Most sales kick offs focus on training sales reps on specific things they need to sell in the field – the “hard skills.” It’s not surprising that hard skills are the default for most live training events.
They’re simple to model, easy to reinforce, and the resulting behaviors can be measured with basic assessments or observation:
Does the rep know the next step of the sales process after the discovery conversation?
Can the rep recite every feature of the next product release?
Does the rep know the discovery questions provided in the talk track?
Most hard sales skills aren’t complex concepts. They often have a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong' answer. Certification can be a straightforward process.
But what about so-called soft skills?
These are less tangible, can be difficult to evaluate, and often take up too much time to adequately cover in an SKO. Mastering the hard skills used to be enough to make quotas. But today, those hard skills are just table stakes – necessary, but not sufficient. Mastering a critical set of soft skills is now needed to win today.
Three Soft Skills: The Difference Between Winning & Losing
If hard skills are the foundation of sales, soft skills are the new difference makers. And three specific soft skills help reps thrive as modern sellers. These skills establish reps as guides who help customers have confidence in their decision-making journey. They transform old-school reps into consultants focused on problem-finding and problem clarification. Hard skills might get you in the door, but these three soft skills help you close today's opportunities.
1. Adaptability – The best reps have higher situational awareness. They can see the multiple factors at work in a deal: the decision-makers and influencers, the various mental models at play, the competitive dynamics, and more. Using this intel, they adapt – delivering the sales action and message that fits the situation. This adaptability continues as the deal progresses. They sense when a part of their message isn’t resonating and quickly pivot.
2. Facilitation – More and more people are getting involved in deals. Increasing stakeholders exponentially increases the complexity of the pursuit strategy. Reps need strong facilitation skills to lead various stakeholders through the buying journey. An effective facilitator has high EQ. They use effective questioning and listening to move people from divergent thinking into consensus.
3. Meeting Control & Presence – Commanding the room and guiding the conversation is essential for modern sellers. Reps of all experience levels are at risk of losing control of a meeting, especially in the increasingly common workshop formats, demos, and other interactive sessions. A differentiated sales experience requires unique interpersonal and communication skills to keep things on track. Effective meeting management ensures reps deliver real customer value in their sales interactions.
Unlike hard skills, the only way to develop these soft skills is through practice and feedback.
Just like elite athletes, reps need to continuously practice and receive feedback. Coaches want their athletes to make mistakes on the practice field, not in a game. In the same way, reps need to hone soft skills in a safe environment rather than drop the ball in front of buyers.
The three critical soft skills are complex and malleable. A rep can’t master them completely in a single live training session. But your SKO can be a safe (even fun!) setting to introduce these skills, share best practices, and build confidence.
Here are 10 ways to integrate the soft skills of adaptability, facilitation, and meeting management into your upcoming Sales Kick Off (SKO):
- Get NSync. Improve the partnership between AEs and Solution Consultants. Create a roleplay demo scenario in which the customer responds with a question/objection that requires the AE and SC to coordinate a response in real time. Have the AE and SC play off each other to deliver a coordinated and compelling response.
- Agree Much? In groups of three, two reps play buyers with one seller. The two buyers don’t agree on the problem, issue, or solution. The seller must work with both buyers to find common ground to move the deal forward.
- Master the Pitch. Have reps record their pitch for a new feature being released at SKO on the phone. Vote on the best pitch during the event and share the example through internal communication channels. Showcase the winner on social media
- Challenge Me. Pair up reps. One rep plays a particularly challenging customer who is stuck in status quo. The other rep must work to build awareness of the risk and pains of staying in the current state.
- Coach ‘em Up. Practice working with a customer champion to sell internally on your behalf. Pair up reps with one playing the role of a ‘champion’. The ‘seller’ rep must coach the champion to execute an upcoming meeting with their boss to talk about the solution.
- Listen Actually. Pair up reps. One plays the buyer and provides a summary of their situation. The other rep must pick up on hidden motivations and the buyer’s real intent using the information provided, delivery style, and other clues.
- Weekend Language. Practice a discovery conversation between a buyer and seller where the goal of the seller is to be as candid as possible in the conversation. Points deducted for using jargon or salesy language. Points awarded for simple explanations and candid, authentic responses.
- Ghostbuster. Work on soft skills in written and voicemail form. Challenge the reps to create the best email or voicemail message for a qualified prospect who has ‘gone dark’ or is now ghosting them.
- The Big Ask. Practice a big ask. Whether it’s asking for the business or to meet with a senior executive. Set the situation. Reps should try a couple of different approaches. Score based on the method used and their effectiveness.
- Open with Confidence. Help reps improve the way they open meetings. Create groups of 3-4 reps. Have the junior-most rep practice opening the meeting in a compelling manner. Practice building rapport, communicating objectives, and setting ground rules and instructions.
Make This Your Best SKO Ever
Hard skills aren’t going anywhere. But companies that fail to develop three key soft skills will pay the price in rep performance. A small minority of reps are born with innate strengths in these soft skills. The rest need more formal training, practice, and feedback.
Don’t miss the opportunity to work on these soft skills at this year’s SKO. Including these skills on the agenda can be the secret to making your number in 2020. Reach out for more kick-off strategies and practical ideas for making your Sales Kick Off (SKO) a success.
About The Author
Ralph is a partner with The Brevet Group, and for 20 years he has led sales performance teams in the United States and Asia. Recently he also served as a sales leader in both the media and technology industries. Ralph’s work has focused on a unique blend of management consulting and sales enablement to help companies execute their sales strategies. Prior to this role, Ralph was the APAC sales effectiveness leader at Mercer.