7 Top Soft Sales Skills Every Salesperson Needs in 2023
A good salesperson does a lot more than just explain the value of products and services. The best are enthusiastic and empathetic, taking the time to develop relationships and understand their customers’ needs. They build a sales career on a foundation of soft skills, selling skills, and research to meet sales goals.
Implementing sales tools, such as a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, are essential tools to boost productivity and efficiency, but they don’t close deals on their own. Sales teams also need soft skills to accompany the hard skills to be highly successful.
Boosting your sales pipeline requires both attention to detail and organization along with the soft skills that a sales rep needs to make things happen. In this article, we will explain what soft skills are, the important soft skills a salesperson needs to master, and how training can help.
What are Soft Sales Skills?
Hard Skills vs Soft Skills for Sales
In sales, there’s a big difference between hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are knowledge and abilities, often learned over time.
For example, hard skills include product knowledge and research skills. They also include pipeline management skills, such as:
- Qualifying leads
- Creating compelling offers
- Delivering a sales pitch
- Guiding product demos
- Handling objections
- Closing deals
Soft skills are a little more challenging to quantify but include things like:
- Interpreting people’s reactions
- Managing your time
- Listening well
- Forming bonds
- Tailoring your selling style based on the individuals you’re dealing with
The Benefits of Training Soft Skills
According to Indeed.com, “Soft skills training is as important as technical skills training.“ We agree.
While some salespeople intuitively seem to have these soft skills, the majority have to learn and refine them. Experience will help, but training and development of soft skills to enhance sales performance can accelerate learning.
Learning soft skills and practicing them can pay dividends across all areas of sales, from initiating conversations with potential customers through the entire sales funnel to closing deals, and service after the sale.
Benefits of soft skills training include:
- Increased productivity
- Improved customer relationships
- Increased self-confidence
- Higher rates of customer loyalty and retention
- Better team dynamics
- Greater flexibility and adaptability
7 Important Soft Skills for Sales Success
Soft skills are more important than ever today because of the way people shop and research. The majority of B2B buyers will do the research online before ever reaching out to a salesperson. They’re often well down the buyer’s journey before the first conversation takes place. Great salespeople know they’ll have a limited time to make the right impression and build a relationship to close a deal.
At the same time, these soft skills are essential for customer success and sales support teams that may be called upon to serve customers, help maintain relationships, and look for upselling and cross-selling opportunities.
Since soft skills are so important for sales success, sales leaders can’t leave soft skill development to chance. They need to accept responsibility for building team competencies. In other words, as a sales leader, the burden of helping your team with soft skills rests directly on your shoulders.
Here are some of the most important soft skills salespeople need to excel.
1. Growth Mindset
Great sales organizations are full of sales representatives and team members that consistently embody a growth mindset. This drives sales teams to find opportunities that others don’t. They actively look for prospects’ pain points and craft customized solutions to these problems.
A growth mindset is what keeps salespeople calling prospects even when they haven’t gotten a response to their last five sales calls. According to research, 80% of sales require at least five follow-up calls, but 44% of salespeople give up after making just one follow-up attempt.
A growth mindset is about more than just generating more sales, although that’s a great benefit in itself. It’s the relentless problem-solving and ability to overcome challenges that drive deals forward in the sales cycle.
Those without a growth mindset may accept the status quo. They might fear making mistakes and fail to push forward in sales. They can sell fine when everything goes well but may struggle at the first sign of resistance.
Developing a growth mindset starts with honest self-evaluation. Sales leaders can help guide this discussion, but sales professionals must acknowledge and understand their flaws and shortcomings before they can implement change. Sales leaders can help by helping sales teams to shift their perceptions. Examples include:
- Helping salespeople learn new skills or new ways of doing things
- Role-playing in different circumstances to help find where the sales cycle bogs down
- Helping sales teams eliminate negative language and thoughts, focusing instead on positive and enthusiastic responses that embody a “can-do” spirit
- Encouraging authentic interactions rather than by-the-book sales scripts
- Developing problem-solving skills
A big part of a growth mindset is resiliency. It’s the ability to experience a negative outcome and quickly move on. Salespeople face rejection every day. It’s how you deal with the rejection and make the next attempt that separates the average salespeople from the great ones. As entrepreneur Mark Cuban said: “Every no gets me closer to yes.”
2. Time Management
There are so many distractions that can come up every day for salespeople. Too often, they get to the end of a busy day and realize they did not manage their time well or focus on their priorities.
Time management is the process of organizing and planning how to divide your time between different activities.
Sales team members that have a regular routine and block out their schedules for specific activities tend to excel. For example, you might dedicate an hour on Tuesday and Thursday mornings each week to prospecting. By putting it on your calendar and blocking out the time, you are more likely to do it and start to fill your sales funnel rather than putting off something that might feel like a chore.
You’ve heard the expression that 80% of sales come from 20% of your customers? It applies to time management, too. Make sure you are focusing your efforts on the subset of things that have the biggest impact first.
Organizational tools can help manage your workflows within your sales organization. Automation can also help focus time and energy. A robust customer relationship management (CRM) platform like Close can help you visualize your tasks and prioritize your customer outreach.
3. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is another essential soft skill that salespeople need to learn. EQ is the ability to discern the thoughts and feelings of others, and how your actions influence theirs. High EQ helps you see problems from a customer’s point of view, so you can better diagnose problems and help find solutions.
Salespeople that demonstrate high EQ are the ones that always seem to read the room and adjust their approach based on what they see. They’re not afraid to throw out the playbook when they recognize it isn’t working and switch tactics or approaches to match a prospect’s needs. They are good at interpreting facial expressions, body language, and emotions to tailor sales tactics. They understand the importance of non-verbal communication and incorporate it into their sales strategy.
According to Harvard University and MIT Sloan School of Management, this requires:
- Self-awareness: the ability to identify and understand the role your emotions play and the impact they have on others
- Self-regulation: the ability to control and manage emotions and behavior
- Social awareness: the ability to understand and interpret the emotions of others — a key component to demonstrating empathy
- Social skills: the ability to influence, inspire, and motivate others
Adaptability is a key skill for salespeople. Rarely do sales follow a straight line the way they’ve been defined in your sales process. Great sales teams can adapt to changing conditions and make sure they can deal with unexpected issues or concerns. The better a salesperson is at adapting their pitch, their presentation style, and their sales strategy in light of changes, the more successful they will be at selling.
Situations that require adaptability happen in nearly every sale. For example, you might have planned a 30-minute demo for a prospect, but they arrive late and announce they’ve only got 15 minutes max to spend with you. You’ve got to be able to prioritize on the fly and adapt your demo to get to the key features and benefits.
Adaptability and flexibility demand physical and emotional intelligence to read the room and understand when it’s time to change.
You can help the sales team improve this soft skill by coaching and role-playing, helping them be more present during sales presentations. Rather than focusing solely on the presentation itself, for example, sales professionals must be focused on the prospect. You can help develop this skill by coaching them on how to deal with interruptions and recognizing the warning signs when they need to adapt.
One of the best ways to train someone for adaptability skills is in-field coaching. This doesn’t mean taking over conversations, but observing the salesperson in action and then providing feedback after a call has ended.
You can also help set the stage by adapting the way you sell. By soliciting feedback and engagement from prospects at the start of your discussion, you can better frame your sales strategy.
5. Relationship Building
Sales rarely — if ever — happen without trust. Building that trust with a prospective customer requires taking the time to build a relationship. That means finding common ground with your prospects and truly listening to what they are saying.
It’s not just about being chatty or social. It’s about finding out what they really need and developing a solution to their problem. This helps build trust to establish and maintain a healthy customer relationship.
One of the ways you can build better relationships is by respecting your prospect’s time. This means doing your research ahead of any meetings so you’re prepared to have an impactful conversion.
Years ago, we used to preach the value of customer needs analysis (CNA) meetings to learn about the customer and do a deep dive into how they are doing business. Today, decision-makers don’t have time to do CNAs. They expect you to know their business and their industry, and talk intelligently about their issues and concerns. Building a relationship means doing your homework and investing time upfront.
The strongest relationships develop naturally when there is mutual value. Every call, contact, and touchpoint should provide value for the customer.
This doesn’t mean that all prospects are the same, however. We’ve all seen people that you might describe as “professional visitors.” They love to talk to people and “build relationships” but never seem to turn those relationships into sales. Sales teams need to remember they are creating relationships for a purpose and staying focused on the end goal. It’s also essential that they are putting their efforts into the right contacts, who have both the means and need for what they are selling.
You can help guide your sales team by discussing the need for a valid business reason (VBR) and a strategy to move a prospect forward in the sales pipeline for every sales call.
6. Effective Communication
Good communication skills in sales are crucial for building relationships and explaining the value of what you are selling. Salespeople must be able to clearly articulate the benefits of their products and how they can solve customers’ problems and challenges.
Unfortunately, many salespeople forget that good communication requires authentic conversation. Reading from a script or going down a checklist of things to talk about will not engender sales teams to clients. Effective communication requires both the sender and receiver to feel satisfied.
A good rule of thumb is to remember that it’s not what you say, but what your prospects hear that matters. Part of being an effective communicator is making sure you’ve explained things well enough so that your prospects hear what they need to hear.
Six elements make up effective communication:
- Assertiveness: You must be confident in delivering your message and making sure the right information gets delivered
- Authenticity: Prospects can tell when you are playing a role or telling them only what they want to hear. Effective communicators are true to themselves
- Open-Mindedness: You must truly listen to what’s being said and be open to new ideas and perspectives that may differ from yours
- Empathy: The ability to share feelings and understand what others are going through is key to communication and building authentic relationships
- Clarity: This means being able to make your case in a way that your prospects understand exactly what you are saying or proposing
- Timeliness: The timeliness of your message is also important for effective communication
Some strategies to improve the quality of your sales team’s communication skills include:
- In-field coaching and feedback
- Recording and listening to sales calls with sales team members
- Using notifications for timelines, such as reminders for when it’s time to initiate or follow up on conversations
- Practicing sales calls and presentations ahead of time and letting others provide feedback
7. Active Listening
Active listening is also a key part of effective communication and it requires you to be fully present in conversations. This means taking an active part in conversations and listening to what your prospects are saying. It’s a good idea to talk less and listen more, then form a sales strategy based on what you are hearing.
You can practice active listening in several ways, such as paraphrasing what others said and rephrasing it to check for accuracy, and withholding judgment or suggestions until you fully understand the situation.
You also need to be actively looking for non-verbal cues, such as body language or emotional signals. Studies show that as much as 93% of communication comes from these nonverbal cues. If you are busy thinking about what you are going to say next, it’s easy to miss important clues.
When you practice active listening, both you and your prospects are more engaged in the conversation. Your prospects feel valued and heard, which helps build trust and relationships.
Like other soft skills, you can develop active listening by practicing with others and seeking feedback on your ability to:
- Maintain eye contact
- Recognize non-verbal cues
- Not interrupt speakers
- Listen without jumping to solutions
- Ask open-end questions
Soft Skills Training is Essential
Sales teams need both hard skills and soft skills to be effective. Fortunately, both sets of skills can be learned. Soft skills training is an effective way to build confidence, help team members understand how these skills impact sales and produce significantly better results.
While the soft skills in this article are specific to sales roles, they’re transferable to most other careers. Soft skills are required in every job and are key to building a pathway to career success, which is why training these skills should be part of every managers job.
But what if you’re managing your sales team remotely? Get our guide to building, onboarding, and training a remote sales team: