Soft skills and sales performance

franck baudoin Published by Franck Baudoin – 24 November 2021

It’s a cliché, but being a good sales rep takes more than business skills alone. You have to know your products well, but that’s only part of the equation for success in a highly competitive sales environment. Sales is a complex art that combines experience and product knowledge, along with an array of expertise, behavioral traits, attitudes, nuances and characteristics unique to each seller.  This special set of attributes—commonly known as “soft skills”—is the difference-maker when it comes to sales performance. These include the interpersonal skills that everyone develops over the course of their life: emotional intelligence, self-awareness, patience, daring, creativity, stress management, etc. They are inseparable from our personality and what differentiate us from others.Soft skills, paired with hard skills, shape our approach to sales and our resulting performance as sellers. But what do we actually mean by sales performance? 

One definition is a sales rep’s ability to sell products / solutions tailored to their customers’ needs, while also making a significant contribution to their own employer’s results. Why are soft skills so crucial to sales performance?

Let’s take a closer look.

A September 2019 IFOP and Lavazza survey found that 47% of managers believed soft skills helped improve their company’s competitiveness substantially.

In an April 2019 survey by Cadremploi and Michael Page, 40% of sales managers said that they used their soft skills more than industry expertise in their daily work.

In 2011, Harvard Business Review had already identified what separates top performers from the rest: personality traits such as self-awareness, curiosity, modesty and results focus are what drive sales performance.

So what explains this intimate link between social skills and selling prowess?

Here are two examples:

  • Our VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) is ultra-competitive, requiring sales reps to understand their customers’ ecosystem (market, suppliers and partners)—a task where soft skills such as analysis, curiosity and creativity are vital.
  • Selling solutions involves a subtle blend of in-depth product knowledge and key social skills such as listening, patience, dialogue, and a talent for building cooperation between different partners. (For more, see this post in the Halifax Consulting Big Sales Blog.)

Soft skills have become synonymous with sales performance. Recruiters are well aware of their prime importance and often focus their search on personality types rather than product specialists.

But how do you identify soft skills in future sales reps?

And once you do, how do you develop them? Which soft skills translate into which aspects of sales performance?

At Halifax Consulting, we use a Canadian solution called ATMAN, which is backed by a data-driven, scientifically rigorous approach that defines the right sales profile for each of our client’s ecosystem.

  • It identifies and assesses the soft sales skills specific to each company (some of which overlap between different businesses). The solution singles out talented sellers primed for success based on a set of characteristics.
  • The three-dimensional sales assessment (personality / motivation / skills) also provides analysis of the relationship between natural talent and mastery of sales techniques, which can be used to create personal development plans.
  • Companies can develop in-depth analysis for each of their sales roles (KAM, key account engineer, sales management, etc.) by studying the right match in terms of profiles, positions and corporate culture.

As one Harvard study notes, 85% of success in the workplace comes down to soft skills and only 15% to technical skills. It’s a far-reaching topic that each company needs to address with this type of  innovative approach, especially when restructuring their sales organization.

The art of sales involves cultivating soft skills to boost sales performance, but that shouldn’t be cause for alarm.

There’s nothing keeping you from pinpointing and developing these skills in your teams.

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