When most people think of skills, they often think of performing an action, such as dribbling a basketball or, in sales, delivering a presentation. However, in both basketball and sales, there are other “soft” skills, such as being social, communicating, and having a positive attitude, that are equally important in achieving success, on the court or in the office. For sales leaders, who face the challenge of satisfying the often-contradictory needs of their sales team and management, it can feel like walking a tightrope. Here are several tips for sales leaders to leverage their soft skills and achieve a harmonious balance while meeting the goals of their organization:
- Emotional Intelligence
This is the ability to recognize, control, and express one’s emotions, and it is critical for sales leaders. Sales can be an emotional business. Between dealing with stressed clients or overwhelmed sales reps, not to mention the needs of management, sales leaders often must navigate a sea of conflicting desires. To do so effectively, they must strive to keep their emotions in check while understanding and satisfying the feelings of others. Here, the ability to express empathy can be crucial.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to virtual everything, an organization’s needs are in constant flux. Management is issuing new directives at the same time sales pros are perfecting their skills to meet the old directives. In times like these, effective sales leaders should channel REO Speedwagon and roll with the changes. Remember, a team looks to their leader to set the tone. Leaders who resist, complain, or even winch will see a negative reaction in their team. Instead, find the positive in change, instill confidence, and show how sales pros can make the most of the new directives. Remind sellers that, though it took time, they achieved great success with virtual selling and found new and productive ways to engage clients that, not only exceeded expectations, but resulted in more wins.
- Work Ethic
Though many may think of work ethic as the ability to work harder, effective sales leaders know it also relates to working smarter. No matter the job, enjoying the work is paramount to reaching goals and achieving success. From basketball players to sales leaders, a positive work ethic inspires others. A big part of this is approaching each day and its challenges as problems to solve, much like your sales team has been trained to seek and find innovative solutions for clients. In addition to setting a positive example for team members, a strong work ethic—exemplified by arriving early, smiling in meetings, staying until the job is done—gets noticed by management. More importantly, positivity is contagious, and sets the tone for an organization’s success.
- Team Player
Effective sales leaders know that, in addition to leading their team, they are first and foremost a part of the team. In both banana republics and sales, leaders who view themselves as omnipotent dictators do not inspire loyalty in any positive sense. Rather than seeing themselves as above or beyond their teams, leaders should see themselves as pieces of a larger puzzle. Sure, they must evaluate performance, point out problems, and issue directives, but, like their reps, they are fulfilling a vital role in the overall success of the organization. The most successful sales leaders must present a united front and assure reps that the whole organization, from the most junior sales pro to the highest C in the suites, is aligned in pursuit of common goals.
- Growth Mindset
To effectively motivate and inspire their teams, leaders should exhibit a growth mindset, not just for themselves but for the organization. While everyone wants to move up, a growth mindset cannot be limited to individual goals. Instead, sales leaders must show concern for the well-being and success for the sales reps at the same time exhibiting a dedication to the long-range needs of management and the all-important bottom line. Central to this is understanding the personalities and motivations that drive their team and treating them as individuals, with their own goals, at the same time stressing how their goals work within the larger framework of the organization. To get the most from everybody, leaders must show how these ideas are not mutually exclusive but entwined to achieve success for all.
- Open to Feedback
It’s been said intelligent people do not have all the answers, but they know where to go and who they need to get them. This holds true in sales leadership. Part of being a leader is recognizing that you do not know everything, but you trust your team to offer their honest opinions and insights. It’s easy to accept constructive criticism from superiors. It isn’t always as easy to accept honest feedback, including criticism, from those we lead. For some, this can be a hard pill to swallow. Many of us believe in ourselves and trust our knowledge and experience. After all, these got you to the position of sales leader. But to get the most from your team, show them your respect and allow them to be as honest with you and your performance as you are with them and theirs.
- Active Listening
An essential skill in effective selling, active listening is equally important in leadership. Just as sales pros must poke, prod, and pepper their prospects with questions to get to the root of their needs, sales leaders must listen to their reps’ words at the same time probing for their unspoken desires. This can take some self-evaluation. Are your reps comfortable asking questions or giving their opinion? Do they hesitate or lead with softeners like, “Don’t take this the wrong way,” or “Do you mind if I offer my two cents?” Do they fidget or seem uncomfortable when you listen in on their calls? Of course, everyone is nervous at the onset of evaluation, but just as effective sales pros soon find their grove, no matter who’s watching or listening in, the best sales leaders should recognize mere jitters from a larger issue.
Admittedly, soft skills are not as exciting as a game-winning jump shot or crushing a sales presentation, but they are often the unsung heroes of effective and successful sales leaders. They are the skills that help leaders understand and get the most from their personal interactions, either with their reps or upper management. Most importantly, they are the skills that help bridge the distance between these two groups, serving as the needed ear for one and a vital voice for the other, and they go a long way to bring organizations together in pursuit of common objectives. For more information on being an effective sales leader, download our new white paper How to be a High-Performing Sales Leader in Today’s Marketplace.