In the late ’90s, researchers analyzed 40 organizations across a range of industries, and found that the level of emotional intelligence, compared with pure intellect or expertise, was the key difference between average and star sales performers.

By now, just about everyone’s heard about emotional intelligence and its role in successful sales careers.

But what, exactly, is emotional intelligence? And what parts of it are most important in sales?

Emotional intelligence is more than just “people skills.” Specifically, it refers to an individual’s ability to:

• recognize emotions in themselves and others,
• figure out why they and their buyers feel the way they do, and
• adjust their reactions in the moment to achieve a desired outcome.

ROE: Return On Emotions

In the late ’90s, researchers analyzed 40 organizations across a range of industries, and found that the level of emotional intelligence, compared with pure intellect or expertise, was the key difference between average and star sales performers.

Other examples:

• Sales results increased 18% for American Express financial advisors after they participated in a program focused on emotional competence.

• The Air Force used emotional intelligence testing to choose recruiters. Doing so improved hiring and saved $3 million per year.

• Individuals with high scores in emotional intelligence average $29,000 higher income per year, says research in “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” by Bradberry and Greaves.

Emotional Skills In Sales

While several factors make up emotional intelligence, three traits stand out when it comes to sales success:

1. Self-awareness. Emotional intelligence is built on this foundation.

Hours of training in sales techniques and pre-call preparation can go up in smoke if you get flummoxed under pressure from a tough prospect or customer.

Often, the reason people get flummoxed is because they’re experiencing emotions they didn’t expect, weren’t prepared for, and can’t identify.

For example, you’re sailing through a well-rehearsed presentation when a prospect interrupts and says, “I don’t believe your numbers.”

Cognitively, you know the “right” response. But do you understand your emotional reaction to a challenge? Are you insulted or amused? Angry or afraid? Do you tend to appease, or challenge back?

If you don’t understand your emotional reactions, you can’t manage them. Your brain freezes up, or you react in a way that’s counterproductive.

Action step: Work on becoming more self-aware. After every sales call, think back over any emotions you experienced and how you responded. Try to figure out the root cause. What made you angry or defensive? Why did you react as you did?

With greater self-awareness, you’re less likely to be surprised and better able to respond.

2. Assertiveness. Do you know how to ask for what you want without coming across as pushy or obnoxious?

Emotional intelligence research shows that the ability to walk this fine line is especially important in sales. It helps you move calls forward to the next step, and helps you know how and when to disqualify unsuitable prospects.

Salespeople who aren’t assertive enough often end up in dead ends, because they can’t get buyers to take action. And those who mistake aggression for assertiveness are likely to generate negative, deal-killing emotions in buyers.

Action step: Chances are you’re well trained and know what you should do. It’s the gap between knowing and doing that’s the real issue here.

Practice assertiveness. For example, script out what you’ll say when you’re not getting what you need. Try out the scripts in role plays or actual sales calls.

Also, how you structure your sales conversations makes a big difference. Build your calls around objectives and always insist on concrete next steps.

3. Empathy. We all know what empathy means: to feel your buyer’s pain and see things from their point of view.

There’s another, often-overlooked element: the ability to feel and express empathy “in the moment.” You need to let buyers know you get them.

Action steps: Turn off that smartphone next time you are in a meeting. Practice focusing on the here and now, listening empathetically to what the prospect or customer is saying, both verbally and nonverbally. Quit thinking about what just happened or what will happen next. Just be present.

Also, one of the best ways to show empathy is by not assuming you know their pain. Ask the buyer for confirmation: “So if I understand you correctly, fixing this problem is a high priority for you. Am I right?”

Right or wrong, you win. If you’re right, the buyer thinks, “This person understands me.” If you’re wrong, the buyer will be glad to set you straight.


About the author

Michael Boyette

Michael Boyette has managed marketing and PR programs for companies such as DuPont, Tyco…

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