The Top 5 Transferable Sales Skills for Success

15 mins

Research from the Carnegie Foundation, Harvard University, and Stanford Research Center has ...

By Pareto Team


Research from the Carnegie Foundation, Harvard University, and Stanford Research Center has shown that 85% of long-term career success comes from the right blend of soft sales skills. 

These transferable skills often outshine the more technical competencies that candidates believe they must develop, with hiring managers and interviewers looking for the right blend of attitude and behaviour—since they’ll likely have to teach candidates the technical intricacies of their new role once they’ve been onboarded. 

In this guide to the top five transferable sales skills, we’ll explore the importance of communication, relationship-building, negotiation, problem-solving, and resilience for those candidates looking for long-term success. Going into detail on why each is crucial, we’ll also answer your question of “What transferable skills do I have?” by looking at how you can highlight your soft and transferable skills in a CV or job application. 

The Top 5 Transferable Sales Skills and Why They’re Important

Whilst it may seem like technical skills are a must-have within sales, these can typically be trained for once you’re in your role with a business. However, what often can’t be trained is the transferable skills and attitudes vital to success within sales roles. 

As the list that we’ve compiled of the top five transferable sales skills highlights, possessing a robust set of soft skills for sales directly translates to improved job performance—enabling you to work more effectively and productively, generate more revenue, and meet the challenges that you’ll encounter throughout your career. 

1. Communication

Perhaps the most important of the soft skills for sales roles, communication is one of the more common answers that candidates jump to when they ask themselves, “What transferable skills do I have?”. 

In short, communication is one of those sales skills that will set you in good stead for the entirety of your career. It’s the foundation on which conversions are made, since knowing how to actively listen to your prospects’ and customers’ concerns and questions—and understanding how to respond effectively to them—are vital to closing most, if not all, deals. 

Alongside this, communication skills are crucial to highlight when you’re angling for a promotion within the sales environment, since being able to work effectively with your colleagues and other leaders is the key to success in this fast-paced and dynamic industry. 

At its heart, communication is a two-way street. It’s not just about knowing what to say, but knowing when to pay attention and take note of something a client has said, whether it’s a concern, an outright objection, or a pain point they reference. Active listening is a key factor in the consultative sales process, ensuring you can provide solutions to existing key accounts and potential buyers rather than mere products or services. 

2. Relationship-Building

If you’re able to highlight skills in relationship-building within your CV or during the interview for a sales role, you’re in with a good chance of impressing the hiring manager. 

Increasingly, sales representatives' job isn’t just to generate new leads, but to identify opportunities to cross and up-sell to existing customers, enhancing your ability to generate revenue. 

Whilst customer relationship management (CRM)  tools exist to automate some aspects of this process, they’re only as good as the salesperson using them—and you’ll never get away from the need to pick up the phone or write an e-mail to keep in touch with your customers and ensure they’re happy and haven’t encountered any issues.

Good relationship-building skills are also vital when it comes to transitioning between roles or applying for raises and promotions, allowing you to evidence your ability to foster a positive rapport with colleagues and business leaders wherever you might end up. 

3. Creativity

Being able to show interviewers that you possess a creative mindset and are ready to bring it to bear on the challenges of a sales career can be an incredibly attractive quality for a candidate. 

Many employers of sales roles are looking for ambitious, determined candidates who are looking to bring fresh insights to their roles, so showing that you can think outside of the box when an issue arises can help you make an impact. 

Researchers at the Creative Industries Policies and Evidence Centre (PEC) at the University of Manchester have shown—through a study of 35 million UK-based advertisements for roles between 2013 and 2017—that creativity is a significant predictor of career success between now and 2030.

As the world of work is increasingly digitalised, innovative approaches will be required to take advantage of the tools and technologies at our disposal to become more productive and guide clients more swiftly through the sales pipeline.

4. Problem-Solving

Identifying, understanding, and solving problems are crucial soft skills for sales. Whether it’s an internal issue—such as a conflict between team members, a workload which requires delegation, or a scheduling problem—or a client’s pain point, knowing how to respond when these challenges arise is crucial for success in just about any role, not just a sales-focused one. 

Instead of coming to managers with issues, a candidate with problem-solving ability will bring well-thought-through solutions, backed up by research or data. This allows the sales team and their leader to implement a solution which stops it from occurring again, driving an overall culture of high performance within the business. 

As McKinsey & Company’s whitepaper on Building a Problem-Solving Culture That Lasts highlights, a willingness to be transparent about issues wherever they may arise, no matter how small they are, is crucial to a strong and effective team. 

A methodical approach to all problems—where you analyse the root cause, develop a solution, and then test and refine it as part of an ongoing standard of sales excellence—is a valuable skill to possess in sales, with a strong company culture leading to a 40% increase in revenue growth. 

5. Resilience

Candidates looking for the most lucrative sales opportunities often have to face many objections, rejections, and knockbacks on the road to closing the deal. 

Whether it’s a client rejecting an appointment for a meeting, a stale lead that’s clogging up your sales funnel, or the conditions of a rapidly shifting and uncertain market, understanding how to overcome obstacles and move on to the next opportunity is crucial for success. 

Staying motivated requires you to develop one of the other vital sales skills: resilience. It can be all too easy to let rejection knock you down, but if you’re looking to mitigate the risk of burnout and keep a high level of well-being within your sales role, it’s important to remember to maintain a positive attitude—even if this deal isn’t working out as easy as you’d initially anticipated. 

However, resilience isn’t just important for maintaining a healthy relationship with your work. It can also be a way to keep your earnings high, with resilient employees much more likely to avoid taking sick days due to stress. 

Alongside improving the likelihood of hitting your targets, being able to rely on your transferable skills will typically lead to increased job satisfaction, enabling you to contribute to more meaningful and impactful projects. 

As a study from Equalture highlights, employees with transferable and soft sales skills are more fulfilled by and engaged with their work, taking more quickly to roles which incorporate leadership through their ability to build robust relationships, solve complex problems, and communicate effectively.

Whilst transferable, soft skills for sales are often contrasted with the hard, technical skills that will enable candidates to address the “nuts and bolts” of their role, as we’ve seen, these competencies are crucial for personal and professional development—and should be considered just as, if not more, important than their hard-skill counterparts. 

Answering the Question of “What Transferable Skills Do I Have?”

So, now that we’ve understood what the top five transferable sales skills are, we can take a closer look at answering the question we often receive from graduates and early-career salespeople looking to realise their potential—that is, “What transferable skills do I have?”.

You’ll have heard plenty about utilising your experiences within education or prior jobs to prove to interviewers and hiring managers that you have what it takes to excel in a role, but what does this look like in practice? 

How To Evidence Transferable Skills in a CV or Interview

Whilst evidencing transferable skills in a CV often requires a more concise approach when compared to the way you’ll talk about those skills in an interview for a sales job, doing the first well can certainly prepare you to address the challenge of the second. 

As a result, our following discussion will look at how to evidence your transferable sales skills in your CV or application materials first, before moving on to look at how you can discuss these in the interview environment.

1. Communication

Before you begin to evidence your skills in communication—or any other transferable skills in a CV, for that matter—it’s important to identify the abilities that you already possess. If you’re an excellent writer, or have been able to keep the attention of peers in presentations, whether in a professional or academic setting, this is all valuable for sales-focused roles.

Evidencing communication skills in your CV

Evidencing your communication skills in a CV should be done by utilising action-focused bullet points detailing how you’ve leveraged these skills in the professional environment. Instead of describing your communication ability, provide a range of clear examples of how it’s helped you address challenges—with reference to metrics wherever possible. 

Quantifying your achievements in this way, by, for instance, referring to how your written communication skills were able to resolve a client’s concerns and lead to an up-selling opportunity valued at a specific amount, can help your application to stand out from the competition. 

Evidencing communication skills in an interview

When it comes to evidencing sales skills, such as communication in the interview environment, you should always connect the experiences you described in your CV or job application to the role and responsibilities you’re applying for. 

Don’t just stop by providing a stellar, STAR-based answer to the hiring manager’s questions, but instead, highlight how your experiences in developing your ability to communicate relate directly to the tasks you’ll be expected to complete and the targets you’ll be expected to hit in the position you’re interviewing for. 

Similarly, the interviewer will likely want to know if you can adapt your communication to different types of clients—since every industry, and every individual for that matter, will require a different approach—so make sure to highlight how you’ve been able to confidently address a range of audiences.

2. Relationship-Building

Evidencing your relationship-building skills in both the CV and interview environment can be a challenge, especially if you’ve got little client-facing experience to rely on. Many early-career salespeople will have worked in service roles in the past, especially if they held a job through university, but if you don’t have that background, you can always rely on your ability to build a relationship with colleagues and collaborate effectively. 

Evidencing relationship-building skills in your CV

Even if you lack direct experience in building a robust relationship with clients in a sales environment, you can highlight in your CV—using the action points and metrics-focused approach mentioned above—how your ability to build a relationship with colleagues led to addressing your team’s biggest challenges, and how you contributed to resolving them.

At the same time, relationship-building within the sales environment often requires research, so evidencing your ability to conduct a thorough search on the clients and competitors of the company you’re applying to can help the hiring manager understand whether you possess the sales skills needed to provide a consultative, solutions-focused experience for customers.

Evidencing relationship-building skills in an interview

Evidencing relationship-building skills in an interview for sales jobs is similar to doing so in the CV or job application materials, but really requires you to provide specific examples of how your ability to forge a positive rapport with customers has enabled you to generate results, whatever they might be. 

For instance, instead of simply referring to how you resolved a customer complaint via a well-written, empathic, and consultative email, make sure to show the results of your proposed solution and how it helped that client to trust that you were looking for a mutually beneficial result for all involved, helping to retain them as a customer who then went on to purchase other products or services from your employer.

3. Creativity

As we’ve established, creativity is one of those crucial—if often overlooked—sales skills, but one which can really set the most ambitious and dedicated candidates apart from the competition.

Evidencing creativity in your CV

Highlighting your creative thinking skills in your CV or job application materials requires you to showcase the novel solutions you’ve created to the problems you encountered, whether in the academic or professional environment.

For instance, if you’ve worked in roles with little budget for additional hiring in the past, you can demonstrate that you possess the ability to think creatively by evidencing the outside-the-box solution you and your colleagues created to address workload issues. 

Evidencing creativity in an interview

When discussing our creative side in an interview environment, it’s easy to get sidetracked or begin waffling—sticking to a structured, well-researched, and evidence-based answer can help avoid this. 

Demonstrate your lateral thinking sales skills by showing how you were able to approach a problem from a different perspective—such as putting yourself in a customer’s shoes—to come up with an innovative idea on how to streamline their experience and increase satisfaction, for instance.

4. Problem-Solving

Around 86% of hiring managers will look for evidence of problem-solving skills when they’re evaluating an early-career candidate’s application materials or interviewing them for a role, so it’s crucial to demonstrate this when you’re looking for a sales job. 

Evidencing problem-solving skills in your CV

Instead of just listing out the problems you’ve solved in the workplace on your CV, provide specific examples of where those solutions have led to a positive result for you, your team, or your customers—describe your process and the structured and methodical approach you took to solve the issue, and the metrics you used to evaluate your approach. 

Likewise, if you’ve undertaken any training that has offered you the sales skills necessary to solve complex problems, note these, too. 

Even if it wasn’t a programme focused solely on problem-solving, showing that you have additional skills in an area such as project management or social media marketing strategies can highlight that you’re willing to address your weaknesses and put work in to ensure that you solve your own problems. 

Evidencing problem-solving skills in an interview

When an interviewer requests that you explain a time when you had to solve a problem for a customer or a colleague, they’re not only looking to see if you were able to achieve a positive result—they also want to hear about your thought process. 

Due to this, when you’re asked by an interviewer to highlight a time in your career that you solved a complex issue, make sure to explain the steps you took in some detail, and how you arrived at the solution. This will give the hiring manager an opportunity to see if you’ll be a good fit for addressing the challenges of the sales environment.

5. Resilience

Whether you’re using a functional CV or an experience-based CV, make sure to highlight your resilience. As we’ve already explored, it’s one of the crucial sales skills, evidencing your ability to bounce back from rejection and keep on going to hit targets.

Evidencing resilience in your CV

Much like demonstrating your problem-solving skills, highlighting resilience as one of your skills can only benefit by offering examples of times that you’ve persevered in the face of challenges. Working as part of a team through times of budget cuts, for instance, can highlight that you’re still able to deliver projects on time. 

Another way to evidence resilience as one of your transferable skills in a CV is to approach it from the angle of adaptability: emphasise your competency in adjusting to new situations and your ability to work flexibly and persistently, key soft skills for sales.

Evidencing resilience in an interview

Resilience in sales is linked closely to a positive attitude, so when asked or expected to evidence it in the interview environment, make sure to remain confident and cheerful. 

When reflecting on an academic or professional experience that required resilience, highlight that it was an opportunity to face a challenge while keeping your motivation high, and link your pragmatic response back to the knockbacks or rejections you’re likely to receive in the role you’re interviewing for.

If you’re interested in learning more about what you can do to stand out when it comes to leveraging your transferable skills for sales jobs, see our recent guide on How To Build a Strong Personal Brand for our consultants’ expert insights into defining and articulating your unique value to interviewers and hiring managers. 

Closing Remarks

Understanding the significance of transferable skills, particularly soft skills for sales, is paramount for long-term career success. Research has highlighted that career success hinges on these abilities, and moreover, hiring managers prioritise attitudes and behaviours over technical competency at the early-career level, so making sure you demonstrate these is vital, as technical skills can often be learned on the job. 

In this guide, we’ve explored the top five transferable sales skills—communication, relationship-building, negotiation, problem-solving, and resilience—and repeatedly emphasised their importance. 

Knowing how to highlight these in your CV or during an interview is crucial in answering the question of “What transferable skills do I have?”, not only enhancing interview and application performance, but paving the way for a fulfilling and impactful career in the dynamic sales industry. 

Don’t underestimate the power of these transferable skills in your sales journey—they’re the key to your personal and professional development, ultimately leading the way to long-term success.

Looking To Enhance Your Soft Skills for Sales Jobs?

Whether you’re an early-career salesperson looking to realise their potential, or a graduate looking to take your first steps into a fulfilling sales job, Pareto has over 25 years of supporting ambitious individuals, helping them to connect with exciting positions across a range of market-leading organisations. 

Contact us today to learn more about our services and understand how you can enhance your professional skills. 

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