There are dozens of selling skills that a good salesperson should have. Here are three of the most important.

1. Prospecting. Without a consistently full pipeline, you will struggle to meet your sales targets and goals. You will experience peaks and valleys and a great deal of frustration. Unfortunately, very few companies actually teach salespeople how to prospect effectively. And the vast majority relies on just a few prospecting methods, such as cold calling or networking.

However, there are many other ways to drum up new business, including asking for referrals, approaching customers who haven’t purchased from you recently, speaking at industry conferences, writing articles, joining and actively participating in associations, looking for opportunities to sell deeper into existing customers, conducting face-to-face cold calls and arranging weekly get-togethers. The key is to dedicate a significant amount of your weekly schedule to prospecting activities regardless of how long you have been in business.

2. Questioning. Although this sounds like a fundamental concept, the majority of salespeople I have encountered over the last 15 years are incapable of executing it. Many salespeople ask low-value questions that do little to engage prospects in the sales conversation. Examples include: “Are you the decision maker?” “What’s your budget?” “What do you know about our company?” “Are you interested in saving money?” and “What are your needs?” By asking tired, outdated questions such as these, many salespeople fail to differentiate themselves from the competition or demonstrate their expertise.

A true sales professional knows how to ask high-value questions, questions that encourage a prospect to share details and information about his or her business that can help the rep effectively position a solution. High-value sales questions can transition into tough, penetrating questions that make your prospects sit up and think. Such questions cause them to say, “That’s a good question.”

Some examples are: “What goals are you striving to achieve this quarter?” “What challenges are you experiencing trying to reach those targets?” “What are those problems costing you in terms of lost revenue, customers, market share, etc.?” “What impact is that having on your business? On you?” “How important is this project compared to the others on your plate?” “What could potentially prevent this from moving forward?” and “What internal challenges do you need to deal with before this project gets the go-ahead?” When you develop the ability to ask high-value questions, you will stand out from your competition while also learning more about your prospect’s specific situation.

3. Listening. You can ask all the questions in the world but if you don’t listen carefully to what the other person tells you, you are wasting your time and losing valuable sales opportunities. Active listening means actually hearing what people tell you. It means asking clarifying questions when the other person says something vague or something that requires elaboration.

True listening means that you stop multi-tasking during a telephone conversation. Don’t type notes into your computer, scan emails or do anything else. Focus your full attention on the other person. Listen for underlying meanings, clues and cues and respond accordingly. And one of the most effective ways to show prospects that you have listened (and heard) what they have told you is to quickly recap the important key points.

Selling in today’s hectic and complex business world requires tremendous effort and energy. It is highly competitive and stressful. However, you can improve your results and achieve a much higher return on your investment by developing and applying these essential sales skills.

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