Soft skills are gaining attention as today’s buyers demand a more personal sales experience. From beginning to end, the sales process must place value on building and maintaining a trusted relationship with each prospect. Then, that emphasis on soft skills must continue throughout the customer relationship. Possessing, honing and showcasing these skills is what will set salespeople apart. “We're in the service business, and we need to [serve] in a way that the customer is not simply satisfied with the product or the service we provide, but they need to be delighted,” explains Dennis Doran in an episode of the Manage Smarter podcast. “They need to love us. And the way they love us is because of how we relate to them, how we treat them, how we are with them.”
Soft skills focus on people. Prospects and clients want to be more than just a dollar amount. They’re more willing to work with, and stay with, a vendor who treats them like a valued person. If you aren’t doing that, you’re going to struggle. As Doran points out, “nobody wants to do business with someone that can't treat them with respect, with interest, with caring, with good attention…Those are all soft skills…the how you are when you’re dealing with people.”
Soft skills: Where to start
In a recent article for ResourcefulSelling, Michele McGovern also discusses the importance of having and honing soft skills. To help reps understand why they need these skills, as well as how to hone them, she shares some of her own insight. McGovern highlights 14 specific soft skills that sales reps can strive to possess and master.
Emotional intelligence. This soft skill gets a lot of attention lately as more people understand its value. Defined as, “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically,” emotional intelligence is vital to relationships of all kinds. McGovern discusses four capabilities included in emotional intelligence:
- 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.
Honing these capabilities will build your emotional intelligence and allow for you to connect and engage with others on a healthy emotional level. To get started, check out these past SalesFuel blog posts to learn more about body language, the power of words, and handling emotions.
Empathy. Yes, this is yet another word that has been rising in popularity. But, you first need to be clear on what it actually means. “Empathy is putting yourself in [the] buyers’ position, either understanding how they feel because you’ve felt it, too, or working to understand and feel from their perspectives,” McGovern explains. “Sympathy is feeling sorry for others, but not necessarily feeling the same pain. Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same.” Hone this skill by imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes. It may sound easy, but it will require putting aside personal biases and emotions. Start by asking yourself questions like, “How does that make them feel? What choices do they see? Who is important to them and how does this affect them?”
Some skills build on others
Integrity. Salespeople with integrity are many things: They are honest. They are credible. They are reliable and readily admit their mistakes. And, when they are wrong, they work to make it right. McGovern believes that of these aspects of integrity, admitting mistakes may be the hardest to do. “It takes practice to first, recognize your mistakes, and second, admit to them,” she writes. “As long as you make things right, it’s always a positive approach to identify and admit mistakes.”
Adaptability/Flexibility. Life isn’t predictable. Life in sales definitely is not predictable. This soft skill will ease the discomfort that comes with bumps in the road. “Sales is not an exact science,” McGovern points out. “Things seldom go as planned. Salespeople need to be able to quickly get over it (emotional response) and adapt to overcome it (physical response).” Not only will improving this soft skill help you but it will also be appealing to prospects and customers. Being flexible and able to adapt makes you someone who is easy to work with and a true teammate.
Coachability. The most successful salespeople are never completely satisfied or complacent. They seek out education and knowledge. And most importantly, they heed advice from others and implement that advice. Not everyone takes to coaching well; ego and stubbornness can get in the way. This soft skill is so important because it can really set a rep apart. McGovern explains how you can hone this skill. She writes, “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.”
Soft skills are the future
These are only a few of the soft skills that McGovern suggests adopting. To stay competitive and appeal to buyers now and in the future, reps must embrace and hone these skills. Don’t rely on outdated tactics and techniques that don’t put a personal relationship as the focus of your sales process.
As Doran noted in the podcast, “In the haze of trying to get things done, a lot of people forget the importance of soft skills. But more importantly, they don't value their importance. They don't recognize that at the end of the day, it's the soft skills that are the difference maker for people.”