Sales is not a Soft Skill…It’s a Hard Job!

Soft skills are different than hard skills. Hard skills are skills where the rules don’t change. Math and grammar are hard skills in that 2+2 will always equal 4 and “I” before “E” except after “C”, Soft skills are different in that the skill set needs to be fluid. Grammar, as I mentioned, is a hard skill, but communication is a soft skill as the rules can change depending on the message and the audience.

Sales isn’t a soft skill it’s a hard job! Company leaders often view sales as being one of those soft skills that not everyone has. As a result, job descriptions for salespeople in organizations often look more like a buffet of wishlist items:

Must be an excellent closer, prospector, and possess the ability to form lasting relationships. Strong account management a must! Additional duties include cold calling, prospecting, networking, account management with a heavy focus on retention, collections, and AR management.

And all these are in addition to the technical and product or industry-specific knowledge they need in order to be effective. It’s like looking for a unicorn in a field of four-leaf clovers near an ocean teaming with narwhals.

To make matters worse, most hiring managers rely on three things when screening, interviewing, and hiring candidates:

  1. Experience: What has the candidate accomplished? Have they worked in the right industries and had the right roles?
  2. Education: Do they know the fundamental hard skills necessary to perform the job?
  3. Personal Bias: Bias is defined as prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. There are hundreds of types of bias. Typically, a hiring manager will unknowingly use personal bias as a way of distinguishing between multiple candidates with similar levels of education and experience. Said another way, they go with their gut instinct when comparing candidates who might otherwise be similar on paper.

You can find top performing sales professionals relying solely on experience, education, and bias, but typically you’ll find mediocre performers at best and experience high employee turnover at worst.

Every job has behaviors, motivations, and skills it will recognize, reward, and require. If your goal is to hire superior performers, you’ll want to start by giving the job a voice. An unbiased and objective voice. A quick way to start is to gather some Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who know what superior performance for the sales job looks like or are themselves, superior performers. With your SME team assembled ask this question, “Why does the job exist?” While you may think the answer is obvious, you may be surprised. For the role of sales professional one of the obvious answers is to generate revenue. If you challenge yourself and the SME team you may come up with a lot more reasons. For example, building brand awareness, client retention etc. The goal is to get to the essence of the job. Understanding “why” the job exists will allow you to define the key accountabilities of the job. My point is not all sales jobs are the same. Some jobs require heavy account acquisition, while others may need to focus more on account management. These require different skills. Taking it a step further, every job (not just sales jobs) will have a specific set of soft skills to really understand what your sales professional needs for superior performance. Once you have a list of reasons the job exists, you’ll be able to create three to five key accountabilities for the role. For example, for an Account Executive the key accountabilities may be:

  1. Increase revenue by >15% annually
  2. Maintain lost account revenue to less than 5%
  3. Represent the company as a marketplace leader by conducting professional educational seminars

Once you have the key accountabilities you can address the behaviors (the ‘how’ people act) the job requires such as:


  • Competitive
  • Frequent change
  • Urgency
  • People-oriented

Add to that what motivators (the ‘why’ people act) are necessary like:


  • Commanding
  • Resourceful
  • Instinctive
  • Intentional

Then you can zero in on what the job will recognize and reward. Finally, you’ll want to identify the top five to seven soft skills (there are 25 you can measure) the job will require like:


  • Presentation
  • Negotiation
  • Influencing others
  • Time and Priority Management
  • Interpersonal Skills

As a result, you’ll have a 360-degree view of what a candidate needs for superior performance for your particular sales job.

If you are interested in creating a free customized Benchmark for a superior performing sales professional for your company, send us an email with “Benchmark” in the subject line and we’ll get you started!