How to improve soft skills in sales professionals
Soft skills are anything but “soft.” They’re often the most difficult skills we ask employees to develop. You may call them core skills, power skills, foundational skills or durable skills.
Regardless of which term you prefer, the fact is that they’re essential to the success of your business. This is especially true in sales, where the ability to establish trust and build relationships is paramount. Sure, salespeople need to know your products, execute your sales process and take solid notes in your CRM. But the real key to selling is people skills, and they don’t come much “softer” than that. Improving soft skills in sales teams is essential for company success.
Work with stakeholders to clarify job expectations and identify the skills that create the opportunity for success within your sales organization. Don’t assume that sales skills from one organization cross over to another. Sure, there will be overlap, but you need to clarify the behaviors that make a difference to achieving goals in your organization. Once you know what you’re working with, you can take steps to ensure that these skills are properly reinforced.
1. Make soft skills training a priority from day one
Soft skills training for sales professionals should begin during the onboarding phase. Understandably, onboarding tends to focus on compliance requirements, important job tasks and product knowledge, but soft skills are just as important in a sales role.
You can crutch many of the “hard skills” like technology and process through performance support. For example, you can provide salespeople with a set of job aids that walk them through common processes within your CRM. This should free you up to focus your training on the skills that matter most from the start, like how to sell, build relationships and execute your chosen sales model.
2. Focus on the right soft skills in sales
There are countless examples of soft skills, so your focus should be on prioritizing the ones most essential in a sales role for your business. There’s no point in emphasizing teamwork at the beginning if your sales professionals work independently.
The emphasis should be on important soft skills like active listening, relationship building, empathy, emotional intelligence, time management, overcoming objections, storytelling and similar skills that make for a more effective sales process.
3. Conduct customer simulations and coaching
Sales training shouldn’t just be hypothetical and concept-based. If time allows, team members—especially new team members—should take part in simulated customer interactions that are observed and critiqued by a supervisor. Roleplay simulations can be conducted face-to-face in the office or online for remote workers.
Feedback should be given on areas like body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, persuasiveness, thinking on one’s feet, overcoming objections and even subtle details like vocal control, all of which can make or break a sale. Observation guides should be aligned with critical soft skill requirements and explanations so evaluators know what to look for and provide consistent feedback.
4. Make it an ongoing process
Promote confidence and proficiency through constant practice; this isn’t a one-and-done type of learning. Reinforcement is essential. The more a person reinforces the skills, the more confident they become. The more confident they become, the better their sales expertise.
You can sharpen each sales professional’s skills over time with ongoing reinforcement, which may include scenarios, practice activities, daily training with microlearning and ongoing employee observation and feedback. A program like Axonify works well for daily training because the short daily lessons are adapted based on each learner’s existing knowledge and areas for improvement. Information is delivered in an engaging format and repeated at spaced intervals to encourage retention. This type of learning also supports critical thinking via scenario-based questions, such as asking how a salesperson would overcome a particular obstacle.
5. Identify and close skills gaps
Everyone on your sales team has durable skills—the problem is that they all have different durable skills. Some are great with verbal communication, some are great with problem-solving and some are excellent listeners. Your job is to figure out where the gaps are and train up each employee accordingly and encourage everyone on your team to approach the task with a growth mindset.
Focus on proactively identifying potential skills gaps through ongoing reinforcement, practice and observation before skill deficits result in lost sales opportunities. Axonify makes it easy to determine where individual employees are struggling so you can provide the one-on-one support they need. You can refer to our detailed scoring and participation metrics as part of your skills gap analysis, and adjust your training accordingly. Axonify already does the heavy lifting by customizing the learning experience of each employee.
6. Record live sales interactions and use them for training
Recording sales interactions is common in call centers and other remote sales environments. Real sales interactions provide insights into where the salesperson excelled and where they struggled. The recorded calls can be played during group training sessions or incorporated into digital training modules in a retail LMS or call center LMS.
When using real sales interactions for training, make sure to provide a variety of examples so that salespeople can pick up tools and tips from a combination of effective performers. Everyone has a different style or approach, especially when it comes to human skills like storytelling. Also, don’t just share top performers, as this can create potentially unrealistic expectations. Variety and diversity of approach is key here so each salesperson can find what works for them. Just make sure that the salespeople whose calls are selected are okay with sharing for training.
7. Demonstrate the skills you want to see in your team members
Finally, it’s important to exemplify the types of skills you want to see in your sales reps. From communication style to body language right down to the general work ethic, focus on being the example. Ultimately, the behavior you project is the behavior you can expect. So set the tone for the entire sales operation, even if you’re not actually making the sale.
Soft sales skills are imperative
Durable skills are critical. According to one survey, 97% of employers believe they’re as important or more important than hard skills. In a sales environment, they’re almost always more important.
So if your training is still focused on compliance and technical sales skills, make it a priority to develop soft skills. You will notice a difference in sales performance—and so will your team.