Soft Skills: The Critical Sales Weapon Almost All Managers Neglect

Soft Skills: The Critical Sales Weapon Almost All Managers Neglect

Think of the best salesperson on your team: the one you wish you could clone.

Why do you value that rep more than any other?

Why are they so good?

Is it because they’re always closing big deals?

Or are they a pleasure to work with because they’ve got a supportive, communicative relationship with you, your team, and their customers?

If you answered yes to the second question, your star rep probably has some A-game soft skills.

If you answered no to either question – you need to start actively improving your soft skills if you want to increase sales.

The priceless value of a sales rep with mesmerizing soft skills

Salespeople with the highest revenue-generating soft skills are the best relationship developers.

Maybe they’re not constantly closing, but their prospects and customers have faithful trust in this salesperson.

And it’s not just customers who benefit. Salespeople with killer soft skills make you and your team’s life easier. These super communicators talk to you when there’s a problem, help their team members through tricky situations, and diffuse tension and crisis in the workplace.

There are no surprises with this person. They are open, honest, and put their work ahead of their ego. Ultimately, they make the workplace a more positive environment for everyone.

If only everyone on the team had communication chops like this, right?  

This is no pipe-dream.

Stop hoping you find a master relationship developer and start planning a process to constantly improving your sales soft skills.

You should be actively improving your sales team’s soft skills

The rest of your team can improve this facet of their skill set.

Communication skills can be taught.

Don’t accept a person’s existing baseline of emotional intelligence. You can’t afford to simply deal with average soft skills because this just seems like ‘part of their personality’.

In fact, as a sales manager you should regularly work towards improving your team’s soft skills.

The first step to doing that is understanding what soft skills are.

What are the most important sales soft skills?

Soft skills include traits like perseverance, empathy, and resourcefulness.

They’re the kinds of skills that make an employee pleasant to work with, and they are highly sought-after skills in almost every workplace.

In the sales world, soft skills are particularly invaluable.

  • A sales rep with empathy listens to a lead’s concerns, and is able to overcome their objections
  • A salesperson who is a good communicator goes straight to a manager when he’s having trouble meeting his targets, so they can work through the problem together
  • A sales rep who is a team player supports her colleagues, rather than turning a collaborative, positive team into a Glengarry Glen Ross bloodbath of ruthless sales competition

While hard skills (like setting and meeting sales activities, goals and objectives) are easy to monitor and track – soft skills are equally important for a successful sales team.

Measuring these soft skills are a little more challenging, but you’ll find it hard to improve these soft skills if you don’t know where things are going right and wrong.

So how do you measure your sales team’s soft skills?  

The Warning You Need Before Measuring Soft Skills in Sales

You can manage what you can measure, and soft skills are definitely measurable. However, assessing soft skills isn’t always an easy task.

Unlike hard skills – soft skills are intangible and subjective; and self-assessment can be tricky. Your reps might think they’re better at say, listening, than they really are. Peer assessment is also tricky. A team member might rate another member they don’t like much lower on empathy levels when that’s not really the case.

Additionally, assessing people’s soft skills can enter into prickly territory. Sitting down with an employee and telling them they need to close more deals or make more calls is much easier than telling an employee that they lack empathy and need to work on their communication skills.

Part of the reason for that is that soft skills aren’t often measured, trained or assessed. We’ve been taught to think of things like resourcefulness and determination as personality traits. Because of this, a valid criticism of a salesperson’s soft skills can come off as an insult.

But soft skills can, and should, be measured, taught, and learned. It seems obvious that better communication equals more sales – but most salespeople don’t have any references to soft skills in their KPIs.

And, as a manager, measuring sales performance is your job.

We want to help you add an extra element to your performance management so you can improve you and your team’s relationship management skills.

What soft skills will translate into more revenue?

Google “soft skills” and you will find dozens of skills.

Lists include anything from emotional intelligence to grit. No employee is going to be perfect at all of those skills, and you don’t have time to test and train for all of them.

It’s time to identify the skills that will matter most for your team.

Obviously you’ll choose the skills that work best for your sales reps, but for the purposes of this article we’re going to suggest three skills necessary for any sales team to succeed.

  1. Managing relationships
  2. Communication
  3. Teamwork

All three of these skills are used by salespeople in tandem:

  1. Reps manage relationships with customers
  2. While working on a team
  3. And communicating with prospects, colleagues and management.

Realistically speaking, not every rep is great at all three.

Most salespeople are naturally better at one or two of these skills and need some help with the others, and that’s totally normal.

Know how to measure a soft skill (positive and negative)

Everyone knows what a good communicator is when they see one, right?

This analysis isn’t an exact science, but it’s not a great idea to rely on your feelings when you’re assessing your employees.

Instead, use their activities to judge how good their proficiency level is.

First, set a clear baseline standard of what makes a person good at each skill.

Make a list of the activities that make a rep a good communicator, and don’t just keep that list to yourself. Once you’re satisfied with it, share it with the team, because your reps need to know what is expected of them in order to deliver.

This baseline standard, once established by you, should be easy to understand. Sales reps should be capable of identifying signifiers with ease, and keep track of them while going about their day-to-day of making calls and interacting with the team.

These activities will be your KPIs for soft skills, and might end up looking something like this:

1) If a rep is good at managing relationships, they:

  • Build rapport with prospects
  • Remember and action relevant details of past conversations
  • Follow up punctually
  • Build positive relationships within the team

2) If a rep is a good communicator, they:

  • Have excellent verbal and written communication
  • Experience few or no complaints or conflicts with contacts or customers
  • Are clear, straightforward and positive
  • Are professional in their communication

3) If a rep is a team player they:

  • Work towards shared goals, not just their own quotas
  • Collaborate on projects to push the best interests of the business
  • Proactively support and assist other team members

Monitor these activities for your team regularly. Include an evaluation of relevant soft skills in your quarterly or annual review meetings.

You can assess most of these line items easily. Some you can monitor manually.

For example, it’s pretty easy to tell if one of your reps’ written communication needs work, and conversely, you can tell if a salesperson has been avoiding collaboration with peers. You just need to collect examples of these soft skills in action (and ask your salesperson to demonstrate instances where they have used and demonstrated these skills).

This process can be quite time consuming, but if you have a sales CRM tool – you can automate some of the manual work.

How CRM software can help you track soft skill development

A sales-specific pipeline management tool can lend a big hand to sales managers struggling to keep track of employee soft skills (as well as the multitude of other factors impacting sales performance). The old manual solution of a spreadsheet and paperwork will send you into a weeping mess.

A sales CRM tool can identify the worst-converting areas of your sales pipeline so you can focus on helping your team improve their soft (and hard) skills in this priority spot.

In addition to having a centralized place where all activities and client information is stored, you can set a trigger in your CRM to set off when there’s a problem.  

For example, if a salesperson takes too long to follow up with a lead, you’ll be able to use custom reports to find out if this is a regular occurrence. You’ll be able to pull a report in seconds that clearly determines whether your team member is regularly failing to follow up with a hot lead – so you can work with them on improving their communication skills at the crucial closing stage.

Once team members know what activities they need to prioritize at any given stage of the buyer journey, they will also begin to understand where their soft skills need improvement.

This is the perfect time to help the salesperson develop their soft skills by offering relevant advice, sales coaching, job shadowing or even enroll them in sales-specific training programs like Pipedrive’s Sales Pipeline Academy.

Better soft skills are a win for your team, your customers, your business (and their partner!)

Soft skills can have just as much impact on a sale as hard skills. Even more so in many cases.  

Prospects are more likely to buy from a salesperson they like and trust. That’s why you want your leads to enjoy talking to your reps, and you want your reps to build relationships with leads. The sort of salesperson who can sell sawdust to a lumber mill has incredible soft skills: they manage a relationship well, follow up when they should, and are pleasant to talk to.

However, good soft skills aren’t just about meeting sales goals.

Employees with strong soft skills contribute to a positive work environment, make the workday more pleasant for their colleagues, and are excellent representatives of the team and company they work with. They also make their sales manager’s life easier, and that’s definitely something worth striving for!

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AJ O'Connell

A.J. O’Connell is an author and journalist, and serves as a field reporter for Pipedrive. Elsewhere, her work has appeared on several trailblazing websites, including The Next Web, The Mary Sue, The Establishment, The Billfold and SkilledUp. Read more of her work at ajoconnell.com.