Sales is a complex profession that takes a certain skill set to truly excel.
You're researching, interacting with people, prospecting, managing contacts, organizing workflows, and (if you're in management) leading a team of others to fuel revenue into the company.
As a salesperson, you're a driving force in the growth of the entire organization. No pressure at all, right?
With that harrowing responsibility on your shoulders, you can still kick ass and succeed when you know the skills you need to build and continue developing.
Sales skills can be broken down into two broad categories – hard or technical skills and soft skills.
Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What's the Difference?
Hard skills are directly related to an industry and job. For example, having the ability to find new prospects and opportunities, qualifying prospects, and delivering presentations, to name a few.
These kinds of skills aren’t just about technology: Anything that you had to learn, that calls upon a specific body of knowledge and practice, can be thought of as technical.
Good project management, for example, is just as technical as the latest marketing app. It has its own best practices, its own jargon, and its own specialized techniques.
Hard skills can be taught via training and can vary depending on the company you work for and the industry you work in.
If you’re not so sure whether this definition makes sense, just imagine the kind of results you get when you throw someone inexperienced into the deep end of running a complex project – then compare that to someone who has years of experience.
Hard skills are important for everyone. But they’re not all that matters.
The term soft skills doesn’t really do justice to how critical these are.
Without them, no one would be able to work on a team or even direct individual efforts successfully. They are the glue that holds things together and makes day to day interaction possible.
You can think of soft skills as personal skills and attributes people can cultivate to help them relate to others better. Some experts include personality traits in their list of soft skills, while others define it a little more narrowly in terms of things you practice.
For example, personal skills you could consider soft skills include goal setting and effective decision making. While these can be developed, top salespeople have an innate sense of these skills. In fact, these skills are often motivators that can drive people toward a career in sales.
Why Soft Skills Matter in Sales
Crafting a strategy, asking questions, handling objections, and selling value – these hard skills are easier to teach and train.
However, it's people skills that can be the foundation for a successful career in sales. In today's competitive business market, the growth of the internet as a research aid means that the hard sell is effectively dead.
Your potential customer has done the research, knows what they need, where they can find it for the best price, and have no interest in a traditional sales pitch. The fact is, soft skills are more important now than ever before.
On some level, almost all leadership skills are soft skills, as are all social skills.
Since they’re directly related to understanding, helping, and influencing other people, soft skills are the keys to a successful sales career. Despite the name, they’re not squishy: They make a significant, daily difference in what sales pros are able to achieve.
So, what are the most important soft skills for sales? Let's take a look at the soft skills that every salesperson must have (or develop) to be a top earner in their field.
20 Soft Skills Every Salesperson Needs
1. A High Empathy Quotient (EQ)
An EQ is a self-report questionnaire that is used by mental health professionals to assess potential social impairment for patients who may have certain disorders, like autism. The tool is available online and can be used by others for casual purposes of defining levels of empathy.
Having a high EQ allows you to relate to your prospect's emotional experience. You can develop your EQ by spending time thinking about how you interact with prospects, from their point of view.
Replay conversations and imagine what made your prospect say what they did. Try predictive conversation as well. Based on your knowledge of your prospect, try to anticipate their response before you ask a question.
This is known as perspective-taking, and it's crucial to basic human development. Your ability to see things from another’s point of view is important to your sales career. Perspective-taking helps you understand where they’re coming from, how they’re affected by the status quo, and exactly what they’re hoping to find in a resolution to their issue.
Today, a customer-centric approach is critical to sales success. Understanding your customer's needs and providing personalized solutions close sales. Possessing a high EQ and learning how to perspective-take helps you build value and build long lasting, meaningful relationships with prospects and customers alike.
How to Build Empathy
Exercise curiosity in your daily life. From interactions with your younger coworkers and discussions with family to ordering coffee from a local barista, actively consider what you can learn from others.
Being curious helps you develop a stronger understanding of the people around you, which helps in how you engage with prospects.
Communication means more than simply sending emails or texts. You must be able to engage with prospects face-to-face. An effective communicator is concise and accurate.
They avoid buzzwords, cliches, or industry “jargon.” Begin to improve your communication skills by starting with written communication.
For example, before you send that follow up email, check for frivolities, meaningless phrases, or fluff. Strive to deliver only clear, concise, and relevant messages.
How to Improve Communication
Join professional organizations where you have to network and get to know strangers in your field. This paves the road for helping you learn basics, including nonverbal communication and timing.
Also, consider learning public speaking by becoming a member of a group, like Toastmasters. Since its founding in 1924, Toastmasters has helped countless professionals become better public speakers and communicators.
3. Active Listening
When it comes to inbound selling, active listening is the most consequential skill of all. You might even say it’s what makes inbound sales different from outbound:
You need to further develop your ability to hear what another person is saying, reflect it back to them, validate it, and start moving toward a solution together.
Active listening and communication go hand in hand. When you master both, you're well equipped to build a long, successful, sustainable sales career.
How to Become a More Active Listener
There are plenty of ways to improve your listening. For example, practice the PACE method in your interactions.
- Purpose: identify the core of their message.
- Ask: encourage more dialogue by asking insightful questions.
- Connect: ensure a positive rapport by assessing their body language.
- Encourage: express your appreciation for their information.
The "lone wolf" approach to sales is over. Sales "teams" are the new normal. You must be able to work with multiple team members, technical specialists, and management.
Develop the skills required to both lead and participate. Being a team player means having the ability to contribute and take constructive criticism, without bias or ego, and to collaborate with others to advance towards a common goal.
Today’s inbound sales experts need to be able to work with marketing, product development, customer service, and a wide range of others to maximize their day to day impact. In other words, teamwork is a must for those in sales today.
How to Become a Better Team Player
Join recreational sports teams, either with your coworkers, with friends, or with strangers. Playing softball, kickball, or even playing video games with teams can help you better understand collaboration that you can apply to your professional life.
Flexibility is a challenge for some salespeople. Today, you must be flexible with schedules, responsibilities, and internal resources. For example, when you're a part of, leading, or managing sales teams, you have lots of moving parts and shifting priorities.
Today you'll most likely be called upon to assume various roles at various times. Flexibility means meeting every challenge with enthusiasm and exhibiting 100 percent commitment.
How to Become More Flexible
One of the best ways to stay engaged when your priorities shift is exercising mindfulness. Practice mindfulness techniques, like breathing and relaxation exercises and walking meditations.
6. Decision Making
Knowing when to pull the trigger is important. Good decision making skills include having a full understanding of a situation, the right information, and a clear goal. When you're faced with a difficult decision, make sure you have the facts at hand.
Don't slip into procrastination mode by “exploring your options.” Instead, take action!
Knowing when to pursue and when to back off a prospect is important to a salesperson's success. Be decisive. Work on your decision making skills and increase your value to the company.
How to Improve Decision Making
The simplest way to become more decisive is by only focusing on the significance of each decision. Follow a basic process to streamline decision making:
- Define the nature of your decision you need to make.
- Research and gather the information you absolutely need.
- Create a list of alternative solutions.
- Weigh alternatives against each other.
- Make the selection and take the action required to implement the thing you decide on.
- Review the effects and reflect on the areas impacted.
Inbound selling focuses a lot more on deep one-to-one connections and a lot less on casting a wide net. Still, you will come into contact with a lot of leads, and most will not be ready to buy.
Perseverance is vital on those days when nothing seems to go right. It drives follow-up and keeps you in the right mindset.
Remember, sales is focused on the long term. Those who aren't ready to buy today might be ready weeks, months, or even years later. So persevering and maintaining positive relationships is vital to success in the future.
How to Cultivate Perseverance
Build a process for yourself: Make sure that the goals and efforts you're working toward are worth working toward. The last thing you want to do is waste your time and be disappointed if the results don't go as planned!
Also, don't try to do it all at once. Take baby steps as needed, and focus on the little wins. But remember to keep striving and working hard, using past perseverance as the fire under you. You can do it!
Integrity means being able to admit when you're wrong, taking responsibility for mistakes, and being willing to admit you just don't know sometimes. Not lying is easy; the hard part is being able to admit you're wrong and take responsibility.
Don't tell a client, “the ball got dropped.” Tell them, “I forgot to do X. I'm sorry. I'll make this right.” Building relationships is the cornerstone of sales. Integrity reveals a depth of character that gains trust and respect.
How to Develop Integrity
Integrity comes down to self-awareness. One of best ways to get in touch with how you operate and your own personal biases is by journaling.
Take a moment each day to jot down your daily successes and failures, both tied to your goal and in general. Think about how these tie into your leadership roles and how others see and work with you. This can help you self-reflect on who you are and who you work within your company.
9. Positivity and Optimism
People like to be around and work with positive people. Learn how to accept praise and how to not overreact to criticism.
Remain positive not only with prospects, but also with your coworkers. Maintain a positive attitude, and people will love to work with you.
Optimism is another crucial soft skill that is related to positivity. It's the mental attitude that certain endeavors will lead to positive, desirable outcomes. By cultivating a sense of certainty in knowing that success is always possible, your workday will be much more enjoyable.
Plus, several studies and research reports indicate how optimism can positively influence work performance and even personal health.
How to Be More Positive
Most of how we perceive and manage challenges is influenced by self-talk. There are plenty of ways to become more optimistic - finding a personal mantra, taking walks outside, meditating, and practicing random acts of kindness are a few great ways to start.
10. A Drive To Excel
Driven people are dedicated to providing value to clients, employers, and themselves. They strive to excel both in and outside of work.
They schedule their day with meaningful tasks to take advantage of every minute and show initiative rather than waiting to be told what to do. On a fundamental basis, your willingness to do a job affects how well it gets done. Be driven to succeed.
How to Cultivate More Drive
Look at your limiting beliefs. Stop saying "I can't do that," and start saying the things you can do. Then, consider surrounding yourself with people who will inspire you and give you the energy to keep going. Having positive, uplifting people around you can help you develop more intrinsic motivation within yourself.
11. Time Management
Whether you're new to sales or a grizzled veteran, time management is a must have skill. Salespeople are often on their own schedule, setting appointments, traveling, networking, and pitching.
Learning how to prioritize and manage your time is crucial to success. Periodically, assess how you're spending your time. How much time do you spend on sales and how much on everything else?
Also, learn how to efficiently switch between tasks. This ability to fluidly change gears and stay focused on each project at hand makes it much easier for you to manage each day.
How to Better Manage Your Time
Consider the Pomodoro Technique or set some sort of time limit for your tasks. Short breaks will allow you to pause, breathe, and refresh your mind. You'll find yourself distracted less if you step away for a brief moment – which we all could use on occasion!
Confidence is behind every top producer. You must have confidence to succeed. Selling can be tough. It's not easy to hear “no” and it's even harder to turn that no into a yes!
Learn to display confidence. Turn every “no” into an opportunity to learn and grow. Confidence builds credibility, credibility breeds success!
How to Build Your Confidence
Do one thing that scares you every day. By facing your fears head on, you will be able to build confidence in yourself to conquer anything you set your mind to.
Another easy way to boost you confidence is to remember to affirm yourself daily. Whether it's taping Post-it notes with motivational quotes around your house or just telling yourself you look nice in the mirror before you head to work, it can do wonders for your mindset.
13. Problem Solving
Problem solving can seem vague, but it’s at the heart of B2B sales. Your leads have a problem – usually a fairly well-defined one – and your goal is to find the best possible response.
There’s no “one size fits all,” so you really need to dig down into every aspect of the dilemma. With some creativity and processes for researching solutions, you should feel ready and able to help guide leads to show them resolutions you found.
How to Become a Better Problem Solver
Great problem solvers are able to look at the bigger picture, visualize the goal they're working toward, and identify the means to achieving that goal. Reverse engineering the situation will allow you to be more focused on the target at hand and can help you articulate the best solution to get there!
14. Interviewing Skills
When you’re doing a discovery session with a client, what are you really doing?
Interviewing is a big part of the answer. You’re trying to guide the conversation with a light touch and get useful information. Asking open-ended questions is just the start of all you can bring to the table here.
How to Become a Better Interviewer
Practice interviewing with your co-workers and friends. Having a no-judgment try can help you prepare to talk to prospects and customers in the future. Also, ditch the script and prepare to go-off script. This can help you develop a more conversational tone that isn't so salesy.
15. Presentation Skills
This one is an edge case: Some might see it as a technical skill. Yes, rigorous practice will teach you the ins and outs of speaking, but you still need to perceive what your audience is about, adapt to their needs, and think quickly – and all of those are undoubtedly soft skills.
You put a lot of work into personalizing a presentation for your prospect. Don't let an awesome presentation go to waste by messing up while you're delivering the presentation.
As you do more presentations and build these skills, you're bound to build better relationships with prospects. And eventually, you'll start closing more deals.
How to Become a Better Presenter
Attend presentations in your area – watching others can help you identify things that work and don't work when you're presenting to a group. Take notes on your observations, then practice for yourself!
Practicing in the same space you'll be presenting in can get you more comfortable with your surroundings and better prepare you to crush it on the day of!
The era of the door to door salesman has been over for decades, but sales as a profession is still recovering. In B2B sales in particular, you must be scrupulously honest with your customers.
If you aren’t, they will find out, and the backlash against your brand can be tremendous. Not only will you lose their trust in you as a person; you will also damage your entire company's reputation.
How to Cultivate Honesty
Align your actions with your words. When you do what you say, others will know that they can trust you and that you're true to your word. Be open to honest feedback from others as well. This can help you build stronger relationships with your prospects and customers.
Sales pros do a lot of prospecting. That means finding, processing, and synthesizing a lot of information about each contact.
The easier this is for you, the faster it’ll get done and the better you’ll be at making a genuine connection. It’s a core part of showing genuine interest in others.
How to Become a Better Researcher
Keep yourself focused during your research process. Set timeframes and realistic goals for yourself so you don't get lost and waste time on information you don't need. Prioritize what's most important to learn at the beginning, then work from there.
In sales, the quota is just a starting point. Your ability to “go above and beyond” isn’t only about sheer willpower; it's about finding the processes and practices that work best for you.
That’s an experimental journey, and you’ll need to be your own biggest supporter at every step.
How to Become Self-Motivated
Somethings can't be done in one day, so learn to celebrate the small wins! Keep track of your progress as you work toward a goal. Jot things down and keep it on your desk – seeing your progress can motivate you to keep going and finish strong.
The better you know yourself, the greater the performance you can get, and the better you can serve those who depend on you.
Pay attention to your mood, your own thoughts, and what puts you “in the zone.” This will also help you notice and avoid burnout.
How to Learn More About Yourself
Be consistent with daily reflections, either in a journal or voice memos. Look back on each day to find what times and situations you're most productive in.
Work can be a boring, tedious slog that makes you despair over how humanity fell beneath the oppressive darkness of never-ending labor ... or it can be a fun adventure you set out on every day.
That’s a choice you make, and your choice will affect others, so be sure you make the right one! Cultivate a sense of gratitude during your work day, and enjoy every task you accomplish.
How to Have Fun Every Damn Day
Take walks with co-workers and build in time for fun activities throughout the day (we're big advocates of ping-pong in the Bluleadz office!) Create a fun club with your co-workers to talk about things other than work – this can help you get to know the people you work with on a deeper, more personal level.
These 20 soft skills are essential for all professionals who want to build a sustainable, thriving career. And these skills can help you climb the ranks into leadership, which calls for a whole other set of skills.
4 Skills for Sales Managers to Become a Better Leader
If you're leading a team of salespeople, congratulations! You're clearly an essential part of the organization. But there is a big difference between a manager acting as a boss or acting like a leader.
Here are four vital skills you should be developing to become an excellent leader.
To really understand any subject, the best thing to do is teach it to others. This is especially key in sales.
Almost any accomplished sales pro has had a succession of motivated mentors who were invested in sharing success. As a manager, you play a key role in mentoring and teaching new reps how to do their job well and also how to develop new skills on their own.
How to Improve Your Coaching
Before you get started, it's important to build trust between you and your reps. You should be able to have an open conversation with your team to benefit both your teamwork and your results.
Once you built that trust, don't just boss them around. Be sure to ask effective questions that will help your sales reps think and find the best solution on their own and thinking about the why and the how behind it.
Negotiation is a huge component of selling. Not everyone is going to agree to your terms on the first go-around.
Great sales managers know how to effectively negotiate deals with opportunities to set expectations for your future relationship and prove that what your business has to offer can benefit them.
Negotiation plays a valuable role toward the end of the buying process, and sales managers should use this skill to teach their sales reps how to better negotiate contracts and proposals.
How to Be a Better Negotiator
A lot of negotiation comes down to communication skills. Aside from building your communication skills, you can also focus on how you compromise. Concessions don't result in mutually beneficial agreements.
Also, pay close attention to body language, as it can send signals about how someone is feeling or wanting to act, which can help you avoid awkward or uncomfortable situations if they arise.
3. Relationship Building
The sales manager should set the tone for how their sales reps should begin to foster relationships with their prospects.
Relationship building involves trust and rapport, something that starts from the first interaction.
If you're a sales manager involved in current client meetings and strategies, building a strong relationship with clients can lead to happier customers, which can ultimately bring in new business with the help of Google reviews and testimonials.
How to Become a Better Relationship Builder
Outside of becoming a more active listener and cultivating empathy, you can also learn how to improve relationship building by identifying what you need out of your relationships and making time to foster them in meaningful ways.
Trust, respect, and honesty can go a long way in developing strong relationships in any situation.
4. Team Management and Leadership
Understanding how to handle, instruct, and oversee a team plays an essential role in any managerial position. If you don't know how to manage a team of individuals, you probably won't make the best manager.
Team management is a skill not everyone has – it requires both an overview watch of your entire team in the sales process as well as a one-on-one analysis of each sales rep to monitor individual performance.
How to Better Manage Teams
All these skills, like communication, coaching, leadership, and empathy, make you a better leader. But also focus on other basics, like publicly recognizing your employees, encouraging feedback, being transparent, and being the example.
Types of Soft Skills That Employers Look For on Resumes
Because technical skills can be taught, employers are really looking to see what natural skills and traits you bring to the table and how you can deliver value to the team.
So, when it comes to listing your strengths and skills, be sure to include these four types of soft skills.
Sales involves constant communication between you and your prospects. From emails to phone calls and even video chats, communication is an essential skill to have if you're looking to go into sales.
Types of communications skills you might add to your resume include:
- Verbal Communication
- Written Communication
Work Ethic Skills
A strong work ethic is desired by all employers. It shows that you'll get the job done no matter what it takes and that you will work hard to succeed.
By defining and explaining your work ethic on your resume, you can prove to potential employers that you will do whatever you can to achieve the goals you set for yourself and the company.
Types of work ethic skills you might add to a resume include:
Plans, strategies, and goals change. How are you able to adapt and improve your efforts to close more deals?
The sales industry is pretty fast-paced. Leads constantly roll in, prospects want more information, and your opportunities need to make a decision. Being able to adapt to changes as they happen can help prove your value to a company.
Types of adaptability skills you might list on a resume include:
Time Management Skills
No one likes someone who drags their feet and wastes your time. Highlighting your time management skills can show how you are able to work efficiently to finish your tasks and get results for the company.
Types of time management skills you can list on a resume include:
- Goal Setting
Remember that you should add explanations and context to the skills you have. How do you keep yourself motivated and focused? What makes you a team player and a good listener?
By adding context in your resume, you can sell your best qualities to potential employers and prove why you'd be a great fit for the job.
The Fundamentals of Becoming a Better Salesperson
With your skills on point, you're ready to become the best salesperson you can be. Here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind to take your sales game to the next level.
Start By Understanding Your Customers.
Your customers are your pride and joy. They are the reason you're in business, and your business was the solution to your problems.
Consider who your ideal customers are, the pain points they struggle with, and the mindset they're in when they first come to you.
Putting yourself in their shoes can help you identify your customer's motivations behind coming to your business. This, in turn, can help you tailor your conversation to their specific needs and offer better recommendations as a solution.
Ditch Your Pitch.
Put down that pre-written spiel you have about why your business is great and how you can benefit your prospect more than any of your competitors.
A strong salesperson listens to their prospects. By listening to their needs and starting an open, honest conversation, it shows you care about helping them. You're not just pitching them your business; you're empathizing, evaluating, and offering a potential solution you think might just work.
Do Your Research Beforehand.
A successful salesperson is prepared and prepped with basic knowledge of a prospect before they even hop on the phone with them.
Do your research before and even while talking with a prospect to identify what's most important to them and what problems they're looking to solve.
Preparing beforehand can help you better understand what questions to ask in an interview, what solutions and strategies to present later on, and what advice you should offer.
Learn From Your Mistakes.
Don't let your failures get you down. Again, not every deal that comes through is going to close. Welcome to the ebb and flow of sales.
Focus on learning from your mistakes to improve your strategies and communication the next go-around. Find what went wrong in a lost deal, jot them down, and identify things you can do differently for a better result (a new customer)!
Increasing Your Sales Knowledge: Resources You Should Check Out
"Personality Crisis: Sales Motivation for Different Kinds of Salespeople"
Not every salesperson is the same. Each sales rep uses different methods and tactics that work best for them.
This article by ITA Group analyzes the four common kinds of salespeople – the performer, the professional, the caretaker, and the searcher – and breaks down their traits, challenges, and ways you can motivate them to work harder and close more deals.
If you have a large sales team, your leadership should definitely read this.
"The Top 27 Sales Blogs Every Sales Professional Should Read"
Business blogging has been a valuable way of sharing new knowledge, advice, and results with prospects and customers. The good news? There are plenty of sales blogs to check out.
This article by HubSpot lists the top sales blogs out there. Every contender on the list is great for at least some kind of sales professional, whether you're in B2B sales, a manager, a rep, or even a CEO.
Give this list a view, and check out at least five to gather insights on all things sales strategy, sales process, sales management, and more.
Rapid Learning Institute's Webinars About Sales
Rapid Learning Institute has a few valuable webinars that talk about sales that are worth watching.
One of their webinars is "How to Kick Sales Reps Out of Their Comfort Zone with Jill Konrath, best-selling author of Agile Selling." This webinar can be a great resource to learn how to create “agile” salespeople and how to align your policies and practices to support sales agility.
If you like their webinars, Rapid Learning Institute also has a great blog and a bunch of resources you might find helpful as well!
"Best Sales Books: 60+ Elite Picks to Step Up Your Sales Game [2019 Update]"
While not everyone enjoys reading, many people turn to books to gain more in-depth knowledge on a particular topic. And there's plenty of published sales books for you avid readers.
This article by SalesHacker lists 60 of the best sales books out there. These books touch on every aspect of sales, from prospecting and strategies to closing deals and growing your business.
We advise you read the brief description for each book before you decide which would benefit you the most. Each book covers a niche part of sales, and while every book could be of some value to you, you probably don't have the time to read 60 books.
The Sales Management Association's Resource Library
The Sales Management Association has a wide variety of resources and tools available to everyone in their resource library.
A collection of case studies, webcasts, whitepapers, and more are available to educate you on managing your sales team, leads, and deals. If you're a believer in "the proof is in the numbers," then these numbers will really help you.
Soft Skills Make You Stronger
Learning the techniques and strategies for being a great salesperson is only half of the equation. Soft skills like people skills, drive, and confidence can't be taught, but they can be developed.
Even just a few of these soft skills can be enough to shape an entire career.
If you pick one to focus on every month and figure out what habits are associated with it, you can create tremendous positive change. This will not only improve your career; it can transform your life.
To truly excel at sales, don't neglect the soft skills. Develop them and they'll turn you into a true asset to your company.