Updated March 2023
By and large, the tech world has shown that they tend to value skills over pedigree. Throughout the software industry, companies continue to seek out individuals who can get the job done, even if they don’t necessarily have a degree to back that up. Companies like IBM have reported that 10-15% of their new hires don’t have a traditional four-year degree. Rather than following education paths, the realm of software is populated by people with a passion for product, hard work, and innovation. But, this isn’t only true for the technical side of business, either. Software sales is a rapidly growing field where employers need talent with the right skills.
A software sales representative grows a company and gets their products into the marketplace. For the software sales career path, a high school diploma is sufficient to get started. While you don’t need a software sales degree (which doesn’t even exist), pursue software sales education or majors for software sales, there are instincts and habits that elevate an average software sales rep to an elite performer. Here are four of the most important skills employers look for when hiring candidates for software sales positions.
1. Effective Communication
Not surprisingly, communication is the biggest part of any successful software sales career. Spending all day interacting with leads and clients requires the ability to express not just the value propositions of your own product but translating how those values can meet the buyer’s pain points. While techniques such as active listening can play a huge role in developing these conversations, at its core communication is about rhetoric.
This is the science and art of persuasion. Even millennia ago, great thinkers like Aristotle were contemplating this aspect of communication. He broke the practice into three general rules:
- The first is to establish credibility with your audience by demonstrating you know their challenges and empathize with their needs.
- The second is to appeal to emotion. Doing so can help to trump reason and help them understand why your software sales could be a solution to make their lives easier.
- The third is making a valid argument, tying together the logical and emotional sides of the buyer’s brain and appealing to what they truly value.
When a software sales rep can combine all these elements of strong rhetoric, employers will be excited by this ability to effectively communicate to customers.
2. Relationship Building
It’s rare to close a deal on the first try. According to InsideSales, half of all closed deals happen after the fifth contact. With the complexity of software sales, a quick sell is even less likely. Particularly in enterprise software, there is a lot of customization that’s going on. These deals require not just a software sales pitch, but an understanding by the software sales rep of what the buyer truly needs. Demonstrating how you can build relationships with clients can make you a top candidate. Even after you make the jump to software sales, this skill can quickly boost your numbers. Salesforce has stated that 51% of their best sales reps focus on relationship-building.
Customers are driven to software companies because they see the software could solve a problem. However, many might not realize how far-reaching their issues are. They might suspect their current software is causing a dip in sales. However, once you get to know their business goals, successes, and failures, you may be able to communicate how your product can help to improve other areas of their company. Placing an emphasis on building a relationship with clients will grow persistence and the soft touch needed by top software sales reps.
When we imagine a typical salesperson, it’s hard not to fall back on old clichés like used car dealers or slick telemarketers. In fact, a recent study of buyers found that the top complaint about sales reps was them being too pushy. Expressing confidence in a product or service is key for software sales jobs, but it’s about more than firing off statistics or value propositions. Reps need to have a constant dedication to learn software sales, and that means understanding how to sell.
Part of that is due to changes in the buying process itself. The B2B and B2C world has shown a dramatic shift away from dependence on the salesperson. Daren Tomey of Revenue Path Group said that the number one mistake sales reps make is “not adapting” to these new standards and looking to the software sales future.
“B2B buyers are buying as if they buy online,” says Daren, “It’s all impulse. They’re doing their research and they make their impulse. Buyers aren’t talking to the salesperson as they’re going through that process. Software sales people are using antiquated selling techniques”
The answer? Tomey says it’s all about what’s known as “impulse creation.” That means instilling in the buyer the idea that this is not only the right choice, but that it’s the right choice, right now.
“You’re really playing to what’s called the ‘reptilian brain.’ That’s the base of the stem, the fight or flight instinct. You’re either in or you’re out.” What Tomey means by this is you’re not really selling a product; you’re selling a feeling.
You need to create a situation that feels important and immediate, without making the buyer feel uncomfortable or pressured.
4. Staying Coachable
When it’s going right, software sales can be one of the most exhilarating fields out there. With the competitive pay and commission structures, as well as a fast-paced environment, skilled software sales reps can see their careers – and bank accounts – grow quickly. However, just as being overly-confident can negatively impact communication with a client, it can also cause software sales reps to put on blinders when it comes to personal improvement.
A good example of the importance of remaining coachable is the failure rate that comes with sales promotions. One company found that while 60% of their reps were promoted or transferred, almost 40% of the SDRs were terminated. Why? Much of it may come from trying to move forward too quickly.
While the failure rate for sales reps being promoted after 11 or less months was 55%, that number dropped drastically to 6% for those with 16 or more months experience. The lesson here is that staying open to personal improvement and outside help will not only make you a great software sales professional, but generally great to work with. In fact, companies are taking note of this as well, with studies showing that continuous training gives 50% higher net sales per employee.
5 Skills to Succeed in Software Sales, According to Software Sales Executives
What is 1 skill you need to succeed in software sales?
We asked software sales leaders in the tech community for 1 skill you need to succeed in software sales. If you’re wondering, “Do you need a degree for tech sales?” or “Do you need a degree for software sales?”, it might help to know that none of these skills below require a software sales education.
Here are the skills to succeed in software sales, according to executives in the Powderkeg tech community:
“The one skill you need to succeed in software sales is the ability to LISTEN. A close second is asking the right question.. Prospects have many things on their mind when they are considering a solution for their business. It’s our job as sales to be their consultant to help them make the right decision. A great nugget I heard recently is: When a prospect shares something important, there should be a moment of silence after. If you start talking immediately it shows you were not listening.”
– Taylor Simoneaux, Sales + Marketing, Groundwork
“Listening is critical in software sales. My career leading up to SaaS founder was largely consulting. I’m used to asking questions and then listening. Listen to what the prospect says and then dare to give them what they need, not what they asked for. I’m 95% consultant and maybe 5% what I’d consider a “sales.” Bonus skill that is not really a skill: Sell “what’s on the truck.” Customers appreciate transparency knowing you’re selling what you have today that works, not your road map.”
– Rick McGlinchey, Co-founder at PureInsights
2. Balance new deals with those already in the pipeline
“To succeed in software sales, you’ve got to be able to move fast and constantly balance pipeline growth and deal management. It’s a constant pursuit of new deals and the ability to stay on top of those in play. Additionally, you’ve got to listen more than you speak to ensure you’re working to solve a problem, not simply presenting features. It’s a balance, for sure.”
– Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO & Co-Founder at Casted
3. Develop high emotional intelligence
“The best SaaS performers need to be hyper-aware of and able to regulate their own thoughts and feelings, as that will shape how they approach their conversations. Additionally, a rep with a strong EQ will adapt their communication approach to resonate with individual buyers.”
– Alison Farber, VP of Sales at Method
4. Ask good questions
“Asking discovery questions related to the prospect’s high-level business objectives and issues they are experiencing with accomplishing those objectives is a key skill for success in software sales. If you do this well, you’ll later be able to position your solution relative to resolving the issues that are preventing the prospect from achieving their business objectives.”
– Tom Millay, CEO at DemandJump
5. Pace with the customer’s expectations
“The ability to assess the temperature and direct the pacing accordingly. Don’t force the process into moving too quickly, but also don’t intentionally delay. Instead, move as closely as possible to the pacing expectations of your prospect without compromising your objectives. Outline every step of your sales process and only drive one step at a time.”
– Kyle Smith, Founder & CEO at Escalated Solutions
How to Succeed in Software Sales
While these soft skills can help anyone excel in software sales, another big component is finding the right fit at the right company. If you’re interested in getting started in this new career, connecting with other professionals and companies looking for top talent should be at the top of your to-do list. Join Powderkeg to create your own profile and explore the Top Software Sales Jobs to see what opportunities exist for you.
Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a blog originally published on July 12, 2019.