Almost everybody knows which sales skills are important. Empathy, grit, persistence, professionalism, and preparation all round up the top of the list, but there are many others, such as active listening, resilience, rapport-building, and organization. There’s no shortage of articles out there that outline which sales skills you need, and how to go about developing them (Like these 9 X-Factors of High-Performing Salespeople, for example.)
But what about non-sales skills? Are there things you can do in your personal life that can be both fulfilling while also making you a better seller?
The answer is a resounding yes. There are many ways you can grow as a person, do something enjoyable, all the while honing abilities that can set you apart during the workweek. And while you might not think you’re improving your sales skills while taking part in these non-sales activities, if you take the time to internalize the “lessons” you can learn, then you’ll undoubtedly start seeing results in your professional life too.
Here are five non-sales skills that can actually help you become a better seller:
1. Reading (about people)
Salespeople typically read sales books, business books, or the occasional pop-science non-fiction book such as Atomic Habits or Smarter, Faster, Better. These books are, of course, useful, and there are plenty of lessons in them that we can learn and apply to our respective sales roles. But reading about people, whether in the form of literary fiction or biography, can teach us a lot about human behavior, character, and (perhaps most importantly) empathy. When you read about human beings doing human things, it opens you up to other ways of thinking, makes you more patient, and allows you to put yourself in other people’s shoes. And if there’s one mindset-shift that can be the most impactful in sales, it’s the ability to think from somebody else’s point of view.
2. Games / puzzles
Another great way to develop ways of thinking that can help you in sales is by playing board games or solving puzzles. Games and puzzles help you think strategically, helping you to learn how to plan ahead, think of potential outcomes, and use non-traditional strategies to gain an advantage. Too often, salespeople are so bogged down in their day-to-day, that they don’t bother with creative or unorthodox ways to move things forward; they focus on calling, presenting, and following-up, then letting the chips fall where they may. Games and puzzles allow you to “flex” your “strategy” muscle, so the next time you run into a roadblock with one of your deals, you don’t have to throw in the towel or rely on the prospect to come up with a solution — instead, you can solve your way out of it yourself.
Writing is difficult (trust us on this one), and it’s not a skill that most sales reps think they need to know. These days, however, having writing skills can mean the difference between being a good sales rep and being a great one. Much of the communication that used to take place in person or over the phone now happens via email or text message. This means that it’s important to be able to articulate your points of view effectively, while being mindful of “tone,” which isn’t always easy to get right in writing, despite your best intentions. So make some effort to develop your writing skills, whether it’s through a course, some creative writing exercises, or (and you should be doing this anyway), by re-reading and rewriting your messages to prospects multiple times before hitting send. It’s a tough skill to get right, but in this day and age, it’s practically a necessity.
4. Cycling / running / endurance sports
You might be asking yourself what endurance sports have to do with sales. It’s a good question. Putting aside the obvious health benefits of exercise, and the mood and energy changes that come with them, endurance sports teach us a very important skill: to keep pushing even when things get really tough. There’s nothing that can so directly teach you about pushing past adversity like wanting to quit when you’re halfway through your run. But even if it’s not running or cycling or CrossFit, committing to exercising regularly and then sticking to the routine can make a world of difference in your health as well as your mindset. And in sales, these two things are practically half the battle.
Being a sales rep is actually quite similar to being an entrepreneur. In both cases, you’re responsible for moving your “business” forward, and in both cases, nothing happens until you make it happen. But putting that aside, there’s another reason why sales reps should strive to learn about entrepreneurship and business in general. That reason is because understanding business concepts will allow you to understand your prospect’s problems in a deeper and more meaningful way. And the way that knowledge will benefit you is by not only allowing you to tailor a solution more effectively, but by showing them that you’re a knowledgeable and trusted source of information. So even if you have no intention of starting your own business someday, you should still learn as much about it as you can. There’s no downside at all, and it will only increase your potential.
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