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Why soft skills matter in sales talent assessment

soft skills matter in sales talent assesment

In the competitive world of sales, it's common to focus on traditional measures of success such as technical knowledge, industry experience, and past performance. However, recent research has shown that soft skills are becoming increasingly important in the sales talent assessment process.

Why Soft Skills are Critical for Sales Success

When hiring for sales roles, many companies often prioritise experience, but experts agree that soft skills and inherent traits such as self-motivation and team-orientation are just as important. 

Sofia Palmelius Kolga, Head of Sales at Alva Labs, echoed this point during a guest appearance on Linnea Bywall's "How We Hire" podcast

A former competitive gymnast and coach for the Swedish National Gymnastics Team, Sofia was trained in how to deal with challenges and setbacks in live scenarios. That experience building teams of elite athletes and optimising their performance under pressure is something that's carried over to her work in candidate assessments. Her podcast interview with Linnea, a former high-level track athlete herself, centred on how soft skills can help you build successful teams, whether on the gymnastics floor or in a scaling organisation. 

But how can Talent Acquisition Managers use soft skills to make better hiring decisions – particularly regarding sales? 

To properly assess potential hires, Sofia said, you need to understand the necessary behaviours and traits for success in the specific sales role. What you want to avoid is the experience trap. 

With sales talent, companies often prefer experienced individuals who can hit the ground running. But while experience is important, it alone is not enough to predict success in a sales role. 

The Harvard Business Review wrote how hiring profiles that identify the attributes recruiters should look for are essential, and these profiles should be specific to the sales role. Certain competencies such as specific industry knowledge and presentation skills can be developed through training.

But characteristics such as high energy levels, conscientiousness, and the ability to work independently are inherent traits that are difficult to teach. Effective sales recruitment processes focus on screening for success profile characteristics first, such as drive and team-orientation, before considering competencies. 

Assessing Sales Candidates Beyond Traditional Experience: The Importance of Personality Traits

Hiring experienced salespeople is often seen as a solution to improving sales performance, but this strategy is not without its challenges. As Sofia argued, relying solely on someone's background in a certain company or school as an indicator of their sales performance can be misleading. Even if someone has experience as an account executive in a big company, it does not guarantee that they will perform well in another company.

Moreover, experienced salespeople are often more expensive to hire, and this can be a significant cost for companies. In addition, simply hiring someone with a successful track record in a big company does not guarantee success in a new company.

This is because the individual's success in the big company may have been due to the presence of a large marketing team and established processes, which are not necessarily present in a smaller company. Having them step into a situation where they'd ultimately need to be a hands-on problem-solver can present its own challenges. 

Assessing Soft Skills in Sales Talent

Salespeople with high levels of emotional intelligence and strong soft skills, including effective communication, adaptability, and problem-solving, have more success in closing deals and maintaining long-term customer relationships. Incorporating assessments of these skills into the sales talent evaluation process can lead to improved sales performance and customer satisfaction.

Talent Acquisition managers have plenty of tools at their disposal to assess whether potential salespeople have the requisite soft skills to thrive in their roles. 

  1. Personality Tests: Traits such as openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability all factor in how salespeople navigate day-to-day challenges. Look for tests that utilise the Five Factor Model to best measure these characteristics.
  2. Logic Tests: These tests assess a candidate's problem-solving and critical thinking abilities. 
  3. Structured Interviews: This tool can be used to assess a candidate's soft skills by asking behavioural-based questions about experiences and how they handled certain situations. This method can provide insight into a candidate's emotional intelligence, adaptability, and problem-solving skills.

By incorporating these tools into the talent evaluation process, Talent Acquisition managers can get a comprehensive view of a candidate's soft skills and identify top sales talent who have the combination of traditional sales skills and the critical soft skills needed for success in the sales role.

Alva Labs' Hiring Process for Sales Reps

Here at Alva Labs, the hiring process for sales reps prioritises soft skills over background. The process begins with a meeting with a Talent Acquisition Manager to determine the specific role and requirements for the sales team and includes sourcing, advertising, multiple interviews, personality and logic tests, and a final interview with the sales team leader. 

The process is designed to be clear, structured, and agile to accommodate great candidates who may present themselves later. There are certain aspects that are standard, including both personality, and logic assessments, as well as a telephone call devoted to soft skills. 

Depending on the role, the process can diverge into a mock sales meeting (as is the case with Account Executives), or a split case with both a writing assessment and a sales call for SDRs. 

One thing is certain at Alva: years of experience or where you went to school don’t factor into the hiring decision. 

"We don't want to optimise for background, we want to optimise for salespeople that will thrive in our environment," said Linnea. 

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Unlock Sales Success with a Focus on Soft Skills 

Incorporating soft skills into your sales talent assessment process is essential for identifying top sales talent and driving your organisation's growth. By considering these critical skills, Sofia said, you can set sales hires up for success and exceed sales targets. 

Curious to know more about identifying what quality looks like in sales candidates? Check out our Hiring Guide dedicated to a wide variety of sales roles, from Account Executives, Sales Development Representatives to Head of Sales.