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Close More Deals with Soft Skills

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify use cases for soft skills in the sales process.
  • Communicate effectively with prospects and customers during a sale.

How Do Soft Skills Support the Sales Process?

In every step of the sales process, you use a specific set of soft skills to communicate with prospects and gather information. By using them correctly, sales reps can move prospects down the pipeline and close deals, boosting company revenue while securing commissions. 

Let’s discuss which soft skills apply to each step and how they help move prospects closer to a sale.

Prospecting and Lead Qualification
The first step in the sales process is finding people who are interested in your product or service, otherwise known as prospecting. This is the purview of business development representatives (BDRs), who conduct research online and via networking to find businesses or individuals that are ideal candidates for a sale based on their title, industry, company size, and need.

Soft skills really come into play when BDRs make initial contact with a prospect, often via cold calls (phone calls without an introduction). Many prospects hang up the phone quickly, but you can keep them engaged by tossing out a common interest discovered during research to build rapport. Follow that with open-ended questions to help uncover the prospect’s needs and situation. As they share information, practice active listening so you can note key details and insights. Remember: Be empathetic if they mention struggles or difficulties.

Let’s say Ana, a BDR for a spring water company, cold calls a prospect. To keep the prospect engaged, she starts with a greeting that creates a personal connection, and then follows through with info-gathering questions (known as prospect qualification):

“Hi there, Manuel! It’s Ana from IceCold Water Company. My friend told me about your upcoming charity event. You host events like this a lot, right? Small world—I realized I actually went last year and had a blast. You put on an amazing party!

Anyway, she mentioned you’re struggling to get refreshments this year. I’d love to help—maybe give you a special discount on a bulk order on some of our premium water. Can you tell me a bit more about the event?”

There’s a lot that can happen in a short cold call, but with the deft use of soft skills, you can learn enough about a prospect to qualify them as a likely buyer and move them to the next step of the sales process: the discovery call.

Discovery Call Follow-Up
After making your initial cold calls, you should have a working list of prospects that are ideal candidates for follow-up. At this stage, you want to identify exactly what they need, what their budget is, and how you can help them. This in-depth information gathering is known as discovery.

Much like the initial cold call, successful discovery requires ongoing rapport-building, open-ended questioning to get specific information, and active listening to retain key points that you can use to create a compelling sales pitch. Perhaps most importantly at this stage, you need to mirror the prospect’s responses, ensuring you completely understand their needs and situation.

Let’s circle back to our BDR, Ana, for a moment. She calls Manuel back to get more details as part of her discovery:

“Hey, Manuel! It’s Ana again from IceCold Water. How are you—event preparations going well? Good, good.

I wanted to follow up quickly to see if I could get some more event details. I’m putting together a proposal for you and want to make sure I’m getting you what you need. I believe you mentioned you were anticipating 50 guests, is that right? And about how long is the event? Is there a budget for catering and refreshments by chance?

Thanks so much, Manuel—very helpful. One of our account executives will circle back with a formal proposal in a couple of days. They’ll be in touch soon. I can’t wait for the event!”

Sales Call
Once a BDR has conducted successful cold calls and discovery calls, confirming a prospect is a good candidate for a sales pitch, their information is handed over to an account executive (AE) who follows up with a formal sales call, and as needed, a demo of the product or service being sold.

Several of the soft skills used in earlier sales process stages apply here, especially active listening and mirroring. While a sales rep is likely to spend a fair amount of time talking during a sales call, it’s recommended you don’t dominate the conversation—a 40/60 talk ratio is often cited as the gold standard, with reps talking only 40% of the time. This gives you plenty of time to actively listen to concerns, questions, or other key points offered by the prospect that allow you to adjust your pitch.

If you’re conducting the sales call by video or in person, it’s also key to pay attention to body language and facial expressions. Be ready to change messaging or refocus your presentation if these physical signs are negative.

As you explain the features of your product or service, align them with the prospect’s already-articulated needs. This “guiding” will make it clear that you have the perfect solution to their problems.

Also, if objections arise, respond with empathy and mirror the objection so you completely understand. This builds rapport and affirms that you genuinely care about the wellbeing of the prospect, which builds trust.

Lastly, when you discuss the fine points of the deal, you may find yourself negotiating or leaning on persuasion. More than likely, there will be follow-up calls after the sales call where this will happen—after the prospect has a chance to consider your pitch and present additional objections—so it’s less critical at this stage, but important to keep in mind if the conversation goes that far. 

Let’s use Manuel and Sophie, Ana’s AE, as an example of how a successful sales call might play out.

A female account executive is talking to a male prospect during a Zoom sales call.

Sophie calls Manuel on Zoom. They exchange greetings and then Sophie dives into the sales pitch, presenting a proposal for bulk water to be delivered to Manuel’s event.

Manuel: [Frowns] “Sophie, that package sounds wonderful and I’m really glad you want to help out, but our budget just got cut so I’m not sure I can make this happen.”

Sophie: “I hear you, Manuel. Sorry to hear about the budget cut. I know that’s always a hassle, especially at the last minute. How about this: I can do a 50-50 mix of premium and standard-label IceCold Water and cut the cost by 20%. Would that help you out?”

Manuel: “That would be great! I need to give it some thought, though, and make sure this still fits in our budget. Can I get back to you?” 

Sophie: “Absolutely, Manuel! Let’s set a day and time for a follow-up call. Feel free to email me, too, if you have any follow-up questions.”

Sales Close
The sales close is when you finally get your prospect to sign a contract. By this point, you’ve put a lot of time and effort into the deal. You’ve made a sound case of how your product can fix your prospect’s issue and alleviate their pain points, and now it’s time to see if your prospect is ready to buy.

While all the soft skills discussed to this point apply during sales close calls, the two biggest are negotiation and persuasion. This is the opportunity to identify the most critical needs of your prospect and find satisfactory compromises that solve their problems while allowing you to hit your sales targets. To help you get there and finally close the deal, you may need to use persuasion by articulating the unique benefits of your offer or adding incentives, like a free gift.

Let’s see how Sophie closes the sale with Manuel.

After a few days, Sophie gives Manuel a call at the day/time they scheduled for follow up. 

Sophie: “Hey, Manuel—how are things your way? Just a couple of days until the event. Everything lined up?”

Manuel: “It’s looking pretty good, actually. Tying up a few loose ends, but I’d say we’re almost there.”

Sophie: “Great! So glad to hear that. I know you’ve been dealing with last-minute changes and budget cuts, too, so kudos to you for making all this happen.”

Manuel: “Thanks—I’m excited to kick off the event. Finally!”

Sophie: “Speaking of tying up loose ends, I just wanted to touch base about the proposal we discussed earlier. Any more thoughts on the 20% discount I mentioned? We can still deliver right to the event.”

Manuel: “Yeah, I thought about that. Sounds good, but I don’t know if it makes sense, given the volume of 500 bottles you suggested. I just don’t think that’s going to be enough.”

Sophie: “I totally understand — it’s going to be hot, so 500 bottles may not be enough. How about if I add 100 standard-label IceCold Water bottles at the same cost?”

Manuel: “You know, that’s actually a pretty good offer. Yeah, I think we can do that. Can you send me over the contract and I’ll get it signed?”

Sophie: “Wonderful! And yes, definitely—I’ll send that over today. Can you sign it and send it back by tomorrow?”

Manuel: “Absolutely.”

Upsells and Cross-Sells
With your sale complete, it’s time to celebrate! But that’s not the end of the sales process. Some of the easiest sales are closed with existing customers. After all, they already trust you and your product, so why not sell them more?

These ongoing sales are known either as upselling (pitching a more expensive product or service) or cross-selling (pitching other products/services in your inventory at a similar price point). This commonly occurs several months to a year after the initial sale, once the sales rep is confident that the customer is pleased with their purchase.

The soft skills utilized here match what you used during the sales call and sales close steps earlier, specifically active listening, mirroring, negotiation, persuasion, and guiding. You’ll find many of these to be easier at this stage, simply because you already know the customer and can anticipate how they will respond to your upsells and cross-sells.

Let’s take a look at how Sophie and Manuel handle an upsell.

After several initial calls following Manuel’s event to confirm all went well, Sophie follows up 6 months after the purchase with a proposed upsell.

Sophie: “Hey, Manuel! It’s been a few months, so I wanted to touch base and see how event prep is treating you. I saw the latest one covered in the papers—loved the picture of you dancing!” 

Manuel: [Laughs] “Yes, great night all around. We’ve had a lot of success lately, and attendance is up. Happy to see that.”

Sophie: “No doubt—and such a good cause, too! It’s amazing to see such support. I’d love to help out again. In fact, we just rolled out a new extra-premium water line with custom labels you can use for the upcoming gala. I know it’s a little bit nicer, and a custom touch might be a perfect fit. I could even put the event logo on the bottles for free.” 

Manuel: “You know what? I’ve been looking for items for our gala gift bags—that would be perfect. Let me circle back on budget, and we’ll see what we can do.”

Sophie: “Sounds great. Thanks, Manuel! I’ll follow up in about a week if I don’t hear from you.”

Now that you know how to use soft skills to successfully complete the sales process, you’re ready to dive into prospecting, sales calls, closings, and upsells/cross-sells!

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