Imagine the person on your team you wish you could clone: the best salesperson on your team.
What makes that salesperson so valuable to you?
What makes them so good?
Why do they always close big deals?
You have a supportive, communicative relationship with them and their customers, so are they a pleasure to work with?
Month after month, your top performers will be the ones with soft sales skills such as reading people and solving their problems.
What are Soft Skills for Sales Professionals?
We are all familiar with the hard selling skills, but what are soft sales skills? Soft selling skills refer to the ability to cultivate relationships, promote productive communication, and deliver excellent customer service.
The great thing about soft skills is that there are no hard-and-fast rules about how they should be developed, and oftentimes, they are not taught in formal training sessions. So how can you develop soft skills in your team? Keep reading to find out.
Why Soft Skills Matter in Sales
Sales can be impacted by soft skills just as much as by hard skills. In many cases, even more so.
A salesperson who is liked and trusted is more likely to convert prospects into buyers. Therefore, you want your sales reps to build relationships with your prospects by making it enjoyable for them to talk to them. An expert salesperson who can sell anything to anybody has incredible soft skills sales training: they manage their relationships well, follow up when needed, and are a pleasure to work with.
Good soft skills go beyond meeting sales targets.
People with strong soft skills make workdays more enjoyable for their colleagues, and they are excellent ambassadors for their teams and companies. They also make their sales manager's life easier, and that's certainly something to strive for!
Listen to Colleen Stanley discuss how to build high-performing sales teams through the power of emotional intelligence.
What are the Best Soft Skills for a Sales Team?
Companies are investing in training to develop top soft skills for their sales teams due to the benefits of doing so. In a recent study, for instance, sales representatives who received just one hour per month of training increased their personal sales revenue by 6%.
Which soft selling skills should you focus on when training and developing your sales team?
Here are some ideas.
Selling with Emotional Intelligence
The actual journeys of both buyers and sellers are ultimately driven by sales triggers that appeal to their emotions, but we tend to think that decisions are solely driven by logic.
There is an entire field of study devoted to how emotions, psychology, and culture impact economic decisions, known as Behavioral Economics. The buying experience remains an emotional one for both the buyer and seller. A salesperson's chances of making a sale are better if she understands the emotions invested in a sales interaction.
Active Listening vs Empathetic Listening as Sales Tools
Salespeople have heard about the importance of active listening skills for years. They’ve attended sales training workshops where the expert in front of the room told them to read and relate to their prospects and customers. (Just what does that mean anyway?)
Salespeople are told to listen more than they speak. They learn great discovery questions. However, many sales meetings still end up being superficial, transactional sales conversations instead of deeper, relationship building conversations. Why?
Sales professionals often confuse active listening skills with empathetic listening skills.
A salesperson demonstrating active listening skills is able to repeat back what a prospect or customer said, while a salesperson demonstrating empathetic listening skills is able to repeat back what a prospect or customer is feeling.
When a salesperson can express the unspoken thoughts and feelings of another person, a deep level of connection happens. The prospect thinks, “Wow, this person really gets me…they understand my world.” The bottomline is, prospects and customers want to do business with people who get them and understand their situation, challenges and aspirations.
Are you a Highly-Effective Sales Manager?
The best sales leaders are able to manage their emotions so they can continue to execute the right coaching and training skills. Take the following quick assessment to find out what areas you can address to sharpen your sales management skills.
Authenticity & Confidence in Sales Decisions
Authenticity is touted as one of the key qualities of successful salespeople. Authentic people find it much easier than their disingenuous counterparts to persuade and influence others. And yet, authenticity seems difficult for many salespeople to apply in their role as a sales professional.
So how do you teach a salesperson to be more authentic and, as a result, more likable? I posed this question to Michael Allosso, a communication expert and leadership coach. He shared the top two qualities he observes in authentic people: confidence and preparation. “Confidence comes from knowing that you are prepared. And when you are prepared, you can relax and be yourself.”
In my work with top sales performers, I’ve found they are willing to do the work necessary to be prepared for a sales meeting. These sales professionals:
- Invest time in pre-call preparation, which allows them to show up confident and prepared.
- Take time to write out questions they want to ask during the meeting.
- Think about and prepare appropriate responses to potential questions or objections.
- Memorize value propositions so that they don’t engage in the sales stutter step when asked, “Tell me about your company -- who do you work with?”
Top performers are prepared, making it easier to be authentic, confident and relaxed during a sales conversation.
A salesperson's workflow will often require them to engage other people positively, build long-term relationships, and form mutually beneficial relationships. The ability to build relationships enables a salesperson to accomplish tasks more easily and make better-informed decisions, from gathering referrals to soliciting advice and achieving team objectives. Trust, rapport, and the genuine desire to help other people are essential to building relationships.
As a young, inexperienced sales manager, I stumbled onto doing something right. There were no CRM tools when I started in sales management so I created an excel spreadsheet that listed the members of my sales team. Using this excel spreadsheet, I tracked and measured my outreaches to salespeople. One of the cells on that excel spreadsheet included personal information such as:
- Updates on kids.
- Update on vacation or hobbies.
- And for a few reps, updates on their latest date!
Like a good salesperson, you don’t want every call made to a customer to be around business or asking for more business.
I didn’t want every call I made to a salesperson to be about sales or “crushing the quota.” My goal was to make sure I was connecting on a personal and professional basis each month.
If you want to crush the sales quota, make sure to pay attention to the relationship quota.
The Importance of Storytelling in Sales
The goal of selling is not only to show the benefits of your product but also to convince customers that these benefits will solve their problems or benefit them in some way. Telling a story that resonates deeply with your target audience is the most effective way to convey your message.
Great sales professionals incorporate storytelling into their sales routine. Everyone has heard a great speaker at some point in their career. And I am guessing that they remember more from the speaker’s stories than just the facts and figures they shared.
We are wired for stories because they activate chemicals in our brains. As a result, people are more engaged in what you have to say when you say it through the format of a story.
Unfortunately, many salespeople don’t realize just how much their products and services are helping clients. They forget the many problems their clients faced before bringing on your company’s services and products. When a sales professional is able to use story to promote the products and services they are selling, they become inspired because they realize they aren't just selling a product: they are selling value, such as, culture, collaboration and teamwork.
Integrating Soft and Hard Sales Skills
The truth is, sales is a predictable. Good negotiators negotiate. So why do salespeople still act so surprised when faced with objections? What’s the reason they respond inappropriately during negotiation discussions?
Sales managers, this one might be on you. How much time have you invested in teaching, training and practicing both the soft and hard skills of effective negotiations?
The key to building effective sales teams is to encourage and develop both the hard and soft sales skills so they can be used together in order to successfully close more deals.
Let’s start with the soft skills of negotiation by discussing the importance of emotion management. William Ury’s classic book, Getting Past No, discusses the five challenges in effective negotiations. The first challenge is a person ability to control his or her own behavior.
As he shares in his book, human beings are reaction machines and once you react you are hooked. I call it the trigger-response-regret loop. This loop generally ends up in unnecessary discounting, concessions without conditions or a stalemate with each party fighting hard to be right.
Emotion management is the first step in effective negotiations because without it, salespeople have a hard time executing the hard skills, consultative selling skills, required for effective negotiations. One of those hard skills is simply acknowledging with your prospect’s position.
Remember, prospects can’t hear your great advice, solutions or alternatives until they feel you’ve heard them.
Teach your team the power of emotion management and acknowledgement. The combination of soft and hard skills will produce better negotiation outcomes.
Take this Free Online Sales EQ Assessment to Improve Your Hard Sales Results!
Top sales performers know how to read and respond to the “emotional temperature” of others. Improve your emotional intelligence skills and you will improve hard sales results. (Don’t be the smartest person in the room that no one likes.)
Take this free assessment to get insight into improving key emotional intelligence skills such as impulse control, empathy and emotion management.
How to Teach Soft Skills to Sales Reps
Regular practice and time are required to develop soft skills. Here are five techniques to help employees learn them.
Hire Based on Attributes
Candidates should be eager to learn more than just practical skills. Hire people who are good communicators and emotionally intelligent.
Is your potential hire self-motivated and eager to expand their knowledge base? What experience do they have in solving problems in new situations?
Hire employees who are excited about the goals you have for the company. Almost anything else can be taught later.
Conduct a Training Needs Assessment
No matter the skill, every good learning opportunity begins with a training needs assessment.
Assess the training needs of your employees by asking them to set their own goals. Is it difficult for them to manage large projects? How do they deal with challenging suppliers, customers, or colleagues? What are their career goals?
Getting employees involved makes the training more meaningful to them.
Utilize Training that Focuses on Building Both Soft and Hard Selling Skills
Most companies invest thousands of dollars each year in the hopes that their sales team will learn the skills they need to effectively produce sustainable sales results. The problem is simply focusing on learning "selling skills” rarely delivers.
The reality is, most sales training does not incorporate the necessary soft skills required to excel. When a sales team struggles with low emotional intelligence they have a very difficult time successfully executing the hard selling skills they’ve been taught.
So what is the best soft skills training for sales team?
When looking for effective sales soft skills training, it is important to utilize training courses that understand how critical emotional intelligence is to sales success, and focus not just on teaching the hard skills, but also enhance the soft sales skills that are proven to achieve effective sales results.
Practice, Reflection, And Enhancement Opportunities
Provide ample opportunity for practice and application, as well as time for reflection and refinement. Set an example by exhibiting emotional intelligence as a manager and encourage your team members to do the same. The best sales manager soft skills are the ones that can be modeled to your team.
Fostering Success with Soft Sales Skills
Clients, prospects, colleagues, and you as a sales manager can benefit from soft skills.
Let's face it, people buy based on their emotions, not logic. If your sales team is still selling features, functions, advantages and benefits, STOP. This selling approach immediately sets you up to sound like a commodity.
Instead, it is important to build a sales team that integrates both the traditional hard sales skills, with emotionally driven soft sales skills in order to create value propositions that authentically connect with your prospects, clearly articulate your value, and set you apart from your competition.