How to Improve Sales Skills: 3 Strategies for Success

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Sales Bible" by Jeffrey Gitomer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are some ways to make a good impression on prospective customers? What skills should you sharpen?

Jeffrey Gitomer, the author of The Sales Bible, recommends polishing your selling skills in order to impress your prospects. This includes knowledge, preparedness, and several other qualities that can make you an effective salesperson. He shares three strategies that can drive you toward sales success.

Keep reading to learn how to improve sales skills.

How to Improve Sales Skills

By putting plenty of effort into preparation, you can make the best impression on your prospects, which then increases your chances of making a sale and achieving your goals. (Shortform note: While Gitomer details several strategies for making the best impression, he doesn’t mention how much time you have to win people over. Entrepreneur Jordan Belfort says that you should make a good impression within the first four seconds of a conversation, or you’ll fail to close the sale.)

In particular, if you want to learn how to improve sales skills, focus on these three strategies:

1) Become the Modern Salesperson

Gitomer writes that today’s most effective salespeople don’t act like salespeople. Instead they act more like consultants or advisers. As such, these non-salespeople salespeople have the following characteristics:

Extremely knowledgeable. They use their solid product knowledge—often gained from years of using the product themselves—to give customers good recommendations. They focus on what they can give customers rather than what they can get from them, so they share insights that can help customers solve their problems. (Shortform note: Having solid product knowledge is essential because customers value salespeople who provide insight. In The Challenger Sale, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson write that customers want to learn something more than they want to buy something, and they look for any information that can help them cut costs, increase profit, and minimize risk.) 

For example, Gitomer cites one person who, before moving to the sales department at a repair and maintenance company, spent years supervising heavy equipment operation. He became so knowledgeable and provided such good service that customers preferred to place their orders through him instead of the company’s salespeople. (Shortform note: While the person in Gitomer’s example accumulated his deep knowledge through first-hand work experience, you don’t have to start out in another department to have an intimate knowledge of your product. Other ways to increase your product knowledge are to talk to other people in the company, read product literature and industry publications, read online forums, and get feedback from customers.)

Humorous. Gitomer says that a surefire way to make a sale is to make the customer laugh. He recommends keeping a joke file and to test out jokes on other people. Remember not to make fun of other people and instead make yourself the punchline. (Shortform note: If you’re not naturally funny, Gitomer offers some tips to hone your humor in the Little Red Book of Selling, such as visiting comedy clubs, taking an acting class, and reading joke books.)

Trustworthy. The modern salesperson gains the customer’s confidence by answering questions honestly and providing product literature, warranties, after-sales support, and the option to return products if customers aren’t satisfied. (Shortform note: Experts say that being trustworthy is important for three reasons: First, trust builds intimacy and leads to repeat business; second, trust makes customers more forgiving of your mistakes; and third, trust encourages customers to recommend you to other people, thus expanding your customer base.)

Accessible. They make it easy for customers to do business with them. They’re easy to reach, give customers a free 30-day trial, and make the return process painless. (Shortform note: Research suggests that an easy customer journey can do more for your sales than new products or special offers. Ask yourself, “How can I make it easier for customers to decide to buy my product? How can I give them a smooth purchasing experience?”)

2) Master Your Script

Another way to make a great impression is to prepare a script. Gitomer says that you should memorize this script and use it over and over, adapting it to different situations. (Shortform note: It’s important to have a script because it makes you appear prepared and keeps you from saying the wrong thing, which can turn a potential customer off. In Way of the Wolf, Jordan Belfort writes that a script can make rookies seem like experts, but that even seasoned salespeople should still use a script.)

In particular, you should master the following talking points:

Your Introductory Script

Also known as the elevator pitch, your introduction is a 30-second opener that you can use on a prospect. Gitomer says it should be creative and memorable, providing just enough information to make the other person curious. (Shortform note: Experts caution against confusing the introduction with the sales pitch. While the sales pitch is a formal sales presentation, the introduction typically takes place during a casual conversation. It may start with someone asking you, “So, what do you do?”)

The centerpiece of the introduction is what Gitomer calls the “power statement”—a description of your product or service that is compelling enough to move the prospect to act. (Shortform note: Others call this an “opening statement” or a “sales statement.” Your objective is to have a succinct spiel that can create sales opportunities.) When done right, this statement gives you an opening to sell or set an appointment. Gitomer stresses that you should highlight how your product or service can benefit your prospect. 

(Shortform note: Additionally, sales trainer Jordan Belfort advises being mindful of your tone and body language when you deliver your script. In Way of the Wolf, he writes that you should also be enthusiastic, introduce yourself and your company, speak informally, and use superlatives such as “fastest” and “most popular.”) 

Your Discovery Questions

Gitomer says that you should spend 25 percent of a sales call talking and asking questions, and the rest of the time listening. Asking the right questions can help you identify the prospect’s pain points, enabling you to tailor your pitch to their requirements. He recommends coming up with a list of 15 to 25 open-ended questions that can reveal a prospect’s needs, problems, and concerns, as well as a separate list of 15 to 25 questions that can bring them closer to a commitment (for example, “When should we send over our product for you to try?”).

How to Develop Your List of Discovery Questions

The right questions can unearth important information that can help you close a sale. In To Sell Is Human, Daniel Pink outlines three steps to help you come up with a useful set of questions:

1) Generate: Write down as many questions as you can think of without self-editing.
2) Enhance: Divide the questions into two categories: open-ended or closed. Turn some of your closed questions into open-ended variations, and vice versa.
3) Prioritize: Determine your top three most powerful questions, and lead with these.

3) Improve Your Sales Tools

A third way you can make a good impression on your prospects is with your sales tools. Start with the sales letter: Gitomer advises using the sales letter as a springboard for the next step in the selling process, whether it’s to set up a meeting or close a sale. As such, you should be concise—state your objective, briefly describe what you’re offering, then leave some details for your presentation. End by specifying when you’ll call. (Shortform note: Other experts likewise warn that you shouldn’t bombard prospects with unnecessary details, as giving them more information than they need can overwhelm or confuse them, causing them to disengage.) 

When it comes to your slide presentations for sales calls, Gitomer says that your objective should be to encourage a dialogue with your prospects. His main guidelines are to make the presentation professional (make sure it’s easy to read with no distracting animation or low-quality images), engaging (ask questions instead of making statements), and credible (include testimonials from satisfied customers). 

What Should the Presentation Say?

Gitomer has some general guidelines for making professional-looking presentations, but he doesn’t go into specifics about the content. In New Sales Simplified, author Mike Weinberg says that your presentation should have five parts:

1) Title slide
2) Agenda
3) Introductory statement—List three to five bullet points that describe why customers turn to your company.
4) Client-focused statement—List your understanding of the client’s issues based on your research.
5) Dialogue—Ask the audience for their input and use the information to customize the presentation to their needs.

Weinberg adds that it’s best to have an initial meeting before making a presentation so that you can gather enough information to make a more effective presentation.
How to Improve Sales Skills: 3 Strategies for Success

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Sales Bible summary:

  • How to become a non-salesperson salesperson
  • How to make the best impression within the first 30 seconds
  • Methods for closing the sale without being pushy

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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