Much of the discussion around sales in the 21st century involves all of the ways that technology improves your reach, conversion, and retention rates.
While technology is great for collecting data and providing more efficient service, we shouldn’t forget what really makes a salesperson successful: their ability to engage potential customers and project integrity.
In order to do that, every member of your sales team needs to develop and nurture a specific set of soft skills.
When combined with other current best practices and technologies, those soft skills are how you establish relationships with customers and get the desired results.
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are most non-technical skills that are invaluable in any personal or professional setting.
They relate to how we work and interact with others and include effective verbal communication and time-management, as well as characteristics like confidence and integrity.
We tend to perceive them as natural talents, but they are not.
Some people are born with certain gifts that make soft skills a natural extension of their personalities. Still, most of us need to learn the basics and develop interpersonal and organizational skills as we go.
There are very few occupations that don’t involve personal interactions. Sales is one of those careers where interpersonal skills may be your most marketable asset.
With strong, highly developed soft skills, you’re able to relate to customers on a deeper level, and you’re able to do it in ways that gain their trust and help establish your authority and authenticity.
Resilience and organizational skills also allow you to build lasting relationships, support a certain level of autonomy, and provide a more robust service.
There’s a long list of soft skills that are sought by employers and customers alike. They include abilities like:
- Critical thinking
- Work ethic
Which will benefit you most as a sales professional? Here are our top seven, and they work in conjunction with other soft skills mentioned above.
Empathy is your ability to intuitively relate to customer pain points. It’s essential to be able to empathize with your customers to demonstrate the effectiveness of your product line or service as a solution.
Most B2C sales involve reaching customers on an emotional level. Clients have wants, needs, and issues, and they want products that will improve their lives in some way.
You create an ideal customer persona and establish connections between what they need and what you have to offer.
Without empathy, that’s almost impossible to do. Try to put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and imagine what words and actions would convert you if you were in their place.
Authenticity goes hand-in-hand with empathy if you want to build lasting customer relationships. Buyers can usually spot a snake-oil salesperson from a mile away, and they will do their best to avoid doing business with them.
Sometimes, even perceived inauthenticity will be detrimental, regardless of whether or not it’s intentional.
Pretending to feel their pain, or even the perception of being fake, will turn most people off and send them running to another service provider.
Who would you rather deal with, a sales rep who seems sure of themselves and their product, or someone who comes off as ambivalent, insecure, or unknowledgeable?
A salesperson’s lack of self-assurance can make the customer doubt the validity and usefulness of the product. That’s why you should do your best to always exude confidence.
Confidence is contagious. When paired with other skills, it will make you an unstoppable force that gets results and furthers your company’s brand.
#4 Active Listening
Reaching, converting, and retaining customers is an exercise in forming relationships. If you had to enumerate the ingredients that go into relationship-building, communication skills would be at the top of the list.
At the core of effective communication is the art of active listening. You want to focus fully on the other person, rather than lecturing, grandstanding, or simply waiting for your turn to talk.
Active listening is one of those skills that help you build a relationship with potential clients, especially if you’ve never met them in person. As such, it involves more than just your ears.
To be an active listener, you’ll have to engage most of your other senses. Use eye contact, but also look for non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expression.
Paraphrase whatever the customer says and repeat the key points back to them.
For example, if they describe a specific problem, look at them directly and say something like: “I understand that you’re having difficulty with X, is that accurate?” This will help you confirm what the customer needs or allow them to clarify their position.
It also helps you to build a rapport, as the customer will feel understood and appreciated.
You should also ask open-ended or probing questions to gain a clearer picture of the customer’s pain points and where they are in their buyer’s journey.
Display empathy and compassion by sharing a similar experience or relating relevant previous information.
This should be self-explanatory, but you would be surprised how many people use fear or anxiety to sell.
Certainly, you should demonstrate to your potential customers the potential downside of not using your product, but you should do so in a way that provides a positive outcome.
In other words, choose an angle that focuses on the benefits of choosing your product that come with avoiding the negatives.
People, in general, like to deal with optimistic people who are upbeat and positive. However, keep in mind that authenticity plays a part in creating optimism that’s believable and relatable.
Although necessary in every aspect of doing business, integrity is essential for the sales professional.
Integrity is defined as a principle of business that incorporates honesty and dependability. You’re not afraid to tell the truth, even when that truth is not pretty.
Unfortunately, sales has developed a reputation over time as a shady business where people tell you anything just to close. Whether this perception is earned or not—doesn’t really matter.
Having integrity instills trust and fosters customer loyalty.
People need to feel that you have a set of standards and a strong moral compass.
They want to know that they can believe what you say and that you’re acting in their interests rather than just your own. This gives them confidence that you will follow through on your promises.
Show that you’re dependable by delivering on commitments and obligations.
Don’t make empty excuses if you’re unable to fulfill a commitment or promise. Be accountable for your actions, and always take responsibility for their outcomes.
#7 Conflict Resolution
Conflict resolution is the central aspect of customer retention. You can’t please everyone all of the time, but you can mitigate problems by learning the art of conflict resolution.
In fact, this is the one characteristic on this list that’s most amenable to instruction.
Avoid actively engaging in conflict or negativity. If someone is unhappy with a result, express regret that they feel that way and try to work with them to find solutions.
The goal is to establish a win-win that allows the customer to feel that they’ve achieved a victory without selling out yourself or your company.
Actively listen to what the customer is saying. Be objective and empathetic, but don’t interrupt. Once you have a handle on what the problem is, help them review their options.
Again, you’re looking for a way to accommodate the customer.
Even if you’re unable to reach a favorable conclusion, taking responsibility or making an honest effort will make it more likely that you can retain their business.
Soft Skills Come Through Practice
Unlike education and technology, soft skills can only be acquired through practice and observation. They’re hard to define and even harder to measure.
Often, customers and business leaders know those skills when they see them, but can’t quite put their finger on why some people are more successful than others when it comes to engagement and conversions.
Sure, you can take courses on how to be more charming, assertive, or engaging.
However, if you really want to get ahead in business, it pays to identify your strengths, improve in areas where you feel that you’re falling short, and hone your abilities.
Soft skills are especially difficult to self-assess. You might think you’re a master communicator, but your sales figures say otherwise. Ask someone whom you trust to be objective, fair, and honest how they would rate your soft skills and keep an open mind.
Make sure to highlight soft skills on your CV or resume as prominently as you highlight technical capabilities and job or educational experience.
Here are some ways that you can build on your skillset and close those deals.
- Step outside of your comfort zone.
- Keep an open mind.
- Be willing to learn.
- Welcome feedback.
- Follow through with your promises.
- Learn the art of observation.
- Work on building positive relationships.
- Don’t be afraid to take on a leadership role.
- Avoid the words “No” or “I don’t know.”
As you can see, all of these skills can be honed simply by being open and embracing new experiences without fear.
In the end, soft skills are mainly people skills.
You could have the best product on the market and all of the high-end tech in the world, but if you fail to reach customers on an emotional level and project competence, authenticity, and integrity, they won’t really trust you to deliver on your promises.
Branding is all about projecting your company’s vision and values to your core customer base and the general public.
It’s those intangibles you can’t really quantify that allow you to reach your audience and nourish the seeds of customer loyalty over the long term.
Tying all of the components that bring results together—product, tech, and talent—will improve the odds of your company having its best year ever.