Sales is a complex profession that takes a certain skill set to truly excel. Sales skills can be broken down into two broad categories – hard or technical skills and soft skills.Technical Skills
Technical skills are directly related to the job. For example, having the ability to find new prospects and opportunities, qualifying prospects, and presenting, 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 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.
Technical skills are important for everyone. But they’re not all that matters.
There’s also soft skills, and they can be every bit as valuable.
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 towards a career 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 22 soft skills that every salesperson must have (or develop) to be a top earner in their field.
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 help you build value and build long lasting, meaningful relationships with prospects and customers alike.
Communication means more than simply sending email 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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. Become one of those mentors as soon as you can!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2018. It was updated in November 2018 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.