Soft Skills That Can Turn Salespeople into High Performers
Sellers are pulled in multiple directions every minute of their workday.
That’s why, instead of selling, you’ll often see sellers engaged in activities like:
- Data entry (CRM, ERP, etc.)
- Processing orders
- Rectifying errors
- Checking on product supply or shipping
- Attending internal meetings
- Preparing proposals
- Researching leads
- Updating forecasts
- Negotiating internally for discounts or added value to offer clients
- Preparing sales plans and projections
- Learning about new product offerings
- Completing forms for expense reimbursement, commission reports, etc.
- Creating a presence/brand on social media
- Attending networking events (but not effectively networking)
- Working on committees or cross-functional teams
- Designing presentations or demos
- Creating scripts and email templates
- Sitting in on interviews to help select new sellers
- Mentoring new hires
- Collecting past-due payments and getting credit applications submitted
In lean organizations, sellers are often encumbered by tasks like these because there’s no one else assigned to do the work. Unfortunately, even well-resourced sellers sometimes choose to allocate time to these non-selling tasks. Why? For some, it’s a way of procrastinating because they don’t want to do selling work. For others, it’s an inability to effectively delegate because delegating requires that you trust other people and work ahead to ensure timely handoffs. And in some cases, sellers choose this work because they simply don’t know any better.
Regardless of the reason, if too much time is consumed, tasks like these impair sales performance.
How Hard Skills and Sales Enablement Can Impair Sales Performance
The purpose of sales enablement is to provide sellers with whatever resources they need to sell more effectively. Sounds good, but…
Sales enablement efforts can backfire. The time required to learn and use many sales enablement tools never pays back in easier or more effective selling. The training and coaching intended to boost sales performance often is a waste of time because it’s poor quality, irrelevant, not reinforced, or not aligned with the sales culture and/or expectations. Technology that is misunderstood and misused is simply a miss.
This is not an indictment of all sales enablement. Thoughtful selection and careful integration of tools, training, technology, and processes WILL improve sales performance. More often, though, there’s an unrealistic expectation that installing the shiny new thing called “sales enablement” will do the job. It won’t.
This problem is exacerbated by an over-reliance on hard skills. Many sales enablement tools are designed to enhance or complement hard skills. For example, lead generation tools provide a wealth of information about potential prospects. With names and email addresses so easy to access, SDRs are expected to make more contacts than ever before. The hard (technical) skill of sending cold emails is taught. Scripts are provided. Metrics are established. Sometimes, SDRs are coached about making more contacts. It all focuses on the process, volume, and metric.
Sounds good, right? So why doesn’t it work the way it ought to? With these great enablement tools available, why are sellers less effective than they used to be? Why does it take more contact attempts than ever before to get an appointment? Why do a lower percentage of sellers every year reach their sales goals?
I believe it’s because sales are impaired by the dual emphasis on sales enablement tools (without thoughtful selection and careful integration) and the hard skills of selling.
What’s lost in the tech stack and functional skills and playbooks and metrics is sellership. The craft of professional selling includes soft skills, too.
Soft Skills that Can Turn Salespeople into High Performers
Sales managers are often left wondering why their new hire sellers aren’t performing up to par. They come in with experience, enthusiasm, and a pleasing personality. They seem to be making the effort, at least initially, to advance sales. But something is missing.
Similarly, sales managers often are puzzled about why their former superstar sellers are no longer performing the way they used to. It seems that these veterans have developed a bad attitude, blaming new systems or grousing about their unattainable goals or claiming prices are too high.
What’s really going on might be a deficit in soft skills. With all the attention on sales enablement and hard skills (product knowledge, sales process skills, etc.), the development of soft skills has been neglected. These three categories of soft skills will be explored in greater depth in the coming weeks of this CONNECT2Sell Blog series. For now, an overview of how these soft skills can impact sales performance.
Sellers need the ability to accurately read a situation and determine what’s happening outwardly as well as what’s going on but is less apparent.
Sellers need the ability to process huge volumes of information and correctly pick out what’s most important, most urgent, and most actionable. They need objectivity, an ability to delay gratification, and good discernment to respond to the right information.
Sellers need problem-solving skills and sound reasoning to make good decisions about how to allocate their time, what to prioritize, and how to structure their day. They also need these capabilities to respond in productive ways to objections, concerns, and issues that arise with buyers.
All these skills (and more!) are part of critical thinking. Learning the techniques of argumentation, logical analysis, and reasoning are extremely important for sellers who want to become more efficient and more effective.
For more information on critical thinking in sales, be sure to check out our previous series from CONNECT2Sell. Start with this introduction and read the subsequent posts and watch the companion videos in this playlist, too.
As obvious as this seems, not all sellers are strong communicators. Many are good as fast talking and not so good with listening, processing information, and responding appropriately.
Good communication includes not interrupting. It involves facilitating two-way dialogue that builds trust and rapport with buyers. Selling requires strong oral and strong written communication skills.
Asking quality questions is also a component of strong communication, especially in selling. Knowing what to do with the answers to questions asked requires listening plus critical thinking so the response is both appropriate and will advance the sale.
Sellers who are smooth-talking, charming, and affable aren’t necessarily good communicators. They may need the complementary skills, like listening, to round out their communication skills so that buyers respond to them and sales performance improves.
The traits or “intangibles” that separate high performers from most sellers have a lot to do with EI (emotional intelligence). When I ask sales managers to list the traits they would like sellers to have, the list inevitability includes:
These are all different aspects of emotional intelligence. Self-awareness and strong interpersonal/ relational skills are absolutely essential for long-term sales success.
Striking the Right Balance to Optimize Selling Opportunities
High-performing sellers – the ones who perform at a high level year after year – have strong soft skills AND solid hard skills. They know the mechanics of selling. They understand their products, their processes, and the sales enablement tools they’ve been resourced with. But they don’t stop there.
These sellers also display soft skills. They work continually to develop rapport and relationships. They work on their own characteristics, too, to stay on top of the game. When things aren’t working, they adapt even when that means making changes in themselves.
Having a full suite of skills to access makes any seller nimbler. When the technical skills aren’t moving the needle, don’t give up. Work instead to build soft skills.