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Sales - 9 min READ

3 selling styles you need to master (+ 2 to retire)

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Author photo: Amy Wood

Amy Wood


Whether you’re a seasoned salesperson or a spritely up-and-comer, you no doubt see the benefit of mastering several different selling styles or approaches versus just one.

In theory at least...

The reality is, though, that comfort zones are—well—comfortable, and we see that reflected in 2017 data suggesting nearly 60% of salespeople won’t switch things up once they find an approach that works for them.

This is problematic since each and every “lead” you make contact with is a real live person, with different needs, personalities, and preferences, so you can’t expect the same tactics to work with everyone.

But try doing a Google search for “selling styles” and it’ll yield some pretty disappointing—not to mention super outdated—results. (It’s 2019, y’all—not all salespeople are men!)

In this piece, we'll challenge some of the unhelpful “advice” found in these lackluster pieces. We'll talk about:

We’ll also highlight areas where your CRM (client relationship management tool) can actually support you with these selling styles, so you can be more efficient—no matter which style you’re flexing.

2 common selling styles you need to throw out the window

Before digging into the selling styles and tactics you should absolutely master, take a peek at a few you’re better off leaving in the past.

1. Aggressive selling

As its name implies, this style translates to making the sale, no matter the cost. Failing to close the sale is just that—a failure.

Even if the prospect doesn’t have a true need for your product or service, it’s your job to convince them they do. At its best, this is achieved through relentless attempts to make contact so you can make your pitch. At its worst it consists of shady sales tactics, false promises, and straight up bullying.

It’s the epitome of the smarmy car salesperson trope who just won’t take no for an answer—which is too bad, because car salespeople in reality can be incredibly friendly, helpful people!

Besides the fact that this selling style can lean toward unethical, it has one huge flaw: it’s all about you—the salesperson.

And while this sales tactic may have been relied upon in the past, it’s no longer effective in today’s global market. Consumers are informed, motivated, and know they have options, so an all-about-me approach will likely just push them toward one of your competitors.

Which, speaking of competitors…

2. Competition selling

This traditional selling style once again places the focus on the wrong party. Instead of considering how you can make your prospect’s life easier or better in some way, you’re constantly looking over your shoulder wondering what the competition is doing.

Like the aggressive sales approach, this approach places numbers—as they compare to other companies in the competitive landscape—above all else. And it’s this type of thinking that may condone misleading prospects for the sake of a sale.

Of course, it’s generally a good thing to have a pulse on your competitors. But rather than using the knowledge as motivation to secure more customers by any means necessary, use it to differentiate yourself from the competition and inform your development on their roadmap.

3 proven selling styles to help you boost conversion rates:

1. Action selling

This approach is all about taking action and inspiring prospects to take action. It’s the new-and-improved version of aggressive selling, but without the pushiness and occasional deceit.

Types of sales reps who favor this selling style

  • Confident
  • Less affected by rejection
  • See each sales opportunity as a challenge
  • Able to influence decision makers thanks to fine-tuned skills of persuasion

How to develop your action selling skills

One way action sellers do this is by using urgency in their sales outreach. Urgency can significantly shorten the sales cycle; prospects don’t want to miss out on a good deal, so they make a snap decision to either buy or not buy.

According to Sujan Patel, a simple way to convey urgency is to highlight scarcity. So, if only two VIP tickets remain for your upcoming event, mention it. If your new line of sandals is only available for a limited time until stock has run out, say that. too.

These limited-run pride sandals from Teva flew off shelves upon release.

Pro-tip: Your CRM can help you create urgency at scale if you have access to a bulk email feature. As stock becomes limited, draft an email to send to prospects in your pipeline—and be sure to use merge tags so each message appears personalized.

The highlighted blue text is a “first name” merge tag, so you can send the email once to thousands of prospects and their first names will automatically be populated using CRM data.

Another way to inspire confidence (and therefore action) is through the language you use when speaking with a prospect, whether on the phone or via email or direct message.

Top-performing salespeople are known to use words like “definitely,” “absolutely,” and “certainly” often.

The research also revealed low performers used these types of words only once every 50 sentences.

Not sure how you fare? Record your next sales call and count the number of times you use these confidence-bolstering words. If you’re falling short, aim to increase the number with each phone call.

Finally, if you want to adopt an action seller’s mindset, don’t dilly dally when a lead comes in.

Harvard Business Review reports that firms that contact prospects in the first hour of receiving a lead were “seven times as likely to qualify the lead ... as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later—and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer.”

2. Needs-based selling

This selling style differs from action selling because it takes a more individualized approach.

Rather than enthusiastically selling your prospect on how amazing (and often exclusive) your product or service is, you’re dissecting their specific challenges to determine their needs and presenting your offer as a tailored solution.

Types of sales reps who favor this selling style

  • Incredibly knowledgeable about the product or service—including its unique features and benefits
  • Able to think quickly on their feet
  • Natural problem-solvers

How to develop your needs-based selling skills

If this is not your go-to selling style, a great way to lean into mastering needs-based selling is to get really comfortable with your company’s offerings.

If you’re a sales rep at a SaaS company, for example, get into the tool and actually use it. Try to recreate the most common use cases, and refer to the company’s help center when you get stuck.

If there’s a customer success team, ask them if you can get access to their training materials. Diving deep into the tool’s capabilities will not only build empathy for your customers, but also empower you to come up with more creative solutions for your prospects.

Another way to build up the skills associated with this selling style is to understand who your customer is.

If your company has a repository of customer case studies or interviews, familiarize yourself with them. If you have access to customer personas, study them. (If not, consider assembling an internal taskforce to develop some.)

With these resources at your disposal, you should already have some ideas surrounding your prospect’s needs before you even get on a call with them.

Your CRM should help you narrow down which customer case studies and personas you might want to brush up on before an important sales call. How, you ask? By automatically scraping the internet for contact and company information as well as social profiles, and then merging that info with lead data:

Copper uses third-party companies FullContact and EverContact to enrich lead data automatically.
Image for post 🚀 your selling

🚀 your selling

Learn about the habits that sales reps should cultivate to close more deals in this webinar!

Of course, becoming familiar with customer personas and case studies (here's how to create them) will provide you with a solid foundation for needs-based selling, but it won’t apply to every prospect. To really master this selling style, you need to become an expert at asking probing questions.

These types of questions get to the root of your prospect’s challenges and needs, which allows you to then demonstrate exactly how your product or service will address them.

If you’re just getting started with probing questions, consider jotting some down ahead of your sales call until you become comfortable with this approach.

According to data from 519,000 recorded discovery calls, between 10 and 14 questions per call resulted in the highest success rate, so aim for that:

The data suggests that fewer than 10 questions doesn’t provide enough detail while 14+ could start to wear on the prospect.

3. Consultative selling

The final selling style is consultative selling, and it’s all about building long-term relationships and trust with your prospects.

On the spectrum of sales cycle lengths, consultative selling will generally be at one end; meanwhile, action selling will be at the other.

This approach is not about making a fast sale, but rather working collaboratively with your prospect to help them sustainably improve their life or business. As such, it’s more likely you’ll use this style for enterprise-level products and services, since it can be costly in terms of time and resources.

Types of sales reps who favor this selling style

  • Personable, patient, and collaborative
  • Believe securing a one-time customer is great, but securing a loyal, returning customer is better
  • Solutions-oriented

How to develop your consultative selling skills

If this approach is outside your wheelhouse, read this comprehensive piece, and also consider the language you use when communicating with prospects. Do you tend to use “I/you” a lot or do you opt for “we” instead?

Take a look at the difference:

  • “I recommend you choose the Pro account, because it allows you to automate your replies, which I’ve found is a great time-saving feature.” vs. “The Pro account includes the Automated Replies feature, which we can implement together so the first campaign launches smoothly.”
  • “If you’re not sure how many meals you’ll need per week, I suggest you start out with two and see how it goes.” vs. “Let’s figure out how many nights per week you’d like to have dinner taken care of, and then we can find the best plan for your family.”

Research shows that sales reps who used more collaborative language such as “we” and fewer instances of divisive language such as “I” performed better:

Data suggests using “we” demonstrates empathy and inclusiveness, which leads to better sales results.

Again, if you’re not sure what language you tend to use, use the exercise suggested in action selling and record your next sales call. If needed, make an effort to adjust your language, and check in with yourself periodically by recording a call and collecting the data.

Pro-tip: Since consultative selling can be a lengthy process, it’s important you stay in regular contact with your prospects and never leave them hanging.

Doing this manually can be tedious—not to mention prone to human error; a CRM on the other hand does this automatically and at scale so you can track all your leads, filter them based on where they are in the sales funnel (more funnel management tips here), and set follow-up reminders so no one slips through the cracks.

Round out your sales skills

Overall, people tend to be more effective if they lean into their talents and inclinations rather than force themselves to go against their nature, so if you favor one selling style, this is perfectly normal and acceptable.

That said, a successful person in any role understands the importance of stretching themselves and investing in learning new skills. For sales reps this means mastering alternative selling styles to improve your flexibility and provide you with the confidence to succeed—no matter who your prospect is.

If you’re currently part of the 60% of salespeople who have settled into a preferred selling style, ask yourself why. If your answer is, “Because it works every time,” that’s fantastic—this post probably isn't for you.

If not, consider challenging yourself to learn a new style—you might surprise yourself with hidden talents even you didn’t know you possessed.

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