The One Soft Skill Your Sales Team Needs to Close More Business

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of books that teach strategies and tactics to close more sales. But many sales organizations are still missing their sales quotas. It could be because they’ve ignored market requests, and don’t provide products and services prospects want to buy. Maybe their marketing efforts are generating prospects that can’t or won’t buy.

There is one more place to examine, which most CEOs and sales VPs miss when analyzing sales results: lack of assertiveness. Assertiveness is a soft skill, an emotional intelligence skill, that produces hard sales results.

Without assertiveness, salespeople end up wasting hours writing practice proposals for prospects that are never going to buy. Here’s a selling scenario that happens way too often in business.

A salesperson meets with a prospect that is really nice. She is open about sharing information and saying all the right things. “We need to do something. Here at XYZ company, we always think it’s a good idea to look at ways to improve.” This is music to a salesperson’s ears. So when the prospect asks the salesperson to put together a proposal, he goes along to get along.

Now the salesperson didn’t hear any compelling reasons for this prospect to change vendors or move from status quo, however he lacks the assertiveness to state what he needs nicely. And what he needs, before writing a proposal, is a prospect that is qualified to stay in the sales pipeline. He needs a prospect that is serious about eliminating a challenge or highly focused on achieving a goal.

The end of the story isn’t pretty. The salesperson writes up recommendations and presents ideas to the prospect — only to hear, “This looks great. However, the timing isn’t quite right. Could you give me a call in 10 years?”

Another proposal is buried in the practice proposal graveyard.

How would this selling scenario differ with an assertive salesperson? A lot! An assertive salesperson is comfortable mentioning the elephant in the room – in this case, it’s that there is no compelling reason for this prospect to make any kind of change. The conversation would change from, “Sure, I’m happy to write up a proposal” to “Ms. Prospect, I really appreciate the fact that you like our products and services. However, I haven’t really heard enough reasons for you to make a change. What am I missing?”

Soft skills, assertiveness skills, change sales conversations.

In this case, the sales conversation changes to a truth-telling conversation. The prospect either will agree with the salesperson and say, “You’re right.” Both parties agree a next step isn’t needed. Or, the prospect will stop, dig deeper and think a little harder about her commitment level to change and grow.

Soft skills change sales conversations and sales outcomes.

CEOs and sales managers, it’s time to work on the right end of sales-performance issues. Teach and practice assertiveness with your sales team. Help them stop wasting time writing practice proposals by eliminating going-along-to-get-along behavior. Remember, not every prospect deserves to be in your sales pipeline.

Good Selling!


Colleen Stanley

Colleen Stanley is the founder and president of SalesLeadership, Inc. She is a monthly columnist for Business Journals across the country, author of ‘Growing Great Sales Teams’ and co-author of ‘Motivational Selling.’ Her new book, 'Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success,' published by Amacom, a division of the American Management Association, is available in bookstores now. Colleen is the creator of Ei Selling®, a unique and powerful sales program that integrates emotional intelligence skills with consultative selling skills. Prior to starting SalesLeadership, Colleen was vice president of sales and marketing for Varsity Spirit Corporation. During her 10 years at Varsity, sales increased from 8M to 90M. Varsity was named by Forbes Magazine as one of the 200 fastest growing companies in the United States. When Colleen is not traveling or training, she loves to hike, read and hang with her husband Jim, and friends.

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