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Successful salesmanship requires good people skills. This is especially true for consultative sales, which rely on long-term relationships and trust. Salespeople who are working more as advisors than as one-time sellers need soft skills that foster lasting customer relationships.

However, soft skills are hard to define, measure, and learn. They’re especially difficult to teach without face-to-face contact. When you’re designing online sales enablement training for soft skills, define the skills your learners need; design training that leads your learners through stages of engagement, transformation, and application; and use interactivity to create a rich virtual experience that reproduces lifelike situations and conversations.

Measuring Soft Skills

There’s no consensus on what constitutes soft skills, which are difficult to measure and define. Various literature lists anywhere between six and over 100 soft skills that are necessary for success. Examples of soft skills can include flexibility, active listening, persuasion, empathy, approachability, teamwork, responsibility, and the list goes on. With such a wide range of admirable but nebulous skills, it’s important to define what your training is actually targeting.

Conduct a needs analysis to determine where your learners are falling short. Which soft skills are needed to improve performance? For example, if your sales team is having a hard time reaching their projected numbers, you might want to improve their persuasion skills, helping them talk to clients and overcome possible objections when making a sale.

Once you know which skills are necessary, define how learners will demonstrate proficiency in those skills. For example, your learners can show their persuasion skills by interacting with a cautious customer and responding effectively to various objections. Because of the nebulous nature of soft skills, it’s important to consider and define the goals for your specific training.

Structuring your Training

Once you have the goals of the course defined, you can begin designing your training. Structure your learner’s journey to move from engagement to transformation and, finally, application.

Engagement

Some types of training might face resistance from learners, especially if training is required and not optional. Your course design may need to work hard to engage your learners. One way to engage resistant learners is to begin modules with a question or scenario that targets gaps in your learners’ knowledge. If learners answer incorrectly or struggle with the question, they may begin to understand what their knowledge gaps are, how those gaps might affect performance, and why training will be beneficial.

Transformation

Transform your learners by providing education, information, and opportunities to practice new skills. You may want to divide modules to target specific soft skills: maybe one module provides information about how to persuade clients effectively, and another discusses how to work well in teams. This is also the phase of training in which your learners will practice what they’re learning in low-pressure ways, through scenarios, multiple choice questions, or other activities that offer feedback for mistakes.

Application

At the application stage of training, learners put their new knowledge to use. Learners may be required to complete a test or walk through a longer comprehensive scenario. At this point, learners can see what they’ve accomplished in the training, and employers can ensure that the training has been completed.

Using Interactivity

Interactivity helps make soft sills training realistic and allows your learners to practice the principles they’re learning in a low-pressure environment. Feedback for incorrect responses can provide extra instruction.

Scenarios can imitate real conversations with customers that salespeople are likely to have, and you can make scenarios interactive by adding points in the conversation where learners select the best response from a multiple-choice selection.

Practicing industry research can also be interactive. Learners can practice researching potential clients. Provide a sandbox with information about an interested customer and have learners supply information based on what they find.

Interactive scenarios are a great delivery method for successful sales enablement training: Each module can present scenarios that focus on one principle or one soft skill, and successful completion of that module is a good way to measure which skills your learners have mastered.

Case Study: Aslan Training

AllenComm’s design for Aslan Training is a great example of designing effective soft skills training. Aslan’s existing instructor-led training needed an accompanying online course that had the same dynamic feel as the in-person training.

The Aslan training was required, so some resistance from learners was expected. To combat this, AllenComm presented questions that would challenge the learners, exposing knowledge gaps and creating engagement in the course.

For the transformation aspect of the course, AllenComm designed interactive scenarios that presented information and allowed learners to practice their new knowledge. Learners were presented with short conversations and given multiple-choice selections to choose the appropriate response.

Finally, learners were asked to apply their new skills. Learners went through an entire life-cycle of a sale with a new customer in a longer, comprehensive scenario, and they applied all of the skills they had learned earlier in the course.

Conclusion

To provide sales enablement training around soft skills, measure and define which skills your salespeople need, and create training that walks your learners through engagement with the course, transformation as they learn new skills, and application as they think critically to use those skills in a comprehensive test or scenario. From there, it’s easier for learners to transfer their new knowledge to their work and their interactions with customers.