People in sales jobs tend to have strong sales skills and product knowledge. Those skills are essential for success in a sales job, but good people skills are just as important. The more you want to influence people, the more you need a good balance between sales and people skills.
When I was promoted into my first management job, it was because I had demonstrated good technical and organizational skills. My people skills weren't a problem, but I didn't need them as much as I did when I moved into management. As a manager, much of my job involved getting work done through my staff.
All was well until we had an extra-heavy workload and my people skills were tested. I had worked diligently to get better at working with people and was fortunate that I had the opportunity to do so after realizing that I needed to. Everyone has blind spots.
A lack of good people skills is one of the most common reasons that people on the fast track get derailed on their way to the top or dethroned once they get there. The farther up you are in an organization, the more you need people skills to be successful. It makes sense. You must work through people to get things done. You can't do it all yourself.
The basics of good people skills might seem self-evident, but let's take a moment to consider one of the most important people skills: tact. Tact is being able to get your point across diplomatically. It means broaching a sensitive subject in a way that keeps the other person listening and engaged. It may mean using conditional terms, such as "Perhaps you should consider this." Using tact allows the other person to maintain his or her self-esteem. It actually gives you greater control in most cases than being direct. There are times when you need to be direct and not conditional. But it pays to save that approach for the rare times that it is needed rather than rely on it as a daily way of interacting with people. If it is reserved for the times when it is really needed, it will create the desired effect of getting people to do what you want without alienating them, as long as you take a moment to explain why you are asking the person to do what you are asking.
People with leadership responsibilities sometimes come to rely too much on their authority in order to accomplish their goals. They believe that they are required to make the decisions and give orders because they have been given those leadership responsibilities, but that isn't the case. They simply need to get certain things done, and there are a variety of ways to do it.
Sometimes you see strong salespeople who steamroll over those who get in their way. They may even do this with the customer, when, for example, they go over the customer's head to try to make the sale. Sometimes they are successful in the short term, but because of the extensive damage they do to relationships, their power usually catches up with them down the road when someone undermines them. Sales leaders use good people skills coupled with their sales skills to get the best of both worlds.
" Nobody is going to give anything to us. We have to earn their business each and every day, in everything we do."
—Pat Russo, CEO, Lucent Technologies