According to the Macmillan Dictionary, a soft skill is any skill that "enables someone to work well with other people." Dressing appropriately, for instance, is considered a skill.
Getting into industry-specific soft skills, however, they become harder to quantify. The easiest way to understand them is to define their opposite, hard skills, and use that as a foil. A hard skill is a technical ability that applies to a specific job and is easily measured. When you acquire product knowledge, for example, it becomes a hard skill.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are the more universal abilities that allow professionals to benefit from their hard skills. You may understand the product you're selling, but can you communicate its value in an effective way? You can if you have the right soft skills.
Every salesperson needs a combination of soft and hard skills. Today, we're going to talk about the former. Acquire these abilities and you'll achieve A LOT more success.
1. A growth mindset
People with growth mindsets believe that hard work will help them develop their natural gifts and talents. People with fixed mindsets believe their talents are innate and can't be improved. Those with growth mindsets are often more successful—especially in sales.
Fortunately, you can develop a growth mindset if you don't already have one. Here's how:
- Change your relationship with failure: Are you embarrassed by your past failures? You shouldn't be. View them as learning experiences rather than shameful ones. This will give you the confidence you need to carry on and keep improving.
- Use the word "yet" on a regular basis: "Yet" is a powerful word when used in the right context. Teach yourself to say things like, "I haven't mastered this skill yet" or "I haven't hit quota yet." Doing so will open your mind to greater possibilities.
If you do these two things, you'll develop a growth mindset that will serve you well in sales.
Empathy is the ability to put yourself into someone else's shoes. As a salesperson, you should be able to not only understand what someone else is feeling, but actually feel it with them. That way you can adjust your messaging to your prospect's exact situation.
To develop this soft skill, take a moment to imagine what your prospect is going through. What are they thinking? What goals are they trying to achieve? What pain points are they hoping to avoid? And what do they need from you to improve the buying experience?
A simple game of "Imagine if…" can go a long way towards making you a more empathetic seller. But if you're looking for other tips and tricks, try meditation as well.
3. Active listening
When's the last time you sat down and listened to your prospects talk? Nodding your head and muttering conciliatory phrases like "that makes sense," while you tally your commission check in your head doesn't count. We're talking about really listening to them.
If it's been a while, this is definitely a soft skill you should be working on! Why? Because actively listening to prospects is one of the best ways to close more deals.
Modern consumers don't want you to tell them what they need. They want you to listen to their goals, challenges, and pain points. Then they want you to guide them to a product or service that will help them achieve success while eliminating their struggles.
To become a better listener, put your customers and their needs first. When you do this, you'll naturally want to listen so you can learn to help them in an appropriate way.
4. Clear communication
The best salespeople are exceptional communicators.
It doesn't matter if you're writing an email, talking to a potential customer on the phone, or hosting an in-person product demo. The people you communicate with on a daily basis should be able to understand and connect with your words. If they can't, something is wrong.
Here are a couple of ways you can improve your communication skills:
- Put your audience first: Who are you talking to? Communicate in ways that will make sense to them. For example, you wouldn't want to speak to a prospect the same way you do to a colleague because prospects and colleagues want different things.
- Review your conversations: Do you record your conversations with prospects? Doing so will help you identify annoying verbal tics and/or confusing statements. You can then work to eliminate these things in future calls and in-person meetings.
If you can't communicate effectively, you'll never succeed at sales. So make improving this soft skill one of your top priorities this year!
If you've been in sales for a while, you know that things change. (Like, all the time.)
Internal meetings get canceled, product demos get rescheduled, prospects don't answer the phone when they say they're going to… Life in sales gets crazy sometimes, which is why flexibility is one of the most important soft skills in this profession.
Learn to adjust to the changing landscape around you and you'll have more success.
Now, depending on your personality, this may be tough to do. Some people get really stressed out and agitated when their plans keep changing. It's understandable.
To become more flexible, start each day with the expectation that something will change. That way you're not surprised when it does. We also suggest having contingencies in place. Knowing what you can focus on when Plan A goes out the window will reduce your stress.
Salespeople face rejection on a daily basis. Sometimes it comes in the form of an unanswered email. Other times it's more blatant, like when a prospect hangs up on you in the middle of a conversation. Either way, you need to have a thick skin in order to stay positive.
Fortunately, there are a few tried and tested ways to become more resilient:
- Focus on your wins: Don't dwell on your rejections. Instead, think about the deals you've closed in recent weeks. Doing so will give you more confidence.
- Remember, it's not you: Don't take it personally when a prospect tells you "no." They aren't rejecting you. They're rejecting the products/services you sell. Making this distinction will help boost your self esteem when a sales call doesn't go your way.
- Give it time: Don't give up! Rejection is easier to deal with once you've experienced it a few times. Learn to process your feelings in a healthy way; then put them to the side and get your head back in the game. You've got deals to close!
7. Time management
Finally, sales reps need to develop their time management skills. That way they can hit their sales quotas without having to work 60+ hours a week. Imagine how much better your life will be once you can exceed your sales goals without inducing burnout.
To master this soft skill, invest in the right tools. For example, Nutshell will help you manage your leads so that you can contact them at the right times and close deals faster. LinkedIn will help you connect with prospects and develop lasting relationships with them in less time. And Calendly will make it less time consuming to book sales appointments.
To become a top-level salesperson, you have to become a time management expert. Fortunately, that's easy to do with the myriad of sales tools at your disposal!
Soft skills are often the difference between subpar sellers and top performers. Fortunately, as long as you have a growth mindset, you can develop your soft skills and turn yourself into a deal-closing machine. Once you do, your sales career will really take off!
Just remember, it takes hard work to develop soft skills. But if you're willing to put in the effort to improve, there's no telling how successful you can become. Good luck!