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Observe, Listen, then Speak: Why Soft Skills are Still Crucial to Sellers

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There are many concrete and measurable skills, also known as hard skills, that a salesperson must learn to have a successful sales career.

A proficiency in CRM and sales enablement technology; conducting the right kind of research; and the ability to interpret data, whether from a win/loss analysis, content analytics, or somewhere in between, are just a few of them. These skills are becoming increasingly more important, too, with recent analysis from Gartner finding that greater emphasis is being put on sellers being adept at data analysis as more tools become available to them.

However, any good salesperson knows that while data-informed insights are important, they still need to be augmented with tried-and-true soft skills, including active listening, asking the right questions, and being situationally-aware.

These soft skills can complement a seller’s hard skills and make it easier for them to act on what they’ve uncovered during their analysis to close more complicated deals.

A more personalized approach

A 2019 study from Forrester and Seismic shows that nearly 90 percent of decision-makers agree that buyers expect personalized information in their interactions with the sales team, as they have often already done their own research.

The sales industry is starting to evolve to meet these changing buyer expectations, as the study also discovered that sellers are spending a greater proportion of their time researching customers’ industries and business challenges when compared to five years ago.

This is where hard and soft skills intersect.

For example, using insights that tell a company how a buyer has consumed a piece of content sent by a seller will uncover what content is and isn’t resonating with potential buyers.

But, it’s also important to let buyers do most of the talking during initial phone or in-person interactions to get a better understanding of the research they’ve already done and the materials they’ve already read. Active listening not only helps sellers determine where to focus the conversation when it’s their turn to speak, but can also help create a more personalized experience to establish trust.

That said, a successful prospect engagement predicated on data insights and active listening only works if you can get the person talking about what matters.

This makes asking the right questions that lead to a dialogue – pain points, what’s worked in the past, personal and company goals, and more – extremely important, to foster a more productive solution-oriented conversation.

Prospects expect a consultative experience, rather than being talked at or sold to. They should feel like sellers understand what keeps them up at night, what is preventing the individual or their company from being successful, and, most importantly, that the seller has the right solution for them.

Balancing the insights they get from data and industry research with a consultative in-person delivery will be the winning combination that makes sellers stand out when bidding for new business.

Enhancing the buyer experience

The buyer experience can make or break a deal. Nearly 85 percent of B2B buyers say that their experience is just as important as the products and services themselves, according to Salesforce.

However, Gartner has found that less than a quarter of buyers say their last purchase experience was a positive one. Closing this gap can only happen through both hard and soft skills.

Resonant storytelling is at the core of positive buyer experiences.

Days, weeks, or months can be spent researching and planning for a meeting with a prospect to craft the perfect story – but the best laid plans sometimes go awry. This is where situational awareness can make a difference in your storytelling.

For example, what happens when you turn up for a meeting and the CEO is unexpectedly sitting in the room, ready to hear your pitch?

A situationally-aware salesperson can read a room within seconds and react to it. Whether this means spending more time than originally planned on one section of the presentation because it has resonated with CEOs from similar companies in the past, or recognizing bored faces and eye-rolls, and quickly moving on.

Being situationally-aware also means quickly understanding – based on well-timed questions, hearing people out, and body language – the group’s needs and key considerations, and then framing your value proposition in a way that will resonate with them.

Who is most frustrated with the current status quo, thereby most likely to advocate internally for what you’re selling?

Who is the lead decision maker, that’s in charge of budget?

Who is involved, but would prefer not to be?

A B2B sales deal was once said to have approximately seven decision makers involved, but in 2020 it can easily exceed 10.

A good salesperson can tailor their message and story to accommodate each person’s role and position in the decision-making process.

Soft skills are what gives a salesperson the ability to appeal to each person as a person, rather than just a prospect.

For sellers to continue finding success they can’t let soft skills fall to the back-burner as they develop more in-demand skills around data analysis and analytical problem-solving – instead, they must augment these hard skills with soft skills to stand out and get the job done.

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