12 Most Critical Sales Skills for B2B Salespeople

12 Most Critical Sales Skills for B2B Salespeople

Last week I posted the 12 Most Essential Attributes of the best B2B Salespeople. Once you possess those attributes, you need to possess all of the skills required to sell and to win business.

I think of each of these skills being the prerequisite for the skills that follow. If you can’t ask for commitments (closing), then you can’t open relationships (prospecting). If you can’t differentiate yourself (differentiate), then you also can’t open opportunities (prospecting). You will surely have your own ideas and opinions about what else is now necessary, but this is how I role up the 12 Most Critical Skills for B2B Salespeople.

1. Closing (The ability to ask for an obtain commitments)

Far too much is made of closing at the end of the sales process. The truth of the matter is, the first commitment (the one to explore working with you) is the most important and most difficult to obtain. That commitment, and all of the small commitments that follow, make closing at the end of the sales process easy, natural, and without requiring a tacky, tactical close.

2. Differentiate (The ability to stand out from the crowd)

If you are going to succeed in B2B sales, you are going to have to be able to differentiate yourself and your offering. You are going to have to be able to share with your prospective clients all of the differences that make a difference to them and to their business.

3. Prospecting:(The ability to open relationships)

Most B2B salespeople fail for the plain and simple reason that they can’t—or won’t—prospect. Winning in sales requires that you be able to open relationships that open opportunities. No deal is ever closed that is not first opened.

4. Business Acumen (A general understanding of business principles)

B2B salespeople are now businesspeople. They’re business managers. Your client isn’t hiring you for your sales acumen. They’re hiring you to understand how to help them achieve better business results, and to own the outcomes that you sold them.

5. Diagnose (The desire to understand)

Great B2B salespeople have a strong desire to understand. They are curious. They develop a deep understanding of their client’s business, their challenges, their opportunities, and their constraints before presenting any solutions.

6. Storytelling (The ability to share a vision)

Storytelling is the ability to create a compelling vision of the future. The best B2B salespeople can capture their client’s vision, and they can share the story of how they will together overcome the obstacles and challenges that stand between them and the results that they need.

7. Negotiation (The ability to create win-win deals)

B2B salespeople have to find a way to overcome their client’s constraints and their company’s constraints. They are charged with finding a way to a deal where everyone benefits. They negotiate with their clients, and they negotiate within their own company to create value-creating, win-win deals.

8. Change Management (The ability to help others improve)

Salespeople sell change. They sell better. They sell improvement. Leading change is difficult even when things go your way. Successful B2B salespeople possess the ability to bring their time, their attention, and their resourcefulness to managing and leading the change that they sell.

9. Leadership (The ability to generate results through others)

The very best B2B salespeople are strategic orchestrators. They lead a diverse team made up of members of their company and their clients. They lead where and when they have no organizational chart authority. They generate results through the efforts of others.

10. Manage Outcomes (The ability to achieve and deliver results)

Salespeople sell outcomes. Their clients buy their ability to manage and own the outcomes that they have sold. All of the preceding skills are what are necessary to being able to deliver those outcomes.

Here is the truth: there are only ten items on my list. But since this is 12 Most, I am compelled to deliver to you two more critical skills that B2B salespeople must possess in order to succeed.

11. Problem Resolution (The ability to work through the inevitable issues)

Delivering is sometimes the hardest part of selling. B2B salespeople must possess the ability to resolve the problems, issues, and challenges that crop up during delivery. (In my mind, this is part negotiation, part change management, and a big part of the 12 Most Essential Attributes of the Best B2B Salespeople).

12. Entertainer (The ability to be easy to spend time with)

I have never written this down before, but it will surely find its way onto my editorial calendar at www.thesalesblog.com. More and more, your authenticity and your ability to be someone who can keep things light is important to selling and keeping your dream client. People don’t want to be around people that are no fun. They want to be around people who are loose and lively enough that they provide everyone around them a license to be the same.

What are the skills that you believe necessary to succeed in B2B sales? Do you have a hierarchy of skills for your chosen profession, if it isn’t sales? How would you benefit from making a list of what is required of you in the way of skills and then set out to improve and develop them?

Image courtesy of Garry Knight. Used under creative commons, some rights reserved.

Anthony Iannarino


S. Anthony Iannarino is the President and Chief Sales Officer at SOLUTIONS Staffing, the Managing Director of B2B Sales Coach & Consultancy, and an Adjunct Faculty Member of Capital University’s School of Management and Leadership. He writes a daily blog on sales and sales effectiveness at The Sales Blog.

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This is an excellent resource for sales professionals. As a marketer, I gauge my success on what happens to the leads I am delivering to the team. It is imperative that they have skills like these to ensure those leads turn into dollars.

I couldnt think of anything you missed which just validates my first statement :) As for me, my top skill right now is multi-tasking. I dont believe there is a marketing position in existence that doesnt require the ability to quickly switch from one task to another and back again.


Great advice as always, Anthony. I have to say my favorite is #12, especially in these days when there is an increasingly small line between "sales person" and "skeevy person." In the online world the line is even smaller still. if you jump in front of me and say, "heyyyyy buy this!" I'm probably not going to take kindly to that. If you build a relationship with me and then say, "by the way, if you ever need..." I will have a lot more respect for you. To me, #12 outweighs them all.


Great post Anthony - I love 6 as I think story telling is the way to sell much more than features/benefits.

But #1 is more important than all....you will never get a sale you don't ask for.


@margieclayman Thanks, the Ubiquitous Margie! All things being equal, relationships win. All things being unequal, relationships still win. I think the part where you care and create value before claiming it is an important point!


Opening commitments are more important than closing commitments. No deal is ever closed that isn't first opened! (I love number 6, too!)

Thanks, Dan!


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