The importance of soft skills in sales training | FirstRain

The importance of soft skills in sales training

I am attending the Selling Power sales leadership conference in Philadelphia today – and just listened to a compelling talk by Michael Weening who is VP of Business Wireless for Bell Mobility (he’s on an erudite panel with sales development leaders from Xerox and Sophos as I type).

His main message was to focus on all the aspects of training and development that are not product – unlike many organizations that cram product knowledge into their sales guys but neglect to invest in career development, personal development and mentoring. How many sales organizations have you seen where the sales team is sped and fed by product marketing, but never have real one-on-ones with their manager beyond their latest numbers?

Some of the less conventional ideas Michael was espousing…

– he used personality indicators from a questionnaire with a sales person to facilitate development discussions between manager and sales person (not unlike the Myers-Briggs discussion I have with my team).

– he leads with a focus on the sales rep taking responsibility for their own development, and so (for example) set up a library of books on best practices both for sales and business, and anyone can take books home, and keep them if they want to. He, quite correctly, recognized that different people learn differently.

– he encourages his sales managers to take one of the selling skills books and lead a team discussion once a week on each chapter, where each week a sales rep would distill down the key lessons from the chapter

– and he talked about the critical importance that not only sales reps, but also the sales managers have personal development plans which are discussed and reviewed each quarter with each individual’s manager (whatever the level).

What was great to hear was Michael’s focus on how much he cares about the team. Obviously he cares about the numbers – of course – but his passion for how to help each sales rep have the training and support they need to develop their personal skills and business skills was great to hear.

Coming from my own experience of high growth technology companies in Silicon Valley, I have seen more development in soft skills than I think is typical in older, larger businesses. Whether you have 1 sales person or 1000, all but the top 10% of your superstars benefit from, and really appreciate, personal development.