The top soft sales skills you need to thrive in an SDR role in 2020 and beyond
No matter what the stock photos and book covers may suggest, a stunning smile isn’t all you need to be a great salesperson. The best sales development reps have one thing in common: They put time into mastering key soft sales skills.
What Are Soft Skills?
According to The Balance, soft skills are “non-technical skills that relate to how you work.” Soft skills influence how you interact with others and do your job -- which is why they’re so important in sales. Of course, you can use these skills for a lot more than selling. Personality traits and attributes transfer across every area of your life, so you probably have quite a few strong soft skills already.
And no, “strong soft skills” isn’t an oxymoron. The soft skills you use in salessupport your hard skills, making you more efficient and effective in your role. Therefore, recognizing your non-technical strengths and working to improve in weak areas will impact everything you do.
Essential Soft Skills for Sales Professionals
Which soft skills should you be building if you want to succeed in sales? There are dozens to choose from, but since you want to actually spend time working on your sales skills and techniques instead of reading about them for hours, let’s narrow it down to a few specifics.
Open to Learning
Notice how this pops up inallcareer advice? It’s true: You never stop learning. And if you want to succeed in sales, you need to tell that part of your brain that’s still hanging out in the college dorm, eating pizza and watching reruns of ‘80s sitcoms in an effort to avoid studying, to shape up.
Sales is a dynamic environment, especially in the digital age. With new tech emerging at a rapid pace, today’s approach to sales could become yesterday’s news overnight. Markets change just as fast as tech, so sales development reps can’t afford to be stuck in their ways.
So, it’s time to admit that you don’t know everything. (Take that, pizza-scarfing college self!) Go into every situation with a measure of humility. Be willing to accept suggestions and feedback from people with more experience. And when a new approach to sales comes along, get familiar with it. Even if you don’t wind up using it, you’ll still gain an understanding of how the changing sales landscape might affect your job.
Working in a Team
Collaboration plus communication equals better sales outcomes. Pretty simple equation, right? But it takes a little doing to make it work.
Salespeople don’t operate in disconnected bubbles. As a sales development rep, you either are or likely will be part of a sales team, so you need to be a great communicator who’s able to get along with people. Even when you have disagreements or they drive you nuts.
A functioning team needs members who provide help and value to each other to move the entire group forward toward common goals. It’s not about looking out for number one and being stubborn or competitive. This goes for when you’re working with other salespeople and when you’re interacting with people from other departments (like marketing) to reach sales quotas.
Good communication and collaboration doesn’t automatically eliminate confrontations. Facing objections and handling disagreements is part of being human! That’s why it helps to be a master negotiator.
The cornerstone of successful negotiation? Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Whether it’s a prospect, a client or a coworker, thinking from an outside perspective readies you to meet objections with clear, helpful answers. It also shows you how toadapt the way you interactto best serve each person based on learning style, preferred communication channel and level of knowledge.
With that said, you’re not going to hit the nail on the head every time. There will be pitches and presentations that fall flat, but don’t get discouraged. Learn what you can from the experience to improve in the future. Being Creative In sales, you don’t have to do things the way everyone else does. In fact, you shouldn’t -- because a lot of people doing sales are (let’s face it) kind of boring. It’s not that they don’t know what they’re doing; they simply lack the critical soft skill of creativity.
David J.P. Fisher of Hyper-Connected Sellinghas a great way of putting it: “Creativity doesn’t have to be learned as much as it has to be unharnessed.” That means putting aside fear of what other people are going to think and allowing yourself to think about problems in new ways
Play around with different parts of your job or your personal hobbies. How can you approach things differently? How can you do thingsbetterthan you’re doing them now? What tools do you have to power up your sales game? Asking these questions makes you more flexible in your thinking, which leads you to...
How good you are at this soft skill affects pretty much everything else you do -- in a sales development role and in life. Because change can (and does) come quickly, you need to be confident in your overall skill set. You can’t let every new thing take you by surprise.
Look at how sales has changed just over the past few years. Who could have predicted the enormous influence of social media? Or that sales and marketing would get to the point where the customer is calling almost all of the shots?
This goes to showthere is no “one size fits all” in sales. To set yourself -- and everyone else on your sales team -- up for success, you need to always be ready to explore alternatives, try new things and share fresh ideas. It’s another area where creativity comes in handy!
Learning Sales Skills: Can Soft Skills be Trained?
Wait a minute. If soft skills are personality traits -- a part ofwho you are as a person-- can you really learn them?
Short answer: Yes!
You’re already learning some of the best soft skills for sales professionals every day. Whether you’re in a sales development rep role now or looking for your next job, simply being around and interacting with other people can turn you into a better salesperson. And when youareworking as an SDR, you geteven more practice on the job.
Want to get started now? Here are a few ways to actively work on your soft sales skills:
Pay attention to your strengths as you work and interact
Ask friends, family and coworkers what they think you’re good at (this can be surprising!)
Watch others who are strong in the areas where you want to improve
Address weaknesses through role play with team members or a sales coach
Seek out a work environment that encourages learning and practice
A good sales training program can help you put this all together. The SDS Sales Leadership training course gets you fully equipped with the soft skills sales professionals need in the digital age. There’s a lot to learn -- and SDS is there with you every step of the way.
To ace a sales career, you need to practice both hard skills and soft skills. Oddly enough, there’s not a lot of clear information out there about hard skills for sales. Most advice lumps the two skill types together or gives soft skills the bulk of the attention.
But it’s important not to overlook hard skills in sales development training. If you want to stand out in a sales role, you need a solid grasp of the basics that make the whole sales process work.
What are hard skills?
Indeed.com defines hard skillsas “technical knowledge or training that you have gained through any life experience, including your career or education.” In other words, hard skills are things you can learn to do through any type of training.
You can’t do your job unless you know how to do your job.
Hard skills are often job specific. You’ve probably seen them listed as bullet points in job postings, declaring, “At least 3 years experience using Some Popular CRM Platform required” or “Experience with This Common Word Processing Suite preferred.” You’re more likely to get hired if you have the desired know-how.
Soft skills, on the other hand, stem from your personality traits and influence how you interact with other people. You can learn the basics of these skills from someone else, but they’re mostly honed over time as you work in a sales role.
It’s easier for employers to measure hard skills than soft skills, but both are important in sales development training. We’ll cover soft skills in the next post -- for now, let’s focus on what hard skills employers are looking for and how to develop them so that you stand out!
Why are hard skills important?
The most obvious reason why hard skills are important in sales is that you can’t function as a rep without them. You’d be lost if you didn’t have the practical and technical knowledge required for the position.
Basically, you can’t do your job...unless you know how to do your job.
But hard skills have benefits beyond simplifying your day-to-day work. Mastering the technical aspects of an SDR role also:
Makes you more productive
Improves your resume for future roles
It can also mean a bigger overall salary. If you’re really rocking it, connecting with prospects, cranking out emails and zipping through successful calls, you’ll close more deals and take home more commissions. You might even catch your boss’s eye with your SDR superhero talents and get a bonus.
(That shouldn’t be your only motivation, but it’s nothing to sneeze at, right?)
What hard skills do sales development reps need?
Sales advice often talks up the importance of communication, teamwork and dedication, but you can’t be great at those without working on hard skills first. Here’s what you need to master to be amazing in an SDR role:
Prospecting for potential clients. Gathering qualified leads requires knowledge of the software and systems your company uses to research and connect with its target audience.
Navigating CRM platforms. All the data from leads lives in the company CRM. You need to know how to record information accurately when prospecting and retrieve it for personalized follow-ups.
Making calls and sending emails. Successful cold calling and cold emailing depends on more than just having a charming personality (although that never hurts!). There’s call dialing software to navigate, and you’ll probably have to create drip campaigns and automated workflows to make the email process more efficient.
Leveraging social media. These days, a lot of prospects live on social media -- sometimes literally. One critical hard skill for sales is knowing how to connect on different platforms in organic, conversational ways.
Maintaining internal communications. You’ll need to stay in touch with your fellow SDRs and the rest of the sales team every day, so it helps to be comfortable with communication and collaboration platforms like Slack and Trello.
Conducting product demos. Familiarity with your company’s product and the video conferencing platform you use for product demos is essential if you want to close more deals.
Speaking the language(s). You don’t have to be bilingual or multilingual in sales, but it helps. Picking up a second (or third) language makes it possible to communicate with more prospects -- which is a great asset in an increasingly global market.
How to develop hard skills for sales
You should have picked up some of the skills you’ll need as a sales development rep when you were in school, but you can’t stop there if you want to be truly great at what you do. Boost those skills -- and show your boss you’re serious about your job -- by:
Taking additional college courses or continuing education classes
What if you want to get going with those hard skills for sales right now? TheSDS Sales Leadership Training Course gives you access to training drawn from on-the-job SDR experience. You get access to everything you need to know to land -- and succeed -- in an SDR role, plus personalized coaching for that added edge. Join the Sales Dev Squad today to get started!
Make the most of your day with super time management skills
Time management is one of the foundational skills every sales rep needs to master. Before you roll your eyes and think, “Yeah, I’ve heard that one a million times,” consider this: Good time management skills are vital if you want to succeed in anything, not just sales.
Life isn’t supposed to be one endless run on the hamster wheel. When you learn to manage time and tasks well as a sales rep, those skills translate into other areas and can make your entire life better. Here’s how to wield that power like a pro.
What is Time Management?
Let’s start with what time management is not. It’s not a fruitless “herding cats” pursuit where you try to cram every task into the limited amount of time available in a day. Rather, it’s a set of processes and skills that make it possible to organize and plan intelligently. You come to an understanding of how to allocate your time to high-priority activities with the goal of reaching specific objectives.
What Are the Benefits of Time Management?
Learning time management basics before you step into a sales development rep role unlocks some pretty cool benefits:
Better productivity and job performance
Fewer missed deadlines
Less time wasted on trivial tasks
Lower stress levels
Increased job satisfaction
Better relationships with team members and colleagues
All of this contributes to better outcomes in every area of your job. You’re more focused, so you contact more prospects, move them through the pipeline faster, and close more sales. That means more commissions -- and more revenue. It’s a positive feedback loop that makes your boss happy and has some pretty good perks for you, too.
How to Ace Time Management Without Stress
Now that you know why time management is important and not just some cliché experts like to throw around to make it seem like they have it all together, it’s time to put the relevant skills and processes into practice.
Don’t worry: It’s not overwhelming, and you don’t have to bend the time-space continuum to make it work. You just need to follow a few basic tenets of sales time management.
Learn to Plan
Making the most of your time starts with well-defined goals. As a sales rep, you have targets to hit each month, which contributes to the larger goals of the company. Then there are your personal and professional aspirations, like getting a raise or being promoted to a higher position.
Create your plans for each month, week, and day around these goals. Use the hours where you’re most productive to knock out the biggest, most demanding tasks, and plan your sales calls around your prospects’ schedules to avoid conflicts and delays. Once you have a basic plan, translate it into specific to-do lists so that you have a specific focus for every day.
Recognize Real Priorities
How do you know which tasks should be at the top of your to-do list? Here’s a hint: Anything that contributes directly to accomplishing your goals should get done first.
In sales, this often means making calls and following up in pursuit of closing deals. Study your sales pipeline to identify the most promising prospects, and make them top priority. Honing in like this removes the false sense of urgency that tells you it’s imperative to call everyone and do everything right now and lets you focus on closing sales.
Say No to Pointless Distractions
Distractions are the arch nemeses of time management in sales. Some of the worst include:
Switching between unrelated tasks
Attempting to multitask
Telling yourself you’re taking “just a minute” to check email or social media
Co-workers sending you silly TikTok videos (okay, maybe this isn’t a top one, but it’s still distracting!)
Every single one of these will hold you back from your goals. Trying to do a bunch of things at once requires shifting your attention between tasks, some of which have nothing to do with each other. Called “context switching,” these constant shifts in focus can eat up as much as 80% of your productive time every day.
The bottom line here? Don’t do more than one thing at a time. Stick to your daily plan, and use a time management app to block your biggest productivity killers (like those TikTok videos…).
Streamline, Templatize and Automate
This three-in-one tip tackles the question of how to be organized in sales from several angles. A lot of the tasks SDRs do every day are related, like making calls, sending emails, and recording or updating client data. You can make it all go faster by:
“Bucketing” similar tasks together in specific blocks of time
Creating templates for emails and client calls
Setting up automation tools to handle data transfer, email sequences, and follow-ups
With more tasks running in the background and fewer incidences where you have to reinvent the wheel to get something done, your days will start to roll along like those tumbleweeds in old Westerns (only with much more purpose and direction).
Take Real Breaks
You know that moment around three in the afternoon when it starts to feel like your computer screen punched you in the face? That’s the signal it’s time for a break.
A real break, not, “I just finished this thing, so now it’s time to check my email/scroll through Facebook/laugh at those TikTok videos.”
A real break means gets you away from work and screens to take a walk, stretch, grab a coffee, or chat with a coworker who’s also on break. Unlike context switching, taking breaks helps you stay more alert and productive, so give yourself wiggle room in your schedule for brief moments of refreshment throughout the day.
After a few weeks of planning and prioritizing, you’ll realize you can’t do all the things. It’s just not possible. And part of learning sales time management is giving yourself permission to not feel guilty about leaving a few things undone. Nothing is 100% predictable, so there will be days when you get thrown off or just can’t manage a full workload. When that happens, reorient your priorities for the next day and keep moving forward.
While these tips can be a big help, keep in mind that time management isn’t something you learn overnight. It’s a process, which is why it’s smart to start learning now, even if you’re not in a sales role yet.
SDS Sales training is here to help you master time management and other essential skills you need to succeed as an SDR. Check out our Sales Leadership Training Course and YouTube Channel to get a head start on acing time management skills and becoming the most productive sales rep -- and the most productive person! -- you can be.