Learning from the best: 3 soft skills that top sales reps have in common.Posted on September 4th, 2019 by Mark Stecker
A mountain of research aims to uncover the most effective sales tactics. Companies test scripts, measure email length and even use AI to analyze phone conversations. With so much focus on data-backed conclusions, sales start to look a lot like science. Yet, a significant part of sales still lies beyond the realm of logic. Which part is that? Soft skills.
Since buyers and sales reps are human, sales have an inherently emotional side. For that reason, reps with certain personality traits and attitudes have greater success. These abilities, or soft skills, can make the difference between an average salesperson and a top performer. So, while sales is a science, it's also an art.
How can your salespeople balance science with art to improve sales? By reflecting on how the best sales reps use soft skills. Let's take a look at three soft skills that top performers use.
Common soft skills among top performers
Before diving into the deep end of soft skills, you should first know what a soft skill is. While the term implies some skill or talent, the definition is much broader.
Soft skills are innate attributes that are highly valued in specific jobs. Soft skills include qualities like “common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude." For example, a doctor can treat a disease, but does she have the people skills needed to treat patients?
Obviously, soft skills aren't limited to learnable talents and abilities. Qualities like attitude and demeanor can also be categorized under soft skills. Now let's look at three common soft skills among top-performing sales professionals:
Contrary to stereotypes, the best sales reps are usually humble people. They aren't big shots with inflated egos. Instead, they're down-to-earth and know how to admit their shortcomings. A study on personality traits among B2B sales reps revealed the prevalence of this soft skill. Ninety-one percent of top performers had higher-than-average scores for modesty and humility.
This trait is essential for two reasons. First, a humble mindset opens reps up to getting instruction and learning new things. People with big egos tend to think sales coaching and training are beneath them. In contrast, a humble individual doesn't dismiss being taught by others. Second, humble people are generally more pleasant and relatable. Whereas braggarts alienate prospects, humble reps earn respect by not putting on a show for attention.
"Those who make excuses are (literally) selling themselves short- and in turn, selling you and your business short too." - Karl Hougaard, CEO at Virtuzone Consumer.
Responsible reps are dependable and trustworthy, and they take charge of their duties. They feel motivated to perform their roles to the best of their abilities. As self-reliant individuals, they take the initiative to ensure the job gets done right.
Reps with a strong sense of responsibility don't push the blame onto others. Instead, they hold themselves accountable for their errors. They admit their mistakes and respond to criticism in an honest, productive manner. While underperforming reps make endless excuses, top performers identify and fix their weak areas. This sense of personal accountability fosters improvement and growth.
"It’s important to take an empathetic approach through everything — from targeting to messaging, communications, deal strategy, and right through to the close."- Damilola Erinle, former vice president of Area.
Empathy is arguably the most important soft skill in the sales world. Empathetic listeners gain a deeper understanding of their prospect's challenges and feelings. Top reps use this understanding to guide their approach. Rather than using static strategies, skilled reps treat each prospect as an individual. They modify their tone, message, and pitch to fit the client's needs and emotions.
Empathy isn't confined to a particular stage in the sales cycle. Reps can incorporate empathy throughout the sales process. Buyer journeys are longer and more complex than ever. Empathetic reps will stay in tune with the prospect through each stage of the journey.
Cultivating empathy for sales success
A lot of people consider soft skills natural-born traits. Does that mean your sales reps don't have a chance if they weren’t born with them? Not exactly. There are measures sales professionals can take to promote soft skills within their interactions. If practiced systematically, these soft skills will become natural and fluid.
The first step is the zen-like practice of being present in the conversation. When talking with a prospect, reps should slow down, focus, and take in every word objectively. They should never offer a solution before understanding the client's needs and emotions.
Next, sales reps have to put themselves in the customer's shoes. Asking questions like the ones below can help reps develop an empathetic mindset.
- What time does the prospect arrive at and leave from work?
- What are some everyday stressors in the prospect's job role?
- What tasks is the prospect juggling right now?
- What concerns or worries does the prospect right have?
This type of reasoning helps reps see the situation from the prospect's point of view. With that perspective, reps can form stronger, more personal connections. That is precisely what top sales performers do — they build relationships. While this social element can't be quantified with data, it's crucial to sales success.