The landscape of sales has been continuously evolving. With emerging technologies, globalization, and shifting market dynamics, the old ‘hard sell’ techniques are giving way to a more relationship-focused approach. In this environment, soft skills have come to the fore. In fact, they have become a prerequisite for sales success, not just a ‘nice-to-have’. Drawing on our experience, we understand that an effective soft skills training for sales team can act as a game-changer for your business’s bottom line.
Understanding Soft Skills in Sales
Soft skills are a cluster of productive personality traits that characterize one’s relationships in a professional milieu. They encompass social graces, communication abilities, language skills, personal habits, cognitive or emotional empathy, leadership traits, and friendliness.
In sales, soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, and emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) that enable sales professionals to navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals.
A study by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center concluded that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed soft skills and people skills, and only 15% of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge (hard skills) .
This statistic holds especially true for sales teams. While hard skills such as product knowledge and understanding sales processes are important, it’s often the salesperson’s soft skills that close the deal.
Why Soft Skills Training for Sales Team?
A key question often asked is – why should organizations invest in soft skills sales training?
Firstly, the very nature of sales involves considerable interpersonal interaction. Whether it’s prospecting, presenting, negotiating, or closing – sales professionals spend most of their time communicating with prospects or customers. Hence, soft skills like communication, empathy, active listening, and persuasion play a pivotal role.
Secondly, a study from the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) revealed that executives see a direct link between employees’ improved soft skills and improved business performance . This clearly showcases the value of soft skills in driving business outcomes.
Finally, a study by Gallup showed that organizations that invest in employee development, including soft skills training, see 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees .
Thus, the investment in sales soft skills training not only improves sales performance but also impacts the overall health of the organization.
Essential Soft Skills for Sales Professionals
Here, we delve into some of the most essential soft skills sales professionals should cultivate and why they are so vital to sales success.
1. Communication Skills
Communication is at the heart of sales. An extensive study by the Association for Talent Development (ATD) found that 92% of organizations regard communication as a critical competency for their workforce . In sales, professionals need to articulate product details, pricing, value propositions, and more in a clear and compelling manner.
2. Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
EQ is a person’s ability to understand and manage their own emotions, as well as those of the people around them. A study by TalentSmart found that EQ is responsible for 58% of job performance and that salespeople high in EQ outperform those with moderate EQ by 20% .
3. Active Listening
Active listening is a crucial soft skill in sales. A study from Michigan State University revealed that salespeople who actively listen can build better relationships with customers, increase customer satisfaction, and close deals more effectively .
4. Persuasion and Influence
Persuasion is a key element of sales. It’s the ability to convince others to accept your viewpoint or to take a certain action. A study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that persuasion is a learnable skill and that training in persuasion can significantly improve a salesperson’s ability to close deals .
The importance of empathy in sales cannot be overstated. A study by Businessolver found that 98% of customers are more likely to stay loyal to a company that shows empathy .
Designing an Effective Soft Skills Sales Training Program
Designing an effective soft skills training for a sales team is not a simple task. It requires a deep understanding of the needs of your sales team, the unique challenges they face, and the specific skills they need to develop. Here are some steps to consider:
1. Assess Current Skill Levels
Start by assessing the current skill levels of your sales team. What are their strengths and weaknesses in terms of soft skills? Where are the gaps that need to be addressed? This can be done through self-assessments, peer feedback, and managerial reviews.
2. Define Learning Objectives
The next step is to define clear learning objectives. What do you want your sales team to achieve through this training? These objectives should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART).
3. Choose the Right Training Methods
There are a multitude of methods available for soft skills training – from instructor-led training to eLearning, role-plays, simulations, and more. Choose the methods that best align with your sales team’s learning preferences, the nature of the skills to be learned, and the resources available.
4. Implement the Training
Implement the training in a way that’s engaging and interactive. Encourage participation, facilitate discussions, and ensure that the training is practical and applicable to the sales team’s day-to-day activities.
5. Evaluate and Revise
After the training, evaluate its effectiveness. Did the sales team achieve the learning objectives? What improvements can be made for future training sessions? Remember, training is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.
Real-life Applications of Soft Skills in Sales
To illustrate the power of soft skills in sales, let’s look at some real-life applications.
1. Communication Skills in Sales
Imagine a sales professional pitching a product to a potential client. Without effective communication skills, the salesperson may struggle to explain the product’s features, benefits, and unique selling proposition (USP). However, with strong communication skills, they can articulate these points clearly and persuasively, increasing the chances of making a sale.
2. Emotional Intelligence in Sales
Consider a scenario where a salesperson is dealing with a disgruntled customer. A salesperson with high EQ will be able to empathize with the customer’s frustrations, manage their own emotional response, and work towards a resolution that satisfies the customer. This not only helps resolve the immediate issue but also helps build a long-term relationship with the customer.
3. Active Listening in Sales
Let’s take an example where a salesperson is conducting a discovery call with a potential client. The client expresses certain pain points they’re experiencing. By actively listening, the salesperson can identify these pain points, align their product or solution to address these issues, and position their offering in a way that resonates with the client.
4. Persuasion and Influence in Sales
Suppose a salesperson is negotiating a deal with a client. The client is hesitant about the price. Here, the salesperson’s persuasion skills come into play. They can highlight the value the product brings, share success stories from other clients, and influence the client’s decision.
5. Empathy in Sales
In a scenario where a client is unsure about switching from their current solution to a new one, a salesperson with high empathy can understand the client’s apprehensions, address their concerns, and guide them through the transition process. This empathy-driven approach not only helps win the sale but also builds trust and loyalty.
The Future of Soft Skills Sales Training
The need for soft skills training for sales teams is not a passing trend, but a critical component of sustainable sales success. As businesses and sales models continue to evolve, the demand for soft skills will only increase.
Moreover, the onset of artificial intelligence and automation in sales means that many of the ‘hard skill’ tasks will be automated. This shifts the focus even more towards soft skills, as these are areas where machines can’t easily replicate human capabilities.
Due to our practical knowledge, we firmly believe that the future of sales training will be heavily centered on enhancing these soft skills. In the era of ‘relationship selling’, sales professionals who can effectively communicate, build relationships, show empathy, and adapt to changing circumstances will be the ones who stand out from the crowd.
By investing in soft skills sales training, organizations can empower their sales teams, enhance their performance, and drive business growth. So, equip your sales team with the soft skills they need to excel in today’s dynamic sales environment. Because, after all, it’s the people behind the product who make the sale.
 “85% of Job Success Comes from Having Well‐Developed Soft and People Skills.” Leadership Institute, www.leadershipinstitute.org/
 The Executive Summary: The Soft Skills Imperative, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)
 “Building a High-Development Culture Through Your Employee Engagement Strategy.” Gallup, www.gallup.com
 Association for Talent Development (ATD) 2018 study on communication
 “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” TalentSmart
 The Role of Listening in Interpersonal Influence, Michigan State University, Journal of Research in Personality
 “Effective Persuasion: Understanding the Skills You Need to Change Hearts and Minds”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
 2020 State of Workplace Empathy, Businessolver