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What are Soft Skills in Sales?

This is a guest article by Jeni Wehrmeyer, COO/CMO, Anthony Cole Training Group

It would be great if you could hand a new salesperson a manual, ask them to read it, take a knowledge test and they could successfully begin their job. But (and you knew there’d be a “but”) … selling is a different animal.

You will often hear the term “soft skills” in reference to training a salesperson. What are soft skills in sales? Let’s try to demonstrate that with a short example.

Salesperson walks into a…

What may appear to be the setup for a joke is in actuality a very typical example of a sales situation. A salesperson walks into a prospect’s office (or enters a Zoom room), they greet each other, and the salesperson says:

A- “Thanks for seeing me. I know we have many solutions that could help your business.” or

B- “What could we accomplish today that would make this a great meeting for you?”

Which of these approaches demonstrates a more skilled approach to a sales conversation? We certainly hope that you chose the second.

That is just one example, but a salesperson’s ability to deftly open a meeting, ask enough, great questions and really listen are examples of what soft skills are needed in sales.

Asking masterful questions- your most important soft skill

Since the most important soft skill for us to learn in selling is how to become expert in asking masterful questions (not just questions), let’s explore that a bit. 

How do we get information from other people-- We ask questions. 

  • When you ask a question, what kind of question do you ask? Are they technical in nature or for gathering data? 
  • Do your questions really probe and make people think?
  • Are your questions focused on the prospect’s core business issues or problems or are they about your products?
  • Do your questions sometimes make the prospect uncomfortable and do they bring out the real issues?

What about after you ask those questions?  Then what?

How well do you listen?  I mean, really listen. 

How often can you repeat what someone is saying to you?  How often do you take a key word in their answer and use that to phrase your next question or questions?

Typically, there are two things going on in most sales conversations:

  1. Salespeople are hearing and not listening.
  2. If they are listening, they are listening to themselves instead of their prospect.

A Test- Who are you listening to?

Try this the next time you are in a conversation with someone, and you ask them a question. 

Really focus on listening.

Identify who you are listening to. 

Are you making internal statements or creating internal thoughts about their answer?  If you are, then you are listening to yourself.

It is a universal truth that often in a selling situation salespeople will not ask the question because they do not want to disqualify a prospect. The best part about mastering the soft skills of asking questions is that you will become more courageous as you get more comfortable “drilling down” with your conversation. 

Asking masterful questions—and actively listening to the answers-- will not only help you become better at qualifying your prospects, but it will also help you clean the deadwood out of your sales pipeline. And that gives you more time for prospecting, the number one job for all salespeople.

Do your salespeople spend enough time prospecting?

Anthony Cole can help your team ask the right questions.

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Last updated: 18 Oct 2022
Jeni Wehrmeyer
Guest Author, COO/CMO of Anthony Cole Training Group

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