The future sales world will see artificial intelligence (AI) and automation assume a major percentage of administrative and data-related tasks — the non-sales activities that limit reps’ time to actually sell. Greater sales enablement capabilities, such as software predicts the likelihood a buyer is ready to move forward through textual analysis, will, likewise, make artificial intelligence a more valuable assistant to sales reps.
However, humans are still necessary in the changing sales world, because only humans can detect, adapt and respond to emotional states and what others say and do. Consequently, soft skills — including emotional intelligence and conversation skills — will become the primary areas of focus in sales training. Specifically, the following five topics will be paramount:
1. Emotional Intelligence and Empathy
Being able to recognize both your own emotions and the emotions of others is a necessary skill in any profession that deals with other people, including sales. When a salesperson can identify, for example, that a customer is holding on back an objection that’s bothering them — perhaps one that they don’t entirely realize themselves — it can help them gently and carefully uncover and resolve that issue.
2. Communication Styles
Everyone has a distinct, preferred communication style in a given situation — whether it’s expressive, cautious and skeptical, business-oriented, or visionary. A key element of connecting with buyers is recognizing which style they prefer and adapting one’s own communication style as much as possible.
3. The Ability to Keep the Sales Process Moving Forward
It can sometimes be easy for a conversation to veer off track, down a road that has nothing to do with the purpose of the meeting. While salespeople should allow some slack to help build rapport and the relationship, both they and the buyer are busy people taking the time to engage in a sales conversation. While it might be fun to talk about how their mutual favorite sports team is going to do in the upcoming season, salespeople must be able to skillfully redirect the discussion back to the topic at hand.
4. Rapport-building Skills
Knowing how to build relationships with buyers is one of the most important sales skills today, and it will become even more important for sales reps in the future. It’s a knowledge deficit that AI has a long way to go to overcome, and in many ways, it is the capstone that comes once reps have mastered the three previous soft skills.
5. Active Listening Skills
One of the critical soft skills — especially in discovery — is active listening. Sales reps need to learn how to pay attention to what buyers are saying out loud and what they’re saying nonverbally. That means being able to interpret those inputs and use that information in their responses, including by mirroring the buyer’s precise language and word choices.
While these subjects are general, customization to your sales organization, your industry and your target markets will still be essential in maximizing training return on investment (ROI). After all, the contours and content of conversations vary from vertical to vertical and culture to culture — both in terms of geography and business sectors (the tenor and language of banking varies significantly from that of manufacturing, for example). Likewise, the concerns, objectives and potential obstacles will change depending on both the buyer and the seller.
Regardless of changes in the sales landscape or shifts in sales training content and objectives, reinforcement of new skills through coaching and other methodologies, such as gamification, will also be necessary to translate those skills into long-term behavioral changes.
When you examine these five key conversational skill areas, you can see that they all point to fostering and nurturing relationships. With comparatively few points of product differentiation in the global marketplace, it’s the relationship that often ultimately makes or breaks the deal. While artificial intelligence will certainly assist sales reps on the technical and informational side of things, it’s these soft skills and the overall relationship-building mindset that will remain sales professionals’ most valuable traits — and the ones that sales training of the future will emphasize.