Only the rarest of sales organizations use a model with soft skills, let alone work to develop them. As a professional, you will need to build these skills on your own. You may have noticed you only ever win a client's business by working with other human beings. When your primary role is helping other people change, your soft skills provide a competitive advantage.
Here are eight soft skills that create a competitive advantage in professional sales.
- Emotional intelligence
- Street smarts
- Reading people
Sales Soft Skill 1: Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the foundational soft skill. Your effectiveness in sales starts with your ability to recognize, understand, use, and manage your own emotions. Because selling can cause some salespeople to experience stress, especially in high-pressure situations like dealing with a difficult client, negotiating, or competing for a client, emotional intelligence is necessary.
The main advantage of developing your emotional intelligence is better communication with your contacts. In an endeavor made up of conversations, how could it be otherwise?
Sales Soft Skill 2: Caring
We can describe this soft skill as an other-orientation. It's a focus on others that suggests that selling isn't something you are doing to them, but something you are doing for and with them. When the outcome is better results for your clients, they appreciate your focus and caring.
The more a client feels you are only going through the motions in pursuit of a commission check, the less likely they are to buy from you. Caring counteracts this.
Sales Soft Skill 3: Empathy
In business, we throw around the word empathy because it is en vogue. Empathy partially comes from your wiring, but it can also be developed. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. If you are the kind of person that tears up during an emotional scene in a movie, you may be an empath. If not, you may need to work harder to develop this skill.
People can sense when you are aware of their feelings and emotions, and when they do, they will feel a strong sense of rapport. When you can demonstrate that you understand people, you gain the advantage of being able to address change and the client's undesirable results.
Sales Soft Skill 4: Street Smarts
Education is important to success. But a certain type of education comes with an intuition that can be more expensive and more challenging than the one you get in a classroom. Having street smarts means you are savvy. It’s a sense of knowing when someone is trying to take advantage of you, and how to avoid a negative outcome.
Street smarts provide you with the ability to handle difficult sales scenarios, like a difficult negotiation or some other conflict. This levels the playing field by positioning you more like your client’s peer than their vendor.
Sales Soft Skill 5: Reading People
The ability to read people is often described as empathic accuracy. Some people find it easy to know something about a person at first sight. This skill may be the result of having a high level of empathy while also being street smart, as a lot of empaths also use their ability on people to manipulate them.
By recognizing something about another person, you improve your ability to understand, connect, and communicate with them. While this is a powerful soft skill, it can be difficult to develop.
Sales Soft Skill 6: Listening
To improve conversations with your contacts, the best way to score points is to be the best listener they've ever encountered. More than a decade ago, I adopted the practice of pausing for a count of eight. I chose to do this because people continually interrupted me. I also recognized I sometimes started to talk when the other person was just pausing, but not finished.
Listening means you care about what the person is saying, and it also causes them to believe you are trying to learn about their business. The salesperson who invites their client to talk will create an advantage by acquiring information unknown to others.
Sales Soft Skill 7: Curiosity
Curiosity makes a person interested in the world around them. The desire to learn and understand causes them to ask questions. To clients, this signals an authentic interest in their business. All the while, the salesperson is increasing their understanding of their contact and the situation, which will help them sell better. Making curiosity work for you requires listening.
A curious person is going to learn more than their competitors. The information they gain can often create a distinct benefit that results in the client’s preference to buy from them.
Sales Soft Skill 8: Diplomacy
Selling includes some amount of conflict. Sometimes it is necessary to engage in conflict, but more often, diplomacy is more effective. Anyone with clients knows that, from time to time, there will be problems, challenges, and issues that are tricky to resolve. Sometimes the sales organization causes the conflict, and other times the client is at fault. The diplomat is able to resolve the conflict by working with other people when they are at odds.
The salesperson who can exercise diplomacy has an advantage over those who are missing this critically important soft skill.
Soft Skills Work with Hard Skills
While both soft skills and hard skills are important, most salespeople would do well to practice these soft skills while pursuing greater competency in the hard ones. Missing either skill set will make winning clients more difficult.