What Buyers Say About Soft Skills for Sales Professionals

BY Deb Calvert
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In a Qualtrics panel study with 530 B2B buyers, we asked what buyers want from sellers. Here’s a sample of what buyers said. They want sellers to:

  • be excited and eager about what you’re selling without “overselling” it
  • make eye contact with me
  • be honest and amiable
  • be natural, not fake
  • be polite, courteous and knowledgeable
  • have a positive outlook
  • follow through to project completion
  • have a deep understanding of our strategic goals and purpose
  • be proactive and adapt to changing situations
  • focus on process improvement and collaboration
  • listen before responding
  • clearly answer all my questions
  • show respect for others at all levels
  • have my best interests at heart
  • show intelligence and emotional intelligence
  • be open to new ideas
  • personalize the experience for me
  • know me and what’s important to me

Out of all the open-​response comments from these buyers, not a single one focused on the hard skills of selling. Zero buyers mentioned a desired for sellers to do a better job at using tools in their tech stack. Not one buyer said they’d like to see sellers adhere to sales processes and steps more proficiently. There weren’t any buyers at all who wanted to see better delivery of sales scripts, better processing of orders, or better technical knowledge.

Buyers, it turns out, want sellers to improve in a wide variety of soft skills. 

Seller Behaviors that Buyers Prefer 

When we ask sellers what they think buyers would like to see more often from them, we get answers like these:

  • better prices
  • more options
  • more industry expertise
  • stronger closing skills
  • comfort dealing with objections
  • ability to write better emails
  • more persuasive techniques
  • faster responses
  • ability to make change easier for them
  • being more persistent

Notice how vastly different these two lists are. There’s little overlap. If anything, sellers are echoing what sales managers want, not what buyers want.

That’s not to say that buyers wouldn’t like to have lower prices, more options, and the rest. But it’s worth noting that buyers didn’t readily respond in those ways. Further, sellers aren’t picking up on what buyers really do want — soft skills that improve sales interactions.

Let’s zoom in on one of the major differences on these lists. It’s a big misunderstanding in selling. There’s a lot of misinformation about this, and it’s interfering with some sellers’ results and with the overall perception of our profession.

Sellers seem to think that their best shot at being more successful is to be more persistent. There are mantras and books and speakers who will thunder from stage that persistence is the key to success. It’s not. In fact, persistence can impair your image and cause you to waste a lot of precious selling time.

To persist means to continue steadfastly in a course of action in spite of opposition. It means to endure tenaciously or to be insistent. It comes from a Latin root word, persistere, which means to permanently stand firm. It’s lather-​rinse-​repeat, an unsophisticated and unwelcome approach to connecting with people.

But haven’t you heard the maxim that says “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?” Haven’t you experienced negative feelings about pushy sellers who seem out-​of-​touch with your need for something different than what they’ve offered?

Persistence alone makes you seem like that pesky fly buzzing around you over and over again on a hot summer day. It’s annoying.

In the study with buyers, not one single buyer said “I really like it when sellers are persistent.” Plenty, however, complained about pushy, self-​serving, irrelevant, low-​value sellers.

On the other hand, you’ve probably heard this other maxim that says “persistence pays.” You’ve likely heard the research that says it takes between 15–20 calls, on average, to break through with a new prospect. These findings are what make persisting seem like a good idea.

The hard skills of calling back, using the CRM to set your cadence and/​or deliver a sequence of emails, and follow up relentlessly with a buyer aren’t enough. Rote persistence is not effective.

Soft skills turn persistence into perseverance, something buyers admire and do want to see from sellers more often. 

To persevere means to bolster, sustain or uphold; to maintain a purpose despite discouragement. The difference between persisting and persevering is what you do during your dogged pursuit of an outcome. Persisting is the same thing over and over again. Persevering is doing what it takes to improve the situation. Persisting is focusing on the same activities; persevering is focusing on the same purpose and choosing new approaches and activities in pursuit of that purpose.

Soft skills give you the ability to read what’s needed in order to break through with a buyer. If you persevere, you do the things listed (above) by buyers — you personalize the experience, show respect, have the buyer’s best interests at hear, and so forth.

Soft skills, like critical thinking, emotional intelligence, two-​way communication, and a positive attitude, equip you for persevering. That’s what buyers want and need from sellers.

Differentiate Yourself by Developing Soft Skills for Sales Professionals

In a sea of sellers, how can you stand out? What can you do so buyers return your calls, remain loyal customers, and make referrals to you? How can you stand proud as a professional who doesn’t succumb to pressures to persist and become pushy or obnoxious? How can you succeed in selling in a way that makes you feel good about selling?

It all boils down to developing soft skills. Buyers want more soft skills from the sellers they choose to do business with. Buyers respond favorably to sellers who difference themselves with strong soft skills. And sellers who exhibit strong soft skills while selling ultimately represent their companies and this profession more nobly.

Throughout this series, we’ll provide a variety of soft skills for you to focus on. Some you’ve already mastered, but others may be uncomfortable or challenging. No one has mastered all soft skills, so we all have work to do.

Over the next three months, we’ll break down the soft skills required for providing meaningful, relevant, personalized experiences for your buyers. You’ll be better equipped to differentiate yourself and show up the way buyers want sellers to be. 

It’s Leadership vs. Sellership

Sellership is my replacement word for salesmanship. I made it up, and I hope it takes hold. I’ll be crusading for this change and invite you to join me!

Salesmanship is defined in the dictionary as

  • the technique of selling a product
  • adeptness at creating interest in new ideas, products, methods, etc.
  • the technique, skill or ability of selling
  • the work of a salesman

I take exception to that last definition. The word salesmanship leaves out “the work of a saleswoman.” What’s more, various dictionaries define “salesman” and “saleswoman” differently. Take a look at the synonyms offered: “Saleswoman” produces synonyms like “clerk” or “agent.” “Salesman” displays the synonyms “businessperson” and “representative.” No online dictionary I checked uses the obvious choice of “seller” as a synonym for “salesman” or for “saleswoman,” despite their own definitions of seller being “a person who sells.”

Perhaps this is a reflection of gender stereotypes or the roles men and women have assumed historically. Nonetheless, we’ve entered a new decade. Women do the same work as men in selling, and there’s no need for a distinction! Those synonyms should be identical and, better yet, there shouldn’t even be gender-​specific words. That’s why I’m advocating for the words seller and sellership. It’s already been accepted by Urban Dictionary, so this crusade is gaining steam!

Thanks for indulging me in that side note… Now, back to the main point.

It’s really not about sellership. Your technique, skill or ability to sell is not of interest to your buyers.  Those hard skills are essential for doing the work of selling, but they’re not enough.

Buyers want something more. Buyers want sellers who exhibit behaviors that are more often associated with leadership. The study with 530 B2B buyers revealed that buyers will take meetings with and buy from sellers who more frequently demonstrate leadership behaviors. You can learn more about this research and our findings in this previous post. Spoiler alert: These behaviors stem from SOFT skills, not hard skills.