The 3 Most Important Sales Skills of High-Value Reps

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Business Made Simple" by Donald Miller. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the most important sales skills to know? How can you use these skills to increase sales for your company?

According to business and marketing expert Donald Miller, becoming a high-value employee is the key to leading a successful career in an organization. In Business Made Simple, he describes the most important sales skills you should know to make yourself indispensable to an employer.

Read on to learn the three most important sales skills of high-value sales professionals, according to Miller.

The 3 Most Important Sales Skills

If you’ve ever asked yourself why you aren’t making as much progress in your business career as you’d like, Donald Miller says he knows the answer: You’re not adding enough value to your company. Businesses always have the bottom line in mind, and they’re much more likely to notice and promote people who quantifiably add value to the company than people who simply do exactly what’s in the job description and nothing more. For this reason, Miller argues that you should see yourself not as a mere employee, but as an investment by your organization—and one way you can make a return on that investment is by learning the most important sales skills to bring more money into the company.

In his book Business Made Simple, Miller proposes 11 steps to become a good investment for your company, from developing value-adding personal traits to learning how to effectively execute a plan. In this article, we’ll discuss three of the most important sales skills you can learn to become a high value sales professional, according to Miller.

#1: Communicating so Others Listen

According to Miller, to add value to your company as a sales professional, you must excel at basic communication—and especially presentations. 

When making a sales presentation, Miller recommends following a story structure where you immediately state what problem you’ll help the customer solve and your proposed solution (your product or service). Explain how your product will change the customer’s life, what next steps they should take, and the key takeaways they must remember. 

Additionally, for any type of presentation, decide what the main point of your presentation is and connect every subpoint to that main point. If you don’t show how the subpoints feed into your main point, audiences won’t follow them and will become confused. Miller recommends having only three or four subpoints in a presentation. 

Additional Tips on Public Speaking From the World of TED Talks

Miller’s advice on how to deliver an effective presentation is useful but relatively basic. However, if you want to craft a unique and memorable presentation, consider following some advice from Carmine Gallo based on the TED talk format.

First, if you have time, consider weaving in stories other than the one about your product. Gallo agrees with Miller that stories engage people more than any other form of communication, and he suggests you tell your audience a story about your life (perhaps your journey to becoming a business owner) or a story about another person (perhaps a happy customer). 

What’s more, in addition to connecting subpoints to your main point to keep your presentation logical, Gallo also stresses that your presentation should be short—no more than 18 minutes. If it’s longer than that, your audience will tune out, and no matter how logical and well-organized it is, your presentation won’t make an impact. 

#2: Making the Sale by Qualifying Leads, Telling a Story, and Sending Proposals

Miller recommends three actions to take when selling: qualifying leads, pitching in a story format, and sending physical proposals to prospects. 

To avoid wasting company time and money on people who won’t buy your product, qualify leads (verify a potential customer’s likelihood of buying) before engaging further with them. Do this by answering the following questions about them: 1) Do they have a problem your product can solve? 2) Is your product within their budget? 3) Do they have permission from their boss, spouse, or other authority, to buy the product? You can determine these answers by talking to the lead and understanding their situation. 

(Shortform note: For other sales professionals, asking questions is one of the most important sales skills as it’s not only key to qualifying leads but is also key to making the sale itself. Instead of pushing your pitch and product onto the customer, ask questions that let the customer decide for themselves that they want the product, writes Jeffrey Gitomer in the Little Red Book of Selling. But it’s important to ask the right questions. These shouldn’t try to uncover how the customer’s currently doing things but rather should make the customer think about how your product could be a better solution. For instance, you might ask: “If you needed to schedule a video call with team members from all over the world in the next hour, would that be easy?”) 

Miller states that your sales pitch should be made in a story format: First state the customer’s problem and articulate the irritation the prospect feels as a result. Then, explain your proposed solution, followed by a reference to the other clients you’ve helped with the same problem and their testimonials. End by explaining your plan to solve the problem.

(Shortform note: Carmine Gallo suggests another reason, beyond their ability to engage, that stories are extremely effective communication and sales tools: When hearing a story, the audiences’ brains go through the same neurological patterns as the storyteller’s. This means that if you, as the salesperson, are enthusiastic about your product and its ability to solve the customer’s problem, the listener will become so, too.)

Finally, after you’ve delivered your pitch, give your prospect a document or video that succinctly explains what you’re offering. This way, the prospect has all the details they need to make a decision even if they’ve forgotten your pitch. 

(Shortform note: Science backs Miller’s recommendation to give listeners a written summary of your presentation—studies show that people retain only a fraction of the content of any presentation. For instance, when students listen to a 15-minute lecture, they retain 41% of its content. When they listen to a 40-minute presentation, that percentage goes down to 20%. Either way, listeners don’t retain even half the materials in a presentation.)

#3: Negotiating Effectively by Determining the Other Party’s Negotiating Style

Miller writes that one of the most important sales skills to learn is that there are two types of negotiation: cooperative and adversarial. In a cooperative negotiation, both parties want each other to leave the negotiation happy. In an adversarial negotiation, one or both parties want to win and see the other party fail. 

(Shortform note: Someone’s negotiation style might correlate to their reciprocity style, a concept Adam Grant describes in Give and Take. He describes the “giver” style as applying to people who give more to others than they receive. Meanwhile “takers” want to receive more than they give, and they feel others must lose for them to be able to gain. If you’re a cooperative negotiator, you might be a giver, while if you’re an adversarial one, you might be a taker.)

The key is to know what kind of negotiators you and the other party are and to become adversarial if the other party is adversarial. To end the negotiation when you’re satisfied, pretend you’re dissatisfied with the outcome: This signals to the other party that they’ve won. 

(Shortform note: To convincingly feign dissatisfaction at the end of a negotiation, you might take a page out of Jordan Belfort’s The Way of the Wolf. He recommends playing with vocal tonalities to better deliver a pitch, and you can do the same in a negotiation. For instance, inflecting statements as if they were questions makes you seem agreeable but also demands the other party confirm what you’ve just said. You might use this to your advantage by saying, “This is far more money than I was expecting to pay” with a questioning inflection, which prompts the other party to confirm this and makes them feel satisfied they’ve won.)

Additionally, think about what factors other than money influence the other party’s decision, and capitalize on those. You’re more likely to seal a deal when you also speak to the other party’s emotional—not just financial—needs. For instance, when negotiating the sale of a used car on your lot, think about what other facets of the car the buyer might care about. Perhaps the buyer wants to look good when driving, in which case you might point out the sleek leather interior.

(Shortform note: To understand what other factors a buyer is considering, develop empathy as a salesperson. Zig Ziglar believes empathy is key in salespeople because it lets them understand how the customer feels and tailor their pitch to those feelings. Further, when customers feel their needs are understood, they’re more likely to buy.)

The 3 Most Important Sales Skills of High-Value Reps

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Donald Miller's "Business Made Simple" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Business Made Simple summary:

  • Why you aren’t making as much progress in your career as you’d like
  • Why you should see yourself as an investment of your organization
  • 11 steps to add value to yourself as an employee

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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