The hardest sales demand the softest skills.
Just about any salesperson can learn the hard skills – product and industry knowledge, research and negotiation tactics or pipeline management.
But not everyone knows the soft skills that land sales. Even fewer salespeople bother to learn, improve or hone these essential skills.
Buyers connect with people who master soft skills. Buyers struggle to relate with salespeople who strictly master facts and data.
More sales are won due to proficiency in soft skills than are won due to perfection in hard skills.
Here are 14 must-have and must-hone soft skills for salespeople:
No. 1: Relationship-building
To have it: Notice we didn’t say “rapport-building?” Nearly any salesperson can build rapport by talking about common interests and complimenting buyers. The best salespeople use rapport-building as tool to build relationships. They move from the seemingly mundane to important business conversations and decisions. They help buyers connect important needs and wants to the relationship they’re building.
“Clients respond to people who they perceive understand their position and are on their same wavelength,” says Jonathan Farrington in his Top Sales Magazine.
To hone it: Relationship-building is built on trust and a true desire to know and help people. You can only help people when you understand who they are and what they want. That comes from listening to learn, not to respond. And yes, salespeople need to practice listening to learn: Listen like a friend. Take notes. Clarify. Share positive stories.
No. 2: Empathy
To have it: Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same. Empathy is putting yourself in buyers’ position, either understanding how they feel because you’ve felt it, too, or working to understand and feel from their perspectives. Sympathy is feeling sorry for others, but not necessarily feeling the same pain. Proving your empathy is a strong relationship-builder.
To hone it: Imagine yourself in buyers’ shoes (literally) – how they see and experience the situation they face. Ask yourself: How does that make them feel? What choices do they see? Who is important to them and how does this affect them?
No. 3: Curiosity
To have it: Without curiosity, salespeople will struggle to build rapport and relationships, and find empathy. Salespeople need to be curious – not nosy or intrusive – about other people. Curiosity, at its best, is the desire to know and understand more about others so you can have a complete relationship.
To hone it: Ask questions, but not just discovery questions to uncover needs and challenges. When you talk to customers, ask how they feel about the things they reveal – challenges, triumphs, everyday personal and professional experiences.
No. 4: Self-control
To have it: Sales is exciting. It can be difficult to slow down, curb enthusiasm and sometimes just shut up. Great salespeople need self-control so they can listen more.
To hone it: Keep track of your talk time. If you talk more than three minutes straight (keep a time piece in sight, if necessary), stop and ask buyers questions to gain control of your excitement and regain perspective on buyers’ needs.
No. 5: Emotional intelligence
To have it: Salespeople need emotional intelligence for two reasons: to understand and control their emotions and to understand and respond appropriately to customers’ emotions. Emotional intelligence includes four capabilities:
- Perceive. Detect and decipher emotions from voice, body language and facial movement.
- Understand. Recognize and appreciate emotional language and its effect on relationships.
- Use. Harness the right emotions at the right time. Capitalize on moods – your own and customers’ – to accomplish tasks.
- Manage. Regulate emotions, especially negative emotions, to achieve goals.
Salespeople need to be able to pick up on prospects’ emotions so they know how to move the conversation forward. For instance, if they’re happy, it might be a good time to ask for the sale. If they’re frustrated, it’s better to problem-solve and move along.
To hone it: Check out tips on reading facial expressions here.
No. 6: Adaptability/Flexibility
To have it: Adaptability and flexibility demand physical and emotional intelligence. Sales is not an exact science. Things seldom go as planned. Salespeople need to be able to quickly get over it (emotional response) and adapt to overcome it (physical response).
“Using the same approach with all prospects and clients is the same as playing the lottery,” says Farrington. “The chances of getting it right are extremely low. Flexibility in thinking and behavior creates awesome salespeople.”
To hone it: While having a Plan B is helpful to become more adaptable and flexible, it doesn’t always help because B often falls apart, too. Honing these soft skills is mostly about recognizing other ways to accomplish goals and being willing to bend in different ways to get there.
No. 7: Optimism
To have it: Salespeople need to see the glass half-full. Sure, it’s important to consider what can go wrong (that’s part of being adaptable and flexible), but the best salespeople are optimistic. They see opportunity where others see no hope. Optimists recognize the good in a bad situation. They seek the best in others.
To hone it: Optimistic outlooks are often the result of positive self-talk. Find a personal, positive mantra. Practice random acts of kindness. Surround yourself with positive people, and steer clear of the negative types.
No. 8: Confidence
To have it: Similar to optimism, salespeople need to be confident. Sales is tough: People, circumstances and rejection can quickly break down an insecure person. Confident people also inspire confidence in other people – they make prospects and customers feel good about themselves.
To hone it: Some experts say you can build confidence by doing one thing that scares you every day! If you aren’t up for that, try daily affirmations, reviewing accomplishments and quietly congratulating yourself for kindnesses to others. Remember: Confidence is an asset. Egotism is a liability.
No. 9: Growth mindset
To have it: The best salespeople are seldom satisfied. They want and work to grow mentally, spiritually and professionally. They believe they can strengthen talents by learning, training and working hard. Great salespeople don’t become stuck in certain ways.
To hone it: Be on the look out for opportunities to learn – such as webinars, conferences, books, one-on-one meetings with mentors, industry events and community sessions – and take advantage of them to improve professionally and personally.
No. 10: Coachability
To have it: Salespeople who have a growth mindset must also be coachable. They need to embrace change, accept criticism and be open to learning new ways to do their work.
To hone it: Review your work every day and consider where you succeeded and where you fell short. Then pursue advice on how to strengthen weaknesses. Most importantly: Accept and try the advice given to you. If it works, you’re ahead. If it doesn’t, try something else.
No. 11: Grit
To have it: We’ll use this one word – Grit – to cover a few essential soft skills. The best salespeople are full of ambition, self-motivation, perseverance and passion. They work well under pressure and don’t take success for granted. They strive to excel in and out of work, and fill their days with meaningful tasks that show initiative.
To hone it: One of the best ways to build and maintain grit is to keep long-term goals that you’ve confirmed are worth working toward. Focus on the little wins – and rewards – that move you toward the evolving, long-term goals.
No. 12: Decisiveness
To have it: Good decision-making skills are mostly a soft skill, but require a stronghold on a hard skill: knowledge. To be able to make the right decisions at the right time, salespeople need a full understanding of the situation, a clear goal and the capacity to weed out bad information. Then they decide only using the right information. Equally important: Making the right important decisions in a timely manner – avoiding procrastination and exploring too many options.
To hone it: The experts at BluLeadz suggest adopting this process to become more decisive:
- Define the goal of the decision you must make.
- Gather background details and other useful information.
- Eliminate superfluous and irrelevant information.
- Build a list of alternative solutions.
- Weigh the potential decisions.
- Choose and act on your decision.
- Review the effects and impact to help make even more better decisions.
No. 13: Creativity
To have it: Salespeople need to be creative mostly because they are problem-solvers. The more creative they are, the more likely they will continuously solve prospects’ and customers’ problems. They do far more than make a prospects’ problem fit in their solution. Instead, they seek and create one-of-a-kind solutions.
To hone it: Practice looking at customers’ issues in the bigger picture. Visualize their goal and what it would take to achieve it. Then reverse engineer to find the means – often out-of-the box means – to achieve it.
No. 14: Integrity
To have it: Salespeople with integrity are honest and reliable. They admit when they’re wrong, take responsibility for mistakes and work hard until they make things right. Customers won’t do business with salespeople who don’t have a high level of integrity.
To hone it: Honesty likely comes easily. Reliability can be built with a personal double-check and alert system: When you say you’ll do something, make it a calendar item and create reminders and alerts to get it done. The hardest part of integrity for many: admitting when you’re wrong. It takes practice to first, recognize your mistakes, and second, admit to them. As long as you make things right, it’s always a positive approach to identify and admit mistakes.