People skills are crucial in sales because they facilitate effective communication and build rapport with clients, fostering trust and understanding. After all, you can’t sell a product before you sell yourself.

Selling anything ties back to the five buying decisions every customer makes in the course of a purchase. These decisions are made in a predetermined order. If you know that order — and how each decision works with the next — you’ll be able to significantly increase your sales team’s (and your own) effectiveness.

Understanding the importance of people skills in sales starts with understanding how buyers make their decisions first. Here’s how it works:

  • First the buyer makes a decision about the salesperson. The verdict hinges on questions such as: Do I like you? Do I trust you? Are you honest, credible, and knowledgeable?
  • Second, the buyer considers the salesperson’s company. Is your company a good match for mine? Is it known for the kinds of things I expect from a supplier? Are your policies acceptable?
  • The third decision is about the product/solution. Which of my problems will it solve? Will it create any new opportunities? Does it match my needs? How does its quality stack up against the competition?
  • Fourth, the buyer considers the price. Is it a good value compared with competitive offerings? What must I invest — in terms of money, time, training, and hassle — to gain the benefits I want from the product? Is it worth the investment?
  • The fifth and final decision concerns the time to buy. How soon do I need to make up my mind? When do I need the results that the product will deliver? Should I stall?

All five of those decisions take place in the course of any major purchase. They are always made in the same sequence. Your job as a sales professional is to help the buyer make them in the proper sequence. If you get out of sync with the customer’s natural decision-making process, your chance of losing the sale significantly increases.

In order to stay in rhythm with the customer, they have to like you. In order for them to like you, they have to believe the things you’re telling them. How do you make them believe the things you’re telling them? 

By investing in the importance of people skills in sales — and developing the relevant skill set.

What does it mean to invest in the importance of people skills in sales?

Think of your main challenge as developing a ‘sales relationship’. It’s extremely difficult to gain a commitment from a customer that is greater than the size of the relationship you’ve established. Action Selling® teaches that if you’re after a $50,000 commitment, you’d better have created a $50,000 relationship with the customer. Whenever the size of the commitment you want from the buyer becomes greater than the size of the relationship you’ve developed, that’s the point where you’ll begin to see resistance.

A client will almost never come right out and tell a salesperson, ‘I’m not going to buy from you because I don’t like or trust you.” 

However, that doesn’t mean they won’t feel it. The question then becomes — what can you do to be liked? Here’s where to start:

  • Be a good listener. People can tell when you’re too busy planning what you’re going to say next to listen to what they’re saying. Ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to the answers you’re being given. Take notes. 
  • Show a positive attitude. This is Sales 101, but it still holds true — being cheerful, friendly, smiling, remembering people’s names, offering compliments and showing genuine interest are all basics because they’re essential as a foundation for success.
  • Actually care. Don’t fake caring — really care. In sales, you have to care or you’ll never be able to differentiate yourself from the thousand other people trying to sell a product or service. Really caring means looking at a prospect and taking time to determine where their most specific, greatest opportunities are. You can only get to that information by asking them.

What are some examples of good open-ended questions you can ask?

A good open-ended question is one that invites the customer to speak — about themselves, their business, their needs, their pains. Questions like:

  • How long have you been with the organization?
  • What’s the story of how you got to the role you’re in?
  • What has changed most about the business in the time you’ve been there?
  • How did you develop your personal industry expertise?
  • What are the most exciting opportunities your company faces right now?
  • Who are your main competitors and what do they do that you like (or don’t)?
  • How does your company differentiate itself from the competition?
  • What are your department’s current goals?
  • What obstacles do you see in the way of reaching those goals?

When you’re able to ask questions that invite discussion and then back those answers up with detailed notes and an even more detailed summary — you’re going to gain trust.

You have to take your time to get there. The right questions, the right care and the right attention to detail will build the rapport you need to succeed with buying decisions beyond the very first.  You must sell yourself before you can sell the product. For many, the only reason they haven’t is because they’ve been rushing — with Action Selling, you don’t have to.

Interested in seeing how your sales team’s people skills compare?

Try our FREE sales skills assessment to see where they excel during the selling process — and where they could use a little help.

With 90% of senior executives failing to reach strategic goals due to poor execution, the advantage of better techniques through strategic training is undeniable.

Stay tuned to learn more about the other Acts of selling — and see how they all fit together to create a successful training program.