The One Skill-Set College Grads Need to Succeed in Sales

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You just graduated with a B.A. or M.B.A. from a good "B school" and you’re ready to launch your sales career. But do you have the communications skill-set you need to succeed?


“Conventional sales training and academic courses don't prepare young people for the real job they're going to be doing as salespeople, which is to help others, to listen to them, to understand their needs, and to make their lives better,” says Marvin Brown, business communication strategist, speaker, and author of How to Meet and Talk to Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime: Simple Strategies for Great Conversations


Brown says that recent grads entering the sales field need to gain a prospect's trust by understanding and using proper and appropriate interpersonal, face-to-face communication skills. “Trust is about being authentic; it's about showing the other person—through your body language and the words you use—that you're on their side and are working to achieve their best interests,” says Brown.


Brown has developed a list of 10 communication mistakes many new sales employees make--and how to fix them: 


  1. Minimize “lazy talk.” These clichés or fillers—such as “you know” and “like”—should be stripped from conversation. Imagine that your words have value, where vague and meaningless words are worthless, and specific, interesting words cost more. Make your speech more valuable by minimizing lazy speech.
  2. Turn dead ends into open ends. Asking questions that have single-word answers creates conversational dead ends. So ask open-ended questions that spark meaningful exchanges.
  3. Seize the subject. People almost always offer a conversational opening. Don’t let the opportunity to go deeper pass you by. Instead of nodding and saying nothing, follow up with an in-kind question or statement.
  4. Avoid “know-it-all” statements. Couch them as opinions not carved-in-stone facts. Preface with "It seems to me" or "I've come to believe" or "I think."
  5. Don’t be overly charming. Forget the jokes and fancy words. You’ll come across as disingenuous and fake. Talk about plain, simple subjects when trying to get to know and get along with other people.
  6. Speak body language. To give your message impact and win a new client’s trust, make eye contact and smile. Say your name while extending a firm handshake; research shows they're 75% more likely to remember you.
  7. Avoid the awkward exit. When ending conversations graciously with someone we've just met, don't make up an untrue excuse, such as a phone call you're (not) expecting, or say, "Well, uh, I gotta go." Instead, make the other person feel good before you say goodbye. "Richie, it's been a pleasure (smile, offer your hand), but I have to get back to my office. Hope to catch you later."
  8. Don’t spoil a compliment. Don’t contradict the complimenter who tells you that you look great with "Nah, I'm a mess today," or discounting their words by bouncing it right back, "You too." Take it in, and let the other person know that their gesture of generosity is meaningful. Smile, and say something like, "Thanks! You made my day."
  9. Texting, not talking. Even if you know the client well, save texting and emailing for times when you're alone.
  10. Taking criticism poorly. Ignoring a client’s feedback and getting defensive can be a real turn off. Listen to what the client is saying about your work, not about you, personally. Respond with, "Thank you for pointing that out to me," or "That's really helpful—you just did me a big favor."


There’s no getting around it, if you want to succeed in sales you have to become a great communicator.


Image courtesy of photostock/


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