Soft skills are nearly impossible to teach, but necessary for success in B2B sales. Unlike hard skills, such as writing a proposal or knowing what to say when faced with a certain objection, these are inherent. A person can easily improve them if they are part of his or her natural makeup “from the get-go.”
As such, it pays to distinguish who has these soft skills in order to build a more effective sales team. Face- to-face interviews and your own insight go a long way, but to really know, but potential recruits through a sales aptitude exam. A good sales aptitude exam will surface personality traits otherwise hard to detect and confirm or correct your personal evaluation.
Here are 5 soft skills to look for in B2B salespeople for sales success.
Many companies relegate the creative types to the marketing department. But B2B salespeople need to be creative and think on their feet because every sales situation is different and many require ingenuity to close.
Here’s a great example shared by Spiro:
“I used to sell military spec cell phones (Nextel). I would tell contractors that if they can break the phone in one shot they would get it for free. (This is back when phones cost three grand!)…. But if it makes a phone call after you take your best shot, you have to buy 10. It always worked. I had a few people back out, but it was always good fun and always resulted in getting the deal.”
This salesperson took some risks to create a very entertaining and emotionally engaging pitch for a rather utilitarian product, and it paid off.
Flexibility is a double-edged sword. Being too flexible paints a salesperson as indecisive, and what B2B and government buyers want is someone who can lead them to make the best decision. That requires conviction and directness.
Where flexibility is valuable lies in the negotiation. Take the example here of a real estate agent who successfully closed a deal with two parties who had dug in their heels and refused to make a concession. To sum up, the author of the article (home buyer) wanted the seller to pay for pool repairs, and the seller refused. With the deal about to blow up, the agent convinced the selling agent to split the costs of the pool repair from their commissions, and the deal closed.
While the author brags about their success in stubbornly getting what they wanted without conceding, for me, credit also goes to their agent for being flexible enough to make the deal work despite the odds.
If a sales aptitude exam reveals an unwillingness to change, a lack of empathy, excessive dominance, or other traits which indicate inflexibility – it might be best to pass on that hire.
While individual genius and innovation is a highly desirable quality, it should be married with the ability to work within a team framework for greater success. As quoted in Success, Management Research Group Tricia Naddaff explains:
“When teams interact, they create a new, stronger entity… They have to be agile, to deal with complexity, to stay centered when everything goes to hell—and they have to be able to pull everything together anyway.”
B2B sales often involve a lot of players, and that requires a high degree of cooperation. Not only do B2B salespeople have to work well with each other to pursue an account, but they usually have to deal with an inside coach, one or more gatekeepers, and often multiple buyer types (technical, financial, end-user) who have to sign off on the deal. Very complex indeed, and not something “lone wolves” can pull off well.
Judgment is very hard to quantify, especially since it is subject to opinions of what exactly “good” judgment is in any given situation.
There are tests designed to measure how salespeople tend to react to given hypothetical situations. These are called Situational Judgment Tests and can give hiring managers some insight.
Regardless of whether you use a multiple-choice exam or an informal Q&A, there is one senior element in determining “good” judgment. It is the CONTEXT in which decisions are made. The same exact decision could be perfectly appropriate or wildly wrong, all depending on the context in which it is applied.
Give your candidates a few realistic, but troublesome scenarios (angry customer, buyer fixated on price over quality, etc.) and ask how they would handle each. Their responses will tell you a lot about their judgment.
This final one is one we cover extensively in our sales training programs. EQ covers the ability to understand the emotions and personality style of anyone you deal with. This gives salespeople the ability to adapt to a situation when someone is dominant, passive, or empathetic, and, as a result, build a better connection.
It is a broad subject which touches on relationship facets such as cultural sensitivity and ability to sell to diverse populations, two hot buttons in today’s climate. By increasing understanding, EQ engenders greater empathy, rapport, and tolerance – making for more effective salespeople.
In conclusion, there are many valuable skills that give salespeople the highest probability of success in the ultra-competitive worlds of B2B and government sales. They are mostly inherent in their personality, and they can certainly be improved through coaching. Sales aptitude exams can help identify candidates who possess these soft skills and would, therefore, make the best hires.
Don’t recruit blindly!