The Seven Essential Soft Skills of Highly Effective Salespeople

Selling in 2024 Requires Sales Professionals to Excel in Seven Specific Soft Skills

If you’ve been in sales for more than a few years you’ve lived through some seismic shifts in sales strategies, sales methodologies, and sales technologies.  In January 2020 you likely had sales travel booked into the mid-summer months and face-to-face customer and prospecting visits planned ahead.  “Zoom” was something your car did when there was no traffic and “Teams” referred to the ones you thought were going to be in the NCAA March Madness tournament.

 

We’re Already Living Through a Seismic Shift in Selling

 Then COVID hit and almost overnight your selling shifted from the picture above on the left to the one on the right… you were selling virtually from your home while we all sheltered in place. By the end of 2022 you wondered how you lived without virtual selling pre-2020.  And by the time you are reading this, new technologies, market shifts, and buyer preferences will all have required you and your fellow sales professionals to adopt new approaches to connect with customers.

That said, people still buy from people and the sales process still rises and falls on how much prospects and customers like and trust you. Although selling soft skills don’t shift as rapidly as technical selling skills, soft skills are crucial to your developing, expanding, and building lasting relationships with people.

 

Adopt a Wayne Gretzky Mindset

One professional sports player stands out as the undisputed G.O.A.T. and that is hockey’s Wayne Gretzky.   The Great Gretzky began his professional career in 1978 and played 20 seasons.  Although slight of frame (6 feet tall and 185 pounds) and dwarfed by many of his peers, held a whopping 61 NHL records.  In 2024, 25 years after his retirement, he still holds 58 of those records. 

When interviewed in his playing days he was asked what made him so incredibly effective as a hockey player.  “Simple,” said Gretzky. “Most people skate to where the puck is.  I skate to where it will be.”

BOOM!

If ever there was a mindset for sales success, that is it.  Skate to where the puck will be.  With that thought in mind, here are one person’s opinion of the Seven Essential Soft Skills of Highly Effective Sales Professionals

 

Seven Essential Soft Skills of Highly Effective Sales Professionals

All of these soft skills are crucial to your selling success, so I’m listing them in alphabetical order:

One – Business acumen. An effective sales professional understands enough about his or her prospect’s business to understand how our solutions will positively impact each business’s performance indicators and metrics. It is your understanding of how your customer’s markets, how they conduct business, and how they measure business performance that will allow you to show how your solutions will help your customer achieve his or her business goals.  A sales professional with business acumen finds it much easier to do cost justification and business case generation to support the purchase of our solutions.

 

Two – Commitment. Selling is a contact sport that rewards well-focused effort.  The Godfather of Sales Training Tom Hopkins once said, “Selling is the lowest paid easy work AND the highest paid hard work there is.”  There are many things outside your direct control when you sell: customer budgets, market conditions, competitive pressures, and technological developments, just to name a few.  Top salespeople control everything they can control, let go of the rest, and relentlessly attack every opportunity.  They win more than they lose.  In order to excel in sales, one must have grit, desire, determination, the will to win, and resilience to keep moving forward regardless of circumstances.

 

Three – Conversational questioning skills.  For many decades the core selling skill has been the salesperson’s ability to use skillful questioning uncover prospect wants, needs, circumstances, priorities, budgets, ability to buy, and the hidden pain your solution will relieve for each specific customer.  Customers rarely volunteer this information, so it must be learned through research and discovery/needs assessment questions.  If your questioning approach seems like an interrogation or feels like you are following a script, kiss the opportunity goodbye.  That said, most people will engage in a conversation, so learning how to ask questions and keep it conversational may be 2024’s most crucial skill (IMO). 

 

Four – Curiosity.   In order to develop deep product knowledge and to discover the unique things about customers and customer decision-makers and influencers, sales professionals must be curious enough to invest the time to learn each. Learning is an ongoing process because there are always unique customer situations that you have never encountered before and ongoing product development/technological advances.  Natural curiosity motivates the learning process.

 

Five – Emotional intelligence.  Selling is a people contact sport, and because of this, emotional intelligence is a key predictor of success in sales. Salespeople need to express true empathy to make the customer feel special and practice effective body language as well as being able to read a prospect’s body language. EQ is made more effective when used in combination with other Essential Soft Skills on this list.  People buy from people they both like and trust.   

 

Six – Multithreading to collect people. People are changing jobs now every 32 months, which means that the client-side people you meet today will likely be working elsewhere in under three years.  Gone are the days of having a single embedded account champion you can count on.  2024’s top sales professionals will make strong connections with a minimum of seven key people in each account (a practice known as multithreading).  AND develop relationships with new players. AND collect the contact info of the people who leave the account when they go to their new employer, so you have an in at the new employer.   

Seven – Tying solutions to deeper needs. Nobody wants to be sold (but everyone likes to buy).  When a sales professional shares with a client how he or she will help the client solve their problems and answer their concerns, and personalizes this, the prospect feels comfortable in moving forward. Several key supporting techniques for this soft skill include storytelling, explaining benefits and not features, and looking for signs of prospect acceptance.

 

The Bottom Line

Every top performer imposes the discipline of continuous improvement upon him or herself. As markets evolve and technology advances, taking your soft skills to the next level will improve both your performance and your earnings, and make sales the profession that enables you to earn as much as you want.   

I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:

  • Improving your (or your team s) management and leadership skills: Leading Through People . This acclaimed program equips participants in thousands of current and emerging best practices of leadership, hiring, and talent development.
  • Raising your (or your team s) selling and sales management effectiveness: B2B Sales Essentials (among the 30-plus courses we offer are ones on selling with emotional intelligence and storyselling!)
  • Conducting a more effective job search: Get a Better Job Faster

For the past 25 years I’ve worked with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. Thanks to our clients, the company I founded in 1998, Boyer Management Group, was recognized by CEO Monthly Magazine for its “Most Influential CEO Award, 2023” in the executive coaching field.  Our coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time.  Our extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new and developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive.  BMG boasts one of the most extensive sales and sales management curriculums anywhere, with behavioral assessments to help develop talent. I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. To find out more, please visit us at www.boyermanagement.com, email us at info@boyermanagement.com, or call us at 215-942-0982. 

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