Sales management: Don’t ignore soft skills in coaching

Sales management involves a lot of coaching. A whole lot.

But sales coaching has tendency to focus on pure selling skills or pipeline review. While those are topics that coaching should absolutely cover, they can’t be the only ones. One area in particular that tends to get passed over is soft skills like communication, teamwork, collaboration, work attitude and stress management.

Eighty-five percent of job success actually comes from having developed soft skills (particularly people skills). Tru Vue VP of retail sales Jim Hayes understands this, so we asked for him advice on how to incorporate soft skills into sales coaching. Here’s what he had to say, along with three soft skills to consider first:

3 soft skills sales management should coach around

1. Problem-solving

Selling is a complex task. Any given sales opportunity may come with numerous (sometimes unexpected) roadblocks, and overcoming them is a key skill for reps.

“People have a tendency to give up when they get a ‘No,’ rather than take a step back, regroup and think of a new angle,” Jim said.

Coach your reps around objection handling, especially on topics like how to reposition their value proposition or strategize their approach to opportunities. Role-play. Have your reps address the top objections your team receives and then provide them feedback.

Be sure to cover general sales objections like budget, timing and internal buy-in, but also objections that come up for your unique product or service. You can also reverse the role-play, where the rep presents the objection and you respond to it. This provides reps with a real-time demonstration to use as guidance.2

2. Grit

Studies have shown that grit leads to higher performance. Sales involves a lot of rejection, which is why grit is such a critical skill for reps to learn.

Industrial-organizational psychologist Dr. Matt Barney defines grit as really passionately persevering and relentlessly learning – in spite of the fact that your sales aren’t always going to pan out, or you don’t get a good price point or the full size of the deal that you wanted.  

Jim summed it up pretty well: “That flat-out, ‘I’m gonna win [mentality]. I’m gonna do what it takes to figure it out.’”

Coach your reps on having more grit and approaching every opportunity with positivity (regardless of how many times they’ve been rejected). Be a role model of grit for your team. Teach them to expect and accept failure. Check out this article for more ways to coach your reps around grit.

3. Self-reflection

Jim thinks it’s important to give reps leeway, because they’re probably going to make mistakes. And that’s okay, because reps can learn from mistakes (with the proper coaching). But this requires giving your reps enough freedom to actually make mistakes.

“I personally believe in giving a lot of latitude and freedom to explore new opportunities, new ways to present things or new ways to position products. Let [reps] get in the field and find what your customers want or need,” Jim explained.

Provide your reps the autonomy to perform tasks or complete projects in their own way.  When they make mistakes, sit down and talk about it (Your weekly one-on-ones are a good place for this). Explain that this isn’t an interrogation, but rather an opportunity to learn. Ask them what they think went wrong and what they could have done better. Listen, and provide feedback as necessary. Remind them that mistakes can be valuable coaching opportunities, and you’re only trying to help them grow.

Soft skills are easy for sales management to overlook, but they actually have a critical place in today’s modern sales organization. Incorporate this soft skill training into your regular sales coaching cadence to provide holistic professional development for your reps.

Sales management: Don’t ignore soft skills in coaching
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Sales management: Don’t ignore soft skills in coaching
Sales coaching has tendency to focus on pure selling skills or pipeline review. Here's how to incorporate soft skills into sales coaching.
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