16 Sales Competencies That Define Winning Sales Teams

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Employee turnover is expensive. Hiring the best sales professionals is crucial for organizations.

Excellent sales candidates will have a specific set of core sales competencies. It is the manager’s job to uncover these competencies in the interview process.

What makes a great sales candidate?

Sales competencies for sales professionals are shared across the sales team in order to produce the most successful reps. These core competencies span every role on the sales team, from rep to manager.

In this article, we’ll define core sales competencies, discuss why they are critical to the sales and management process.

What Are Sales Competencies?

Sales competencies are the skills successful reps use to influence buying decisions.

These aptitudes are both inherent traits to their personality and skills or processes that can be trained and practiced. Understanding what these select proficiencies are, how they contribute to a sales professional’s success, and how to recognize them in a candidate will make a significant difference in your ability to hire the right people and reduce sales rep turnover.  

3 Core Competency Areas for Any Sales Professional

Whether they are converting inbound sales calls, fighting it out in the field or managing from behind the front-lines, sales professionals need a particular set of foundational skills.

Sales core competencies center around three areas:

1. Systems. How do you get a person from a prospect to a closed deal? Short answer: systems and processes. Systems encompass the ways your processes lead to sales. From prospecting to time management to uncovering new opportunities from established accounts, systems sales core competencies are ways sales reps achieve their goals. Per Rain Sales Training, sales reps should have skill areas that help them drive opportunities, account growth, and ultimately, success.

2. People. Sales is always about people, so reps and managers must have People skills – the ability to lead and manage a conversation, to create emotional engagement, and earn the trust of others.  

3. Sales. All reps need to effectively prospect, manage pipeline, uncover pain, capture benefits, demonstrate product-fit, and negotiate the close.

16 Competencies That Define High-Performing Sales Teams (By Category)

Time Management
Plan for Success
Build Rapport
Lead Conversations
Drive Buying Decisions
Control Emotions
Maintain Positivity
Prospect Consistently
Define Criteria
Build Solutions 
Sell Benefits / Value
Negotiating Prowess

Systems: Competencies that Improve the Sales Process

1. Prospecting

Finding needs in the marketplace keeps the pipeline full of potential customers for new business. It’s essential to research industries, uncover the main friction points, and define the ideal customer profile

Essential attributes for this area would be the ability to comprehend various businesses and the related challenges of the sectors, a talent for asking the right questions, even the tough ones, and, as the sales training experts the Gulas Group says, a focus on getting prospects to “quantify the pain.”

2. Upselling

Reps need to be able to identify opportunities for expansion revenue. For sales managers, this area entails watching the team’s account management approach and training them to incorporate a way of “checking in” with accounts to stay on top of any changes or new opportunities.

Key attributes for this area would be active listening, attention to detail in account management, and knowing what questions to ask when.

3. Time Management

Self-management is a significant factor influencing success in sales because often there is little oversight and accountability for a sales rep’s activity day-to-day. It is incumbent upon the rep and manager alike to keep themselves on task and address each part of the sales process.

Necessary attributes of people accomplished at managing time are that they can communicate how they divide their time between the various stages of the sales cycle and what tools they use to measure their progress toward these goals.

4. Plan for Success

A talent for planning is essential because shows how sales professionals intend to accomplish their goals. Effective planners know the end goal and plan around achieving those goals. An effective planner has a day-to-day breakdown of their time and a way to record progress, as well as the ability to share why it works for them and examples of past successes as a result of their behavior.  

5. Accountable

When it comes to sales competency, the capacity to see how one’s actions create results is a huge predictor of success. People who understand how what they do creates reactions will be successful because they own their process and the results they get with it. Sales professionals who have an aptitude for taking responsibility tend to internalize the blame rather than accuse others. They also accept that it is impossible to control everything, and instead concentrate on managing their actions and reactions to situations. These individuals also recognize that it is okay to fail—even though they would rather succeed.

6. Ownership

Sales competency also includes the concept of owning one’s actions. A person who owns the sale asks tough questions at the appropriate times, knows when to push a deal that is dragging on, and isn’t afraid to get to a fast no. The Gulas Group says, when a sales rep owns the sale, he or she “doesn’t need approval” and gets the job done.

People: Competencies that Build Rapport and Trust

7. Build Rapport

It’s crucial that sales reps and managers know how to create emotional engagement with people and help buyers consider new ideas.

Key Attributes

– Understanding how to help people relax and get comfortable
– Communicate well
– Foster trust with others

In the case of the sales manager, you need to do what you say you will for your team always—a vital element for excellence in leadership—to build trust with your team.

8. Lead Conversations

An essential sales skill is taking control of the conversation when you need to, and knowing when to let the prospect speak.

Some important behaviors for this sales core competency are:

– The awareness to ascertain the comfort-level of the conversation participants and
– The ability to adapt and move forward, particularly when the unexpected occurs

9. Drive Buying Decisions

Sales is about getting people to buy, so knowing how to encourage people to make a purchase is essential. Key attributes in this area are fearlessness when it comes to asking for a yes and the ability to navigate back to an area of opportunity when the answer is no. Also, excellent listening skills are crucial as what a person says in a sales call long before the closing stages tell you what he or she wants to be included before saying “yes.”

10. Control Emotions

A vital core competency of successful sales reps and managers is the emotional intelligence to manage one’s feelings and the feelings of other people.  Controlling emotions requires much self-awareness and self-confidence.

People with strong core competencies in this area show restraint, do not panic, and know what to say or do at the appropriate time.  

11. Maintain Positivity

Sales is a demanding job, and that staying upbeat and optimistic in slow periods is essential to keep hammering on doors and opening new opportunities.

Sales: Competencies to Crush Your Quota

12. Prospect Consistently

Prospecting is a numbers game that fills the sales pipeline with new potential buyers. Successful salespeople recognize that it is a priority to find new accounts, so they set aside time dedicated to discovering them. The behaviors associated with consistent prospecting include awareness of how many calls it takes to find a new prospect, a record of making those calls promptly, and a willingness to learn from mistakes or outcomes of unsuccessful calls.

Sales managers should be monitoring and coaching their teams to dedicate time, energy, and understanding to this vital area of sales competency.

13. Define Criteria

Knowing who will say yes and how much they will buy are critical bits of information to uncover during the discovery phase of the sale process.

Sales professionals effective at discovering the parameters of a sale will spend less time on accounts with the smallest potential and focus instead on the best opportunities. These sales professionals can get past the gatekeeper and speak to the decision maker. Then, they are efficient at finding out the available budget.

14. Build Solutions

Finding a mutually beneficial way to yes is crucial in sales. An essential skill for sales reps and managers is the ability to read a situation and fix any challenges that occur.

For sales reps, this aptitude exhibits in matching the buyer’s pain points to the product’s features and benefits.

For managers, this sales manager competency presents as a talent for uncovering weaknesses in the team’s systems, process, or skills and addressing them with training.

15. Sell Benefits / Value

For reps, sales competency is shown in their ability to not only explain the feature of the product or service, but how it solve their pains. For managers, this manifests in the ability to convince salespeople to adopt their suggestions into their personal sales process.

16. Negotiating Prowess

While presenting value is critical to success, the ability for sales reps to customize the deal for the buyer leads to more sales.

Sales managers must also adjust their expectations to their team’s needs to get the best performance from their sales reps. People who are excellent at negotiation know it means getting mutual agreements in stages, knowing when to hold your ground, and having some wiggle room to get the deal approved ahead of time.

3 Competencies That Don’t Dictate Sales Success

We just covered seventeen sales competencies that are crucial to sales team success for both sales reps and managers. However, there are a few competencies that you should not worry about as much.

In other words, here are three areas you should stop emphasizing:

1. Education: It is natural to assume a person who has achieved many academic successes and a long list of degrees will be excellent at sales. While it is true that the best sales professional candidates should be smart and articulate, they do not have to have excellent grades or a slew of diplomas to be successful sales professionals.  

2. Geniality: Being friendly is a magnificent trait in a person and a co-worker. However, friendliness is not essential to sales success. Does that mean the best candidates are rude and unsociable? Of course not. While sales performance does not necessitate being the prospect’s best friend, it does need the rep to be likable and trustworthy.

3. Thoroughness: In nearly any other job, being a conscientious rule-follower is a plus for success, but not in sales. As we mentioned earlier, sales professionals should be hard workers that use systems, but they should also be flexible and adaptable to the situations as they present themselves.  

Let Sales Competencies Define the Hiring Process

Sales competencies are why salespeople can do what they do. Sales manager competencies are how sales managers get them to do it. Both are the skills and talents the sales professionals have for influencing the behavior of others.

There are core competencies for sales professionals that are critical to the members or potential members of any sales team. These sales core competencies fall within the three areas, which include Systems they use, People skills they have, and Sales mechanics they employ. From time management to leading conversations well to negotiating tactics, the sales competencies list is long and detailed.

However, while the list is long, some common competencies for success in other jobs are not on it. Education, geniality, and thoroughness seem like they would be vital, but experience shows they are not crucial for sales success. That said, having those competencies certainly would not hurt a candidate.

Understanding the key elements that fit within each of the core competencies will make defining job roles and expectations much easier, and ensure you are hiring the most qualified candidates. Perhaps most importantly, employing the most qualified candidates could also make you the least likely to be retaining their replacements in a few months.


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“21 Core Competencies of Successful Salespeople.” www.gulasgroup.com. Web. 21 November 2018. http://www.gulasgroup.com/sales-competencies.shtml.

Lawrence, Ph.D., Amy. “5 Competencies to Focus on When Hiring Salespeople.” www.selectinternational.com. Web. 26 November 2018. http://www.selectinternational.com/blog/5-competencies-to-focus-on-when-hiring-salespeople.