If you had to identify the most important selling skill that has delivered the most value to sales teams, what would it be?

I ask this question in every sales workshop I facilitate with sellers, managers and leaders where skill levels range from brand-new reps to years of success. Regardless of experience level, few workshop participants have been able to tell me the most important selling skill that, when not used, is the culprit of many sales losses.

Are you thinking of negotiating, need development, reaching the decision-makers or prospecting? These answers are good guesses, but none is the skill I am talking about.

Let me give you a couple of choices with some context: Research has taught us that there is both an art and a science to selling. One is far more important than the other.

The Science of Selling

First, let’s explore the science of selling: the process and skills a seller uses to prospect, develop a need, close, etc. Sellers who have a process or a group of best practices they use to move a buyer through a sales cycle to a desired outcome or a win are using a “science” to sell.

For example, a seller would not start negotiating with a buyer after an initial handshake. They would use certain skills in a precise order to convince a buyer that their company has the best solution. Companies invest a lot of time and training in teaching methodologies and best practices around the science of selling.

The Art of Selling

The other option is the art of selling. This skill is about staying in alignment with the buyer’s position in his or her buying process. Defining this skill is difficult, because if a seller doesn’t understand the buying process, he or she can’t understand the art of alignment.

Think about a time when you were a buyer interacting with a salesperson. What did the salesperson do, or didn’t do, that made you decide whether you would, or would not, buy from that company?

For example, imagine you are buying a new vehicle. You are looking at an SUV to decide if it will meet your list of needs, and the seller is telling you that today is your lucky day, because the boss wants to move this vehicle and is willing to practically give it away. You become uncomfortable, wish the aggressive salesperson would just go away or rethink what you really need — but the seller persists with an offer to test drive and give you a sweet price. That seller is out of alignment.

If the seller can meet the buyer where they are in the buying process and align their behavior to what is most important to that buyer at that time, then they are in alignment and will likely help the buyer move toward a decision to buy their product or service. Alignment can also help a seller qualify a buyer as a poor fit for their solution, preventing a bad sale that could turn into a nightmare customer and giving the seller more time to find a more appropriate buyer.

Whether they are buying a snack or a product that is mission-critical to their business, buyers follow a buying process. If a seller does not understand that process, they will likely go out of alignment, pushing a buyer to a “no” decision or to another vendor.

So, which is the more important selling skill: understanding and applying the science of selling or understanding and applying the art of selling?