Soft skills matter. They are especially crucial when companies encounter market uncertainty and rapidly shifting business needs, as we saw in 2020.
To understand what skills and areas of focus helped companies respond to crisis, ValueSelling Associates, Inc. and Training Industry, Inc. surveyed 256 U.S. sales leaders and learning and development decision-makers. The survey asked about their company’s approach toward sales skills and managing change through a global crisis.
Two distinct groups of companies emerged from the study — high revenue growth companies and negative revenue growth companies. For high-growth companies, 2020 was a banner year of growth, while negative-growth companies marked 2020 as the worst of the last five years.
One of the key findings of the study was that high-growth companies focus on soft skills, which are always critical in sales, and especially when business requirements are rapidly shifting. Top sales performers are better at:
• teamwork and collaboration
• written communication
• active listening
• verbal and presentation skills
• empathy and building rapport
• non-verbal communication
These soft skills boost the essential sales skills that are important in any customer interaction. Our respondent data showed that the most relevant sales skills related to the following areas:
(Source: ValueSelling Associates)
With this finding in mind, let’s return to our initial research question: What differentiates companies that grew in 2020? High-growth companies share some of the same priorities listed above, such as closing and moving deals forward. However, they are also focused more on prospecting, negotiating, differentiating from the competition, empathy — and, notably, presenting in virtual settings. In fact, the greatest difference we saw when it came to skills priorities between high-growth and negative-growth companies was virtual presentations, which have become so essential over the past year.
Across the board, high-growth companies were the ones that could see the need for change and pivot accordingly. In addition, high-growth companies focus on soft skills, which are always critical in sales, and especially during uncertainty and rapidly shifting business needs. The following chart shows how high-growth companies in our survey adapted faster and focused on soft skills in response to change.
(Source: ValueSelling Associates)
High-growth companies take a multilayered strategy of approach, skills, and change readiness. Instead of a “magic bullet,” it comes down to a constellation of factors. Respondents from high-growth companies told us they were “extremely confident” that:
• they have the right tools.
• they have the right supportive technology in place.
• they have the right sales managers in place.
• their sales force has the right competencies.
• they have the right salespeople in place.
• they are doing a good job preparing for the uncertainty of economic recovery.
We’ve all had to change in response to unexpected events, and sales teams are no exception. But the teams that have adapted to change are better prepared for what’s to come. Those teams have enabled companies to excel and have a banner year despite the challenges they faced, while other companies have fumbled and reported low or negative growth.
For more detail on the survey results, download the ValueSelling Associates ebook, “How High-growth Sales Organizations Respond to Crisis.”