Whoever sold you on the idea that developing soft skills was for not-so-smart folks – is not-so-smart themselves. That person probably has never sat across the table from the CEO of a prospective company to whom you were presenting your products, services and platforms. They haven’t sat across the table from funders, when pitching your startup. That person may have been your professor or academic advisor. They may have been your mentor. They may have been a family member, even your grandmother. That person simply was not being realistic.
Whoever sold you on the idea that all you needed to do was develop highly-honed soft skills to be successful selling and closing deals for your products, services and platforms also fell short of the mark. In essence, they told you that you wouldn’t need to rely on the left side, that analytical side, of your overly-developed right-sided sales brain.
Selling is not prescriptive. Entrepreneurship is not an academic exercise. Engineering and IT solutions become valuable only if the person making the investment fully realizes the translational value of your offering.
Soft skills are powerful. They are to be applied continuously. They become translational as well as transactional when you are willing to listen with both sides of your brain to create ROI and value.
There is no college course in soft skills that is offered to any student, engineering or otherwise. That is no excuse. There is no sales training course on how to memorize enough sales scripts to come across sounding like a peer-level techie to prospective customers. Again, no excuses.
It boils down to your level of comfort interacting with people who may not be as smart as you are, but are the folks with the money to move your venture or established business to the next level.
How comfortable are you with folks with whom you feel you have absolutely nothing in common (aside from the fact that they are the person who signs the checks to fund your venture or invest in your technical solution)?
Many CEOs of nascent startups perceive they can leave the “people skills” stuff up to whomever they hire in to sell their products. Yet these CEOs still are not able to speak investment dollars and cents and gain traction in the investment marketplace. Many CEOs of established manufacturing and engineering services companies are seller-doers who utilize a skill set that was relevant in the pre-2008 era where money – and willingness to assume risk – were more abundant. Not anymore.
The digital millennium has made more of the business development pre-selection process easier for potential buyers. They can read all about you and your venture or company online – providing you have a well-established presence on social media platforms and your website is more than an “informational” billboard. You are up-to-speed in these areas, aren’t you?
The digital millennium has given you and your venture or established company the opportunity of starting business-building dialogues online with potential funders and customers via a well-developed LinkedIn profile, your comments in LI discussion forums and your blogging (or your comments on the blogs of thought leaders).
There are multiple opportunities to start your first customer conversation prior to that conversation being a selling discussion. Are you taking advantage of learning the mindset and priorities of your target markets?
Communication is the hallmark of humanity, even in a digital age. There are multiple opportunities to practice your soft skills, grow your business and technical acumen, and use your whole brain in the process.
How would you rate your soft skills? What are you going to do about it?
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo back into small and mid-sized businesses, particularly in the manufacturing sector. She builds vibrant revenue-producing business strategies for technical start-ups seeking investors and early customers.