How Focusing on Soft Skills Can Lead to a Sales Breakthrough

Discover how to develop seven essential soft skills that can contribute to your social selling success.

March 22, 2015

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As a sales professional, there are two types of skills that can help you succeed. The first are “hard skills,” which are directly related to sales: finding new opportunities, qualifying prospects, presenting, etc. The second type are called “soft skills.” These are people skills like communication and empathy, as well as personal skills like decision-making and goal-setting.

Since hard skills are easier to train, sometimes soft skills can be overlooked and undervalued. But soft skills provide the underlying structure for a successful career in any industry. Improving those soft skills can help you break through to a new level of social selling success.

Best-selling business and data expert Bernard Marr recently published an article on the Ultimate Soft Skills of Truly Successful People. In Marr’s post, he identifies seven skills to focus on in your professional development. In this post, we’ll recap Marr’s seven skills and provide sales tips as they apply to each skill.

1. A High EQ (Empathy Quotient)

What It Means:

Empathy is the ability to relate to another person’s emotional experience. Having a high EQ means you strive to understand others so that you can better build a rapport with them.

How to Improve:

Practice thinking about your interactions with people from their point of view. Try replaying conversations in your head, imagining what made the other person say what they did.

Try predicting a conversation, too. Based on your understanding of the other person, try to construct how they will respond to what you are planning to say.

How It Helps Sales Pros:

A customer-centric approach is a crucial component of selling. A successful sales professional is one who understands a client’s needs and can provide personalized solutions. The ability to empathize with a customer builds trust, and makes it more likely that you will add value where it’s actually needed.

2. Communication Skills

What It Means:

Communicating effectively means you can express an idea and make it easy for another person to fully grasp it. An effective communicator is precise and accurate in their speech without relying on buzzwords or clichés.

How to Improve:

It’s easiest to audit your communication effectiveness in written form. Before you send that InMail or follow-up note, check for meaningless phrases. Read your message out loud before clicking “send” to check for awkward structure. Shoot for clear, concise, and relevant. Each sentence should serve the point you’re trying to get across.

How It Helps Sales Pros:

Clients or prospects are more likely to respond to clear, concise, purposeful communication, while wordy or vague messages are more likely to land in the recycle bin. You are already devoting time each day to crafting messages. Why not invest an extra minute or two in editing exercises that can improve your response rate?

3. Decision Making

What It Means:

Good decision making means knowing when it’s time to take action. It involves waiting to make a decision until you have a good understanding of the situation and a clear goal in mind. But it also involves actually making the decision once you’re ready.

How to Improve:

When you’re faced with a difficult decision, make sure you have all the facts at-hand before you act. But once you have all the pertinent info, go ahead and make the call. There’s a point at which “exploring the options” and “mulling things over” becomes procrastination, and that can sabotage your ability to act.

How It Helps Sales Pros:

An attribute of successful sales professionals is rigorous time management. Making the decision to drop the accounts that are going nowhere frees you up to pursue better options. And since decisiveness is a valued attribute across industries, clients are more likely to respond favorably to a decisive person.

4. Integrity

What It Means:

Integrity means being honest and reliable, but it goes deeper than that. People with integrity can admit when they’re wrong, take responsibility for mistakes, and are willing to say, “I don’t know.”

 How to Improve:

The simple “not lying” part of integrity is easy for most people. But most people don’t like to admit they don’t know something or that they messed up. Practice thanking people when they’ve proven you wrong or shared new information with you. Instead of telling a client, “the ball was dropped on that one,” say, “I forgot to do X, and I’m sorry. I’m working to make it right.”

How It Helps Sales Pros:

Building strong relationships with your clients is a pillar of social selling. Relationships are based on trust. When you’re honest about your shortcomings, you reveal a depth of character that earns the client’s trust.

5. Drive

 What It Means:

Driven people are dedicated to providing value to their clients, employers, and themselves. They constantly seek to improve themselves both in and outside of work.

How to Improve:

If you find yourself not getting the most out of your workday, schedule your day with meaningful tasks so time doesn’t slip away. Show initiative rather than wait for instructions. Make a list of things you can learn that would improve your home or work life, and try to cross something new off your list every month.

How It Helps Sales Pros:

On a fundamental level, your willingness to do your job affects how well it gets done. But customers can also sense lack of purpose. They’re more likely to respond to a salesperson who is driven to do the research to provide them with timely, relevant information.

6. Focus

What It Means:

In the short-term, focus means the ability to take a complex task and see it through without getting distracted. In the long-term, it means being able to keep sight of multiple goals and move toward accomplishing them.

How to Improve:

For short-term focus, it’s helpful to train your attention span. Reading long-form prose like novels or non-fiction books lengthens your attention span, just as reading nothing but tweets shortens it. For long-term goals, it starts with documenting what you want to achieve. Write them down, make a plan, and check in with yourself regularly to ensure you’re making progress.

How It Helps Sales Pros:

Focusing on your long-term goals will help you see beyond this sale or the one after that. It will help you develop lasting skills and relationships. When you keep track of your progress, you’ll start paying attention to and improving metrics like lifetime customer value. This big-picture perspective will help inform your day-to-day sales.

7. Balance

 What It Means:

Each person has their own definition of a healthy balance, but it basically means finding the proportion of work, leisure, and personal enrichment time that leads to a feeling of well-being.

 How to Improve:

Listen to what your brain and body are telling you. If you’re dropping into bed each day mentally fatigued, you may be missing time to reflect. If you’re not relating with friends and family, you may need to spend more time cultivating personal relationships. There’s no set-in-stone recipe for a healthy balance, but you’ll know when you’re getting close.

 How It Helps Sales Pros:

A healthy balance helps you present your best calm and competent self to your clients. It also helps you avoid stress and burnout that can derail your long-term goals.

Skills like effective prospecting and being able to identify key decision makers are definitely vital to sales success. But at its core selling is about making connections and building lasting relationships. If you feel like your professional development has stalled, improving those soft skills can lead to a breakthrough.

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