Sales success – don’t forget these 6 soft skills

Develop soft sales skills, too

Develop soft sales skills, too

Asking questions. Selling value. Handling objections. Crafting sales strategy. Closing. Analyzing the competition. Check out any sales training program and you’re likely find some of these sales skills being taught. They are the fundamentals and they are critical to sales success. And just because they are fundamental does not mean they are simple to learn.  To perform them skillfully requires a lot of practice and feedback.

But to borrow a phrase, these skills are “necessary, but not sufficient.”  A study by Millennial Branding and American Express, for example, reported that 61 percent of managers surveyed felt that soft skills were more important in new hires than hard skills, or even technical skills. In fact, the same study showed that the top three characteristics managers looked for when promoting Millennials were the ability to prioritize work (87 percent), a positive attitude (86 percent) and teamwork skills (86 percent).

The study goes on to report six soft skills most often cited as critical to success.  Although the report was focusing on professionals in general, we thought the work held merit for those concerned about developing sales success.

6 soft sales skills critical to sales success

  • Communication – Communication moves beyond sending emails, texts, and Instagrams. Everyone inside companies must be able to effectively engage people face-to-face. Nowhere is this more critical than for salespeople who must engage a wide variety of customers across a varied set of situations.
  • Teamwork – B2B sales increasingly are moving away from salespeople as the lone wolf to sales teams – whether multiple salespeople, technical specialists, etc. This means salespeople must develop the skills required to both lead and to participate in sales teams.
  • Flexibility – Flexibility provides some unique challenges for salespeople. Beyond simply being flexible about schedules and responsibilities, salespeople increasingly are being called on to marshal internal resources and to be part of – or manage – sales teams.  In today’s environment salespeople are required to play different roles at different times during the sales process.
  • Positivity – This one is no surprise – people like to be around positive people. And, this is certainly true for salespeople. Salespeople need to learn how to leverage praise from people for what they do and avoid overreacting to criticism and bad news. But, salespeople have a special challenge – not only do they have to work with colleagues, they also have to work with prospects and customers where it’s easy to say “yes” – but yes is not always the right answer. Salespeople must learn how to effectively say “no” or disagree or present a different view to prospects and customers and have the customer view that interaction positively.
  • Time management – Whether new to sales or a veteran, time management is an obstacle all salespeople must tackle. Learning how to prioritize and manage time is important for all salespeople.  A good idea for any salesperson is to periodically assess the percentage of their time they are actually selling vs. doing something else.  If one can increase that number by 10%, which in most cases is very likely, a whole lot of good things happen.
  • Confidence – Confidence is an underpinning of every salesperson’s success. Salespeople must learn to display confidence – it’s at the heart of building their credibility and credibility is a key for success. When someone is new to a company or new to sales, building confidence and credibility can be tough to do. One answer is leveraging your company’s capabilities and success stories until you develop your own tales of success.

If one believes the soft skill story, then a real challenge emerges for sales managers.  It’s likely that most salespeople would not on their own, over time, develop these soft skills. As a matter of fact in some situations, time may actually degrade the skill.  For example, a salesperson could very easily lose confidence due to failures vs. learning from the failures as to what to do next time.

Once again this is why sales management coaching and modeling are so important for developing and sustaining a successful sales team.  Yet, how often do the soft skills make the short list for sales coaching?

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©2014 Sales Momentum®

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About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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