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Soft Skills: The Critical Sales Weapon Almost All Managers Neglect

Soft Skills
The priceless value of a sales rep with mesmerizing soft skills
Why you should be actively improving soft skills within your team
The warning you need before measuring soft skills in sales
What soft skills will translate into more revenue?
How to measure a soft skill (positive and negative)
How CRM software can help you track soft skill development
Final thoughts

Then think about why you value that rep more than any other and what makes them so good during the sales process.

Are they always closing big deals?

Or are they a pleasure to work with because they’ve got a supportive, communicative relationship with you, their co-workers, and their customers?

If you answered yes to the second question, your star rep probably has some A-game soft skills.

If you answered no to either question, you need to start actively improving soft skills within your team if you want to increase sales.

In this article, we’ll share why soft skills are critical to revenue growth and how to measure and improve them within your sales department.

The priceless value of a sales rep with mesmerizing soft skills

Salespeople with the highest revenue-generating soft skills are the best at relationship building.

They might not be constantly closing, but their prospects and customers have faithful trust in them as a salesperson. This leads to excellent customer retention throughout their sales career.

It’s not just customers who benefit. Reps with the right soft skills for sales roles make you and your team’s life easier. These super communicators talk to you when there’s a problem, help their team members through pain points and tricky situations and diffuse tension and crisis in the workplace.

There are no surprises with this person. They’re open, honest, great at problem solving and put their work ahead of their ego. Ultimately, they build trust and make the workplace a more positive environment for everyone.

You probably wish that everyone on your team could possess effective communication skills like that.

This doesn’t have to be a pipe dream.

As a hiring manager, it’s time to stop hoping that you will find more master relationship developers on LinkedIn and start building a process to improve soft skills within your team.

Why you should be actively improving soft skills within your team

Communication skills can be taught. Most skills gaps can be overcome.

Don’t accept a person’s existing baseline of emotional intelligence. You can’t afford to simply deal with average soft skills because it just seems like ‘part of their personality’.

In fact, as a sales manager you should regularly work towards improving your team’s adaptability when it comes to soft skills and push them to escape their comfort zone.

The first step to doing that is understanding what soft skills are.

What are the most important sales soft skills?

The soft skills list is long, but important soft skills include traits like perseverance, empathy and resourcefulness.

They’re the kinds of sales soft skills that make an employee pleasant to work with, and they are highly sought-after skills in almost every workplace.

In the sales world, soft skills are particularly invaluable.

  • A sales rep with empathy listens to a lead’s concerns and is able to overcome their objections

  • A salesperson who is a good communicator goes straight to a manager when they’re having trouble meeting their targets, so they can work through the problem together

  • A sales rep who is a team player supports their colleagues, rather than turning a collaborative, positive team into a Glengarry Glen Ross bloodbath of ruthless sales competition

While hard skills (like setting and meeting sales activities, goals and objectives, as well as product knowledge) are easy to monitor and track, soft skills are equally important for a successful sales force.

Measuring these sales soft skills is a little more challenging, but you’ll find it hard to improve and develop soft skills within your team if you don’t know where things are going right and wrong.

So how do you measure your team’s sales soft skills?

The warning you need before measuring soft skills in sales

You can manage what you can measure and soft skills are definitely measurable. However, assessing soft skills isn’t always an easy task.

Unlike hard skills, soft skills are intangible and subjective, meaning self-assessment can be tricky. Your reps might think they have better interpersonal skills, technical skills or public speaking skills than they actually do. Peer assessment is also tricky. A team member might rate another member they don’t like too low on empathy levels, when that’s not really the case.

Additionally, assessing people’s soft skills can enter into prickly territory. Sitting down with an employee and telling them they need to close more deals or make more calls is much easier than telling an employee that they lack empathy, have poor time management or need to work on their communication skills and body language.

Part of the reason for that is that soft skills aren’t often measured, trained or assessed. We’ve been taught to think of things like resourcefulness and determination as personality traits. Because of this, a valid criticism of a sales professional’s soft skills can come off as an insult.

However, soft skills can, and should, be measured, taught and learned. It seems obvious that better communication equals more sales, but most salespeople don’t have any references to soft skills in their key performance indicators (KPIs).

As a manager, measuring sales performance metrics is your job.

We want to help you add an extra element to your performance management so you can improve both your leadership skills and the relationship management skills within your team.

What soft skills will translate into more revenue?

Google “sales skills list” and you’ll find dozens of examples of soft skills.

Soft sales skills lists include anything from emotional intelligence to grit. No employee is going to be perfect at all of those skills, and you don’t have time to test and train for all of them.

It’s time to identify the skills that will matter most for your team and the sales cycle.

Obviously you’ll choose the skills that work best for your sales reps, but for the purposes of this article we’re going to suggest three skills necessary for any sales team to succeed.

  1. Managing relationships

  2. Communication

  3. Teamwork

All three of these skills are used by salespeople in tandem:

  1. Reps manage relationships with existing and potential customers

  2. While working as part of a team

  3. And communicating with prospects, colleagues and management

Realistically speaking, not every rep is great at all three.

Most salespeople are naturally better at one or two of these skills and need some help with the others, which is totally normal.

How to measure a soft skill (positive and negative)

Everyone knows what a good communicator is when they see one, right?

This analysis isn’t an exact science, but it’s not a great idea to rely on your feelings when you’re assessing your employees.

Instead, use their activities to judge how good their proficiency level is in their sales job.

First, set a clear baseline standard of what makes a person good at each skill.

Make a sales skills list of the activities that make a rep a good communicator. Once you’re satisfied with it, share it with the team as your reps need to know the importance of soft skills and what is expected of them in order to deliver.

This baseline standard, once established by you, should be easy to understand. Sales reps should be capable of identifying important sales skills and signifiers with ease, and keep track of them while going about their day-to-day of making calls and interacting with the team.

These activities will be your KPIs for soft skills, and might end up looking something like this:

1) If a rep is good at managing relationships, they:

  • Build rapport with prospects

  • Remember and action relevant details of past conversations

  • Follow up punctually

  • Build positive relationships within the team

2) If a rep is a good communicator, they:

  • Have excellent verbal and written communication

  • Experience few or no complaints or conflicts with contacts or customers

  • Are clear, straightforward and positive

  • Are professional in their communication

3) If a rep is a team player they:

  • Work towards shared goals, not just their own quotas

  • Collaborate on projects to push the best interests of the business

  • Proactively support and assist other team members

Monitor these activities for your team regularly. Include an evaluation of relevant soft skills in your quarterly or annual review meetings.

You can assess most of these line items easily. Some you can monitor manually.

For example, it’s pretty easy to tell if a rep’s written communication needs work or if a salesperson has been avoiding collaboration with peers. You just need to collect examples of these soft skills in action (and ask your salesperson to demonstrate instances where they have used and demonstrated these skills).

This process can be quite time consuming, but if you have a sales CRM tool you can automate some of the manual work.

How CRM software can help you track soft skill development

A sales-specific pipeline management tool can lend a big hand to sales managers struggling to keep track of employee soft skills (as well as the multitude of other factors impacting sales performance). The old manual solution of a spreadsheet and paperwork will send you into a weeping mess.

A sales CRM tool can identify the worst-converting areas of your sales pipeline so you can focus on helping your team improve their soft (and hard) skills in this priority spot.

In addition to having a centralized place where all activities and client information is stored, you can use automation to set a trigger in your CRM that will go off when there’s a problem.

For example, if a salesperson takes too long to follow up with a lead, you’ll be able to use custom reports to find out if this is a regular occurrence. You’ll be able to pull a report in seconds that clearly determines whether your team member is regularly failing to follow up with a hot lead, so you can work with them on improving their communication skills at the crucial closing stage.

Once team members know what activities they need to prioritize at any given stage of the buyer journey, they will also begin to understand where their soft skills need improvement.

This is the perfect time to help the salesperson develop their soft skills by offering relevant advice, sales coaching initiatives, soft skills training courses, job shadowing or even enrolling them in sales-specific soft sales skills training programs like Pipedrive’s Sales Pipeline Course.

Final thoughts

Soft skills can have just as much impact on a sale as hard skills. Even more so in many cases.

During the decision-making process, prospects are more likely to buy from a good salesperson they like and trust. That’s why you want your leads to enjoy talking to your sales representatives and you want your reps to build relationships with leads through active listening, problem solving skills and their work ethic. A successful salesperson who can sell sawdust to a lumber mill has incredible soft skills: they manage a customer relationship well, have a positive attitude, follow up when they should and are pleasant to talk to.

However, good soft skills aren’t just about meeting sales goals.

Employees with strong soft skills for sales professionals contribute to a positive work environment, make the workday more pleasant for their colleagues and are excellent representatives of the team and company they work with. They also make their sales manager’s life easier, something that’s definitively worth striving for in any modern workplace!

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