Technology has put product and service information at consumers’ fingertips. They’re able to Google the lowest price of a service, or the ingredients of a product, watch YouTube videos to learn how to use features, and scan Facebook for reviews from past customers. Which raises the question – what role can a sales team play today?
Read a little further, and you’ll find that the role of a sales team is still a big one! It’s just, well, softer than before. You see, sales have become less technical and more people-centric. So, to offer prospects the purchasing experience they expect, your team needs essential human skills, like empathy and resilience. Some people have these skills naturally, but soft sales skills can also be taught online.
In fact, the benefits of developing the top soft skills for sales teams have seen many companies increase their investment in training. For example, a recent study found that just an hour of training each month resulted in a 6% rise in revenue for the salesperson.
So, what soft skills should you focus on in sales training and development? Let’s take a look.
What are the most important soft skills in sales?
Delivering the right message, in the right way, is something that salespeople are expected to do daily. Whether it’s answering customer queries in store, or providing a demo to a group of prospects in a webinar, sales staff need to be master communicators. Plus, with an expanding list of communication tools, and a diverse global customer base, sales staff need to adapt their communication appropriately.
So, give your sales team the opportunity to learn and implement communication best practices in different, relatable situations. For example, your online communication course could include quizzes that test learners’ responses in various scenarios. Videos offer a great way to demonstrate different communication methods. You can also challenge learners to present a product demo to their peers via a video conferencing tool.
When it comes to the most critical soft skills for sales professionals, a close second to communication is persuasion. Now, this isn’t the art of being ‘pushy.’ It’s the art of influencing people to do what’s in their own best interest, but that would also benefit your company. For example, a financial advisor helping a customer to find the best insurance plan for their needs would also earn a commission.
When designing your online soft skills sales training, be sure to include PDF notes and videos about important theories of persuasion. For example, Dr. Cialdini’s 6 principles of persuasion are widely applied in sales training. Learners can also practice their persuasion skills in role-plays using tools like Skype, and then rate each others’ performance.
The easiest way to make a sale is to give customers what they want and need. How do you know what they want and need? You listen (or have psychic abilities!). The problem is that, today, people prefer to make assumptions, interrupt, and rush conversations. Unfortunately, as a salesperson, this approach tends to result in slammed doors and dial tones.
So, it’s essential that any selling skills training includes lessons on active listening. In other words, teach your sales team to listen, acknowledge, validate, and only then respond to customers. In online sales training, include notes and videos that explain how to be a great sales rep with active listening. Then, once they understand why it’s crucial, challenge them to practice their active listening skills in a role-playing assignment.
Of all the sales soft skills, this one is the immediate successor to active listening. Your sales rep has identified the customer’s problem. They must now decisively and confidently present the right solution or service to seal the deal. Since the majority of these interactions take place either in person or over the phone, the ability to act decisively in the moment is the difference between a closed deal, and a missed opportunity.
Fear not—there are online teaching methods that you can assign to your sales team to help improve this soft skill. For example: if your company has a set portfolio of products or services that it promotes, you can design a timed test that forces the learner to make rapid decisions based on a scenario.
You can draft multiple scenarios where a potential customer has a problem, and then your sales rep must choose which product or service is the right fit for the customer.
To simulate a real sales interaction, the scenarios can be presented in audio or video format. Once the clip finishes playing, the learner has a limited amount of time, possibly even less than 60 seconds should you assign it this way, to provide the correct response.
Practicing decisiveness goes hand in hand with developing leadership skills, as well as negotiation skills training. With nearly 60% of organizations having no structured or standardized process for sales training, it is unsurprising that their salespeople would mirror this lack of decisiveness in their sales approaches.
But with management willing to lead with effective sales soft skills training, you can pull your sales team ahead of the competition.
Empathy is one of the key sales skills. Simply put, empathy is the ability to feel what the other person is feeling. Empathy enables sales staff to understand and share their customers’ feelings. Once they know where their customers or prospects are coming from, your sales team will be better positioned to assist them. This skill is vital for avoiding frustration and conflict with prospects.
Start your soft skills training for your sales team with a self-assessment that measures their empathy quotient (EQ) – like this one. Then, provide them with interactive online learning activities, like branching scenarios, to help them improve their EQ. Another great way to learn empathy is for learners to keep a daily journal, and then reflect on their interactions with customers in a team discussion forum.
The difference between an average sales rep and an outstanding sales rep? Their level of emotional intelligence.
We know what you’re thinking. How am I supposed to implement soft skills training for my sales team on emotional intelligence? Isn’t this something you either have, or don’t?
Emotionally intelligent people can read the emotions of others with ease, and then exhibit their own emotional responses to achieve a desired outcome.
What many people don’t realize is that emotional intelligence is taught in classrooms every day—to elementary-school children. We teach children to recognize and name the emotions they’re feeling so as to facilitate this self expression, as well as create an understanding of others. The concept is exactly the same in adults.
The right sales skills training in emotional intelligence can help your employees determine the optimal moments to be empathetic, humble, confident, or reassuring.
Fortunately, we live in a world where a plethora of resources, including instructional audio and video, are readily available online. Emotional intelligence tests, Ted Talks, and case studies are all useful resources for training your sales force in this soft skill.
And with the right sales training software, you can compile all of your chosen learning materials on emotional intelligence (as well as whichever other topics you desire) in one place and quickly share them with your employees.
Emotional intelligence is arguably the most important soft skill for sales professionals, which means you can’t afford to skip out on it.
With products, services, and markets changing so rapidly, salespeople need to learn quickly and continuously. When a new feature comes out, they need to know about it. When a process changes, they need to know. And when the target customer changes, they also need to know about it. In other words, they need to be continuously curious.
With sales staff often being on the move, the best way to foster curiosity is to leverage mobile learning. Make bite-sized chunks of training available to sales teams, so that they can learn anytime, anywhere. Learning can include technical product updates, strategic updates, or even (ba-dum!) soft sales skills training.
“No, thanks. Maybe next time. It’s not for me.” These words are painfully familiar to most salespeople. When rejection takes its toll, it can be enough to make even your top performers consider a career change. The way to keep them on the team is to build their resilience.
Teaching resilience is teaching your sales staff to bounce back from rejection. Resilient people stay positive, view failures as opportunities for learning, and don’t take “no” personally. To develop resilience in your sales staff, pair them up with a supportive mentor. You can also create an online course on growth mindset, to explain that extra effort to get a sale makes them stronger.
It would be impossible for sales reps to spend every minute of every day selling. But exactly how much time do salespeople spend selling? According to a 2018 Forbes study which surveyed 721 respondents, sales reps spent 35.2% of their total time selling, and the other 65% doing everything else. The study also reports that sales reps that actively practice time management skills spend nearly 19% more time selling than those that do not. And more time selling means more profit towards your bottom line.
Everyone knows deals are never closed after the first interaction with a buyer. The most exceptional salespeople require an average of 5 “touches”, or interactions, with buyers before closing a deal. This constant need to be following up makes time management a critical soft skill for sales training.
Of course, this doesn’t mean managers can devote their days to micromanaging their sales force with a timer. Thankfully, this is not the solution, anyway.
Lack of time management is likely not a deliberate behavior of your salespeople. Rather, it’s a passive habit. With a customizable LMS, you can implement soft skills training for your salespeople that points out how improved time management will increase their own income, and decrease work-related stress.
After your employees have read and learned about the tangible benefits of time management, you can assign them non-intrusive tasks to help them implement the best practices they learned about.
For example, you can assign a task to your employees on Monday asking them to submit a checklist of things they intend to accomplish by the end of the week. Then, once Friday rolls around, you can have them follow up with their self-created checklist to see what was accomplished, and what wasn’t.
Make it clear to your staff that the purpose of this assignment is not to pin them down to the clock, but rather to assist them in using their time in the most efficient manner possible. Allowing employees to set their own goals, and to hold themselves accountable for following through with them, will create an environment of self-sufficiency, independence, and productivity.
Having employees who are capable of adapting to changes at work is valuable in any industry. But in sales, it’s critical.
Salespeople are constantly following up with potential leads. This is the nice way of saying that what they’re really doing is herding cats. So, when a potential customer cancels a meeting or a call last minute, your sales reps have to be willing and able to reschedule at the customer’s convenience. It’s likely that this will be outside of the typical 9-5 schedule. Hence the importance of improving soft skills like flexibility and adaptability.
What is more, the playing field for attracting leads is shifting. Entire businesses are built on social media platforms, and brick-and-mortar locations are becoming less and less of a necessity. This means your sales team needs to keep an eye on these online avenues that have the potential to bring in new customers.
According to a 2018 study conducted by the Sales Management Association, 80% of companies launched a new product or service in the last year. That means your salespeople need to be brought up to speed on the latest features and updates. But how are you supposed to streamline this process when your sales force is scattered across the country, or maybe even across the globe?
A powerful, but easy-to-use online training platform is the answer.
Upload all of the new content about the latest releases in the format of your choosing, and then assign it to your salespeople. They now have access to all the information they need online, from anywhere in the world, at any time. So, even if chasing customers feels like herding cats, training your salespeople doesn’t have to.
Over to you
Sales teams will always need technical knowledge and abilities to perform their jobs. But to succeed in their roles, your sales staff need soft skills training. To make sure your staff is taking their training and to track how well they’re doing, make sure to use sales training software with the right features. Finally, how do you think your team’s performance could improve with soft skill training?