaking before you respond.

It’s easy to wait for a pause just long enough so you can interject your own two cents, but the best listeners are more considerate, more relaxed.

2. Learn your product as well as your customer support team.

As a salesman, you know everything good about your product or service. Your customer support team knows everything wrong with your product or service.

They’re the ones fielding customers’ questions and concerns, diving into the nooks and crannies of what you offer. You need that same level of product knowledge, according to Elrod:

… so that you know exactly how to position your offering. Sometimes what’s obvious in your mind is not that obvious to your potential buyer.

The more intimately you understand how your features are used, the better you can share - and steer customers towards - their value.

Steve Jobs Customer Product Quote

How can you improve your product knowledge?

Experience is the most obvious way to improve. Over time, various things will come up and you’ll have lots of learning opportunities. But you should talk to people, too.

Talk to your trainers, your support reps, your product engineers if you’ve got them. Ask them questions like:

  • What do people say about this?
  • Did they expect something different?
  • What’s the motivation behind creating this feature this way?

The more you know, the better you can listen to your prospects and sell them on the value they’ll get from your offerings.

3. Get to know your prospects.

People skills might seem like an obvious need for any job, particularly for one where you spend most of your day on the phone with others. But the ability to build rapport is an often overlooked necessity for B2B sales. As Elrod says:

This seems very basic, but it’s so very important, and not everyone has this skill. Small talk and building relationships are just as important as the pitch.

Related: 15 Unique Conversation Starters to Drive Customer Communications

How can you improve your people skills?

Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is a classic tool for improving your people skills. You can also attend local networking events and community open houses (like those by the Chamber of Commerce and new businesses opening) to practice building rapport.

4. Persistently follow up with your prospects.

80% of sales happen after at least five follow-ups, according to Marketing Donut. Others say it takes anywhere from seven to 13 or more sales touches just to get a qualified lead.

The trouble is that few B2B sales reps are persistent enough to take advantage of all their opportunities. Per Elrod:

Very few sales happen without persistent follow-ups. Sometimes even the most obvious win-win sale takes many follow-up calls, emails, and texts.

How can you improve your persistence?

Two basic things will help you a lot.

First, an organized CRM where everything - including next steps - is tracked clearly. This will help you be almost mechanical about what you need to do each day. Come in, complete your 50 tasks, go home, repeat.

Second, because it’s easy to get discouraged when you can’t reach prospects or hear “no thanks” a lot, reframe your outlook.

You have metrics and averages for your sales efforts. Instead of getting hung up on every prospect, focus on the numbers - the averages.

A sales trainer once told me, “It takes 20 no’s to get a yes. So every morning I wake up and I see how fast I can get to 20 no’s, because I know a yes is on the other side of it.” That’s a great mindset for handling rejection and building your persistence.

5. Find your motivation every day.

It takes a lot of drive to succeed in B2B sales. This is not a job you can do well by just going through the motions.

That’s why finding your motivation and latching onto it is so important. You need a reason to keep dealing with the sales grind. According to Elrod:

The motivation can be anything - commission, self-satisfaction, material things, kids. I don’t think it really matters as long as you are driven to reach your goals.

No one succeeds in B2B sales by accident, so do whatever you have to do to stay motivated.

How can you improve your motivation?

This is a very unique thing to work on, because everyone is motivated differently. If you’re financially motivated, talk to your boss (or to their boss) about ensuring that compensation is properly setup.

If you feed off others’ energy, watch videos like the one below and download a daily motivation app. If you need to make your family proud, keep photos of them on your desk.

If you’re motivated by doing the best job possible, by the finesse of your profession, then read books on the subject and have a heart to heart with your managers about wanting to improve.

What is the best way for B2B salespeople to improve their skills?

There are many ways to get better at B2B sales - watching videos, rehearsing scripts, reading books, role playing, talking to more experienced professionals. But the best way to improve is through hands on training and rigorously tracking your numbers. As Elrod says:

Have a good supervisor or successful peer critique you on calls, demos, or meetings until you consistently nail the process.

It sucks at first, because it’s a lot of pressure to have someone listening. But I’ve seen people who are open to criticism really improve fast with this process.

Most salespeople’s egos or insecurities get in the way of this type of learning, but it works if you are really trying to improve your skill set.

As you go through this training, watch your numbers (calls, meetings, leads, conversions, etc.). Are they increasing or decreasing? Are you doing more or less to bring in a sale? Is the sales cycle shorter or longer? How are your other rates?

The more you train and measure, the better you will become.

Related: 13 Amazing Responses to Stupid Sales Calls Objections