What is single most important skill a sales person can develop?


If you ask 100 different sales professionals you are likely get answers like:

  • Overcoming objections
  • Asking questions
  • Presenting
  • Asking for the business
  • Cold calling
  • Following up


While these skills are certainly valid and important for sales success, there is another skill that we typically don’t think about developing that produces sales success.  That is the skill of PRACTICE.

Practice vs luck Terry hansen


The skill of practice is the most important skill a sales person can develop.  If a sales person is not good at practicing selling skills they will always struggle with mediocre performance and average results.  Think about the top sales people in your organization.  Have you watched or listen to them sell?  Don’t they make it look easy, almost like magic?  Aren’t they so smooth?  Great athletes, artists, doctors, musicians and other craftsman have similar qualities to them.  How did they get so good at their craft?  They practice and practice and practice.  Sales professionals have a very sophisticated craft called “selling”.  Why would be expect anything less of sales professionals when it comes to practice their craft than we do with a professional athlete?



Have you heard the term “arrested development”?  What does that mean for sales people?  Arrested means stopped, blocked or interrupted.  Arrested sales development occurs when a sales person has hit a plateau in the development of their selling skills.  Behavioral science tells us that it takes about 50 hours, when learning a new skill, to reach a basic level of proficiency.  This is not mastery, mind you.  Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell we learned that mastery requires about 10,000 hours.  So let’s pretend you are a new sales person and you are learning to give a product demo.  That is a skill that requires practice.  Let’s pretend that you practice this skill for 30 minutes each day of the week.  It would take about 5 months for this new sales person to become proficient at giving a product demo.



After about 5 months of diligent effort the sales person notices that they have reached a basic level of know-how and ability.  Typically at this point the sales person stops trying to refine their selling skill because they do not notice a significant increase in sales results.  There is somewhat of a diminishing margin of return on their efforts so they move onto other selling skills and settle with their acceptable level of performance.  This is where the sales person plateaus, or “arrests”, their skill development.



There is a common sales myth that suggests that sales people who have been selling for many years are more skilled and better performers than sales people who have been selling for fewer years.  Unfortunately time, experience and seniority are not direct indicators of an elite sales performance.  The fact is a 10 year veteran may be no more skilled at closing sales or overcoming objections that a 2 year beginner.  The difference in reaching the highest level of selling mastery lies in developing two things:  a growth mindset and purposeful practice.  These two characteristics can be found in all top performing sales people.



Sales professionals who develop a growth mindset view their journey to sales mastery as a simple stair case leading upwards.  Each stair step represents a mini-goal or achievement they are striving to reach.  With diligent practice and effort they reach their mini-skill-development-goal and then set their sights on the next mini-goal right above them.  They do not get discouraged when failure occurs because they look back and see the progress they have made and take pride in knowing they have accomplished great things.  They understand failure is part of practice but so is achievement and accomplishment.  They keep practicing and continue stepping up to the next level of achievement.

Growth mindset - Terry Hansen


There are five critical elements that sales professionals use to improve their selling skills and reach Sales Mastery.

  • Focused Instruction. Sales people need consistent and steady sales training to help them understand the “what”, “why”, “when” and “how” behind the selling skill to be developed.
  • Performance Standard. Sales people need to know what the ideal or perfect delivery of a skill looks like.  Every athlete needs to know where the finish line, home plate or end zone is in order to know when they cross it.  They need to know what standard to hit.
  • Intentional Practice. Sales people must consistently take time out of their schedule to deliberately practice something specific.  Examples of selling skills to practice might be asking questions, doing a product demo, overcoming objections, etc.  Whatever it might be, they need time to practice and get better at those skills.
  • Concentration. Sales people must devote their full attention to the task of practicing.  Removing distractions and concentrating on the task is critical to learning, retaining and improving performance.
  • Rapid Feedback. Sales people need a manager or accountability partner to watching them, critique them and share feedback on what they did well, as well as, suggestions for further improvement.  The feedback is always shared against the performance standard they are shooting for.



Here are some questions to ask yourself about your sales team or your own selling efforts:

  • What selling skills do you consider to be vital in your business?
  • How often do you drill, rehearse, role play and practice those skills?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest) how would you score your level of proficiency at those particular skills?
  • Have you identified what the next level of skill mastery looks like?
  • Do you have a “sales coach” who can provide instruction and feedback for improvement?
  • Do you make effort to remove distractions so you can concentrate fully on your skill practice?
  • Do you celebrate your skill development accomplishments?


Even though it is a bit counterintuitive, developing the skill of practice is the most important skill a sales professional can acquire.  This is second only to the development of a growth mindset.  It is easy for sales people and sales managers to get frustrated over poor sales results and not know where to turn for solutions.  Sometimes the answer can be as simple as MORE QUALITY PRACTICE OF SALES FUNDAMENTALS.


Would your sales team benefit from a refresher on strategies to improve their selling skill?  Email Terry L. Hansen ( with value code: “VALU2016” to receive a complimentary 1 hour training for you or your sales team.  Offer good through March 31st, 2016.



Terry L. Hansen is a popular speaker, consultant, trainer, and author on helping sales and customer service teams improve their ability to create value for their prospects and clients. He is regularly asked to train organizations on strategies to find more prospects, close more sales, and increase customer loyalty. You can follow or connect with Terry on Twitter (@TerryLHansen) or on LinkedIn ( To contact Terry please email or by calling 844-205-5054.