So-called soft skills are becoming some of the most highly sought-after qualities by employers looking to recruit. Why? These core skills – ranging from the ability to communicate effectively and persuasively to being able to empathize and collaborate with others – are absolutely essential for building strong client relationships and driving sales.
Customer relations are the bread and butter of a successful sales team, so having a honed set of soft skills is crucial. Almost 90% of employers cite a lack of soft skills as a barrier to employee retention and 32% claim to have lost business as a direct result of poor employee communication or client handling. Not only are soft skills an important part of individual professional development, they have a direct impact on company-wide performance and ROI.
The good news is that, far from being rare gifts or talents you hope to stumble across in your top-performing employees, these are skills that can – and should – be taught. Helping your sales team develop and nurture them should be your No. 1 priority. By creating a culture of continual learning and soft skills development, you’ll generate a team of soft skills superstars that’s set for sales success.
Why Tech Should Be in Your Training Toolbox
While the soft skills required for driving sales have not changed, the world of work has transformed beyond recognition over the past two years. With many teams now permanently following hybrid or remote working models, the way we work, collaborate and communicate with one another has changed too. As a result, traditional training models, such as in-person skills days, multi-page PDF manuals or role play exercises, are simply no longer fit for purpose.
Soft skills training must adapt to reflect our new world of work. This has not escaped the notice of tech innovators. A host of cutting-edge technologies are making it easier than ever to deliver training that fits seamlessly with new remote and hybrid modes of working. Virtual reality (VR) and immersive training tools enable skills to be developed remotely, on-demand and in line with other professional development targets.
Tailored immersive simulations enable employees to practice soft skills such as client handling in a risk-free virtual environment. Unlike in-person role play, the virtual scenarios can be repeated as many times as the learner needs, away from distractions or pressure from their peers. Accessible via mobile and desktop devices, as well as designated headsets, the simulations can be used wherever and whenever best suits each learner. This not only makes it easier for soft skills to be developed, but training becomes more cost-effective and scalable, too. What’s more, VR training methods have been shown to improve employee performance by up to 230%.
Virtual humans are also a great resource for delivering soft skills training. Learners can interact with computer-generated avatars and practice client conversations, negotiations and pitches in a safe and judgment-free environment. This easily-accessible and repeatable method of skill development encourages continual learning and gives each employee greater control over their own development.
Taking Stock of Progress and Soft Skill ROI
When it comes to tracking progress, soft skills have always been traditionally difficult to measure. This is because communication, empathy, listening and leadership are all extremely subjective. For example, feedback from an in-person trainer on an employee’s role play interaction will always be influenced by subconscious bias, and inherently qualitative.
This is where tech steps in. AI-powered platforms provide us with intuitive, comparable data insights, by turning subjective actions into objective data points. These can then be tracked and analyzed, producing a clearer picture of individual employee performance and progress.
Data can also be used to identify common trends across your entire team. There might be one particular skill that employees all commonly struggle to grasp, for example. Being able to see and understand where these weaker areas lie will enable you to target future training. This will ultimately help to speed up the development of crucial skills across your team.
Soft skills data can also be measured against sales performance to demonstrate the direct ROI of your skills training programme. By placing an impetus on continual soft skill development, using low-cost, high-impact and accessible resources like VR and AI, you will lay the foundations for long-term improved sales results.
Delivering High-Impact, Cross-Continental Soft Skills Training
My belief in the power of soft skills training has been reinforced by my own experience with my team at Virti, where we support organizations around the world to boost employee recruitment, retention and wellbeing through access to immersive skills training. With team members in nearly every continent, the Virti sales team is fully remote. So we have harnessed a range of VR and AI training tools to support each and every employee to access soft skill development on demand.
Our Virtual Humans platform has been invaluable for helping employees refine their communication skills and build their confidence in client-facing interactions. Employees have been able to practice soft skills including communication and negotiation by interacting with lifelike AI-powered avatars. Example training sessions have included dealing with difficult client conversations, mediating a dispute and recognizing bias to promote equality.
After each session, data-led feedback is provided by the platform. Human mentors support team members to reflect on their experiences, helping them (and managers) to identify key areas for improvement, to act on these, and to take charge of their own professional development.
While some may remain skeptical about the value of soft skills for the workforce, those who invest time, energy and resources into supporting their development will quickly begin to reap the rewards. By taking advantage of all the cutting-edge digital tools at your disposal, you can arm your remote or hybrid sales teams with the skill set for whatever challenges they may face. Commit to developing a team of soft skills superstars and you’ll soon see your sales skyrocket.