Tapping Into Your Soft Side with Emotional Intelligence in Sales

Emotional intelligence In sales
Sales Psychology

When a high-stress job meets low emotional intelligence (EI), doomsday happens. That’s what research, experience, and common sense will tell you. And that’s why achieving your success potential in sales is directly proportional to your emotional intelligence in sales.

Sales is tough, but even that is an understatement. Regardless of role, most sales professionals work well beyond 40 hours per week based on a HubSpot study. A great majority of them consider their job “challenging”. Around 54% describe their lifestyle as stressful. And more than a third reported that their career negatively impacts their personal life.

Selling causes so much burnout that the annual turnover rate among salespeople in the U.S. goes as high as 27%. This is twice the rate in the entire workforce in general.

With such toxic levels of stress, professionals who lack emotional intelligence often become the first casualties to fall by the wayside.

Without emotional intelligence, salespeople will struggle to build rapport with prospects and stay motivated.

Emotional intelligence is grounded in everyday smarts: we simply want to stay, hang around, work, and do business with people who are likable, supportive, enthusiastic, and trustworthy. In contrast, we tend to avoid people who are difficult to be with, easily irritable, and negative.  

Personal success and high performance simply do not happen without high emotional quotient (EQ). In fact, decades of research identify emotional intelligence as the critical trait that differentiates top performers from the rest of the sales force.

Article overview:

  1. What Is Emotional Intelligence?
  2. How Does Emotional Intelligence Work in Sales?
  3. Your Sales Performance Can Take a Hit with Low EI
  4. Embracing EI to Make the Sale
  5. How Managers Can Help Their Teams Develop Emotional Intelligence
  6. Top EI Skills You Should Develop In Your Sales Team
  7. Bonus: Resources to Build Emotional Intelligence
  8. You Can’t Take the Emotion Out of Sales

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Also known as emotional quotient, emotional intelligence refers to people’s ability to recognize, understand, and manage their emotions and those of others.

This ability allows individuals to adopt a wide range of feelings to drive the desired action and successfully achieve goals.

The classic model of emotional intelligence was formulated by science writer Daniel Goleman in the mid-1990s.

This model cites five main competencies that comprise EI:

  1. Self-awareness: the ability to detect, identify, and understand one’s own emotions and their potential impact on the emotional state of other people.
  2. Self-regulation: the ability to control one’s feelings and impulses in order to prevent negatively disrupting the emotional state of others. This ability also dictates how well a person can emotionally adapt to changing situations.
  3. Socialization: the ability to build rapport and maintain meaningful connections with other people.
  4. Empathy: the ability to determine and appropriately respond to other people’s emotions
  5. Motivation: a person’s drive, will, morale, or enthusiasm to take or complete a particular action.

All these competencies can be learned and developed over time through practice and training.

How Does Emotional Intelligence Work in Sales?

While we tend to think that purchasing decisions are solely based on logic, the actual journeys of both buyer and seller ultimately rely on sales triggers that appeal to their emotions.

In fact, an entire field of study — Behavioral Economics — focuses on how irrational factors such as emotions, psychology, and culture affect an individual’s economic decisions. At the end of the day, the buying process persists as an emotional experience for both the customer and the seller.

That means the more a salesperson understands the emotions invested in a sales interaction, the better her chances of successfully making the sale.

Your Sales Performance Can Take a Hit with Low EI

Low emotional intelligence prevents salespeople from achieving their success potential. And, it impacts many areas of their sales performance.

Impairs a salesperson’s ability to handle rejection

Sales reps make 52 phone calls on average each day.

With 7 in 10 cold calls ending in rejection, reps can expect to get rejected 20 to 35 times in a single day! Professionals with low EI lack the agility to roll with the punches. They cannot thrive nor stay in sales for very long.

Erodes drive

Under challenging situations, professionals with low emotional intelligence will likely lack the incentive to rise above the situation. Self-motivation is an integral element of emotional intelligence.

Its absence will ultimately reflect on key metrics such as close rate and quota attainment.

Makes salespeople more impatient

Everyone in sales should develop a sense of urgency but that doesn’t mean you should forget about patience. As in everything else, patience remains a virtue in sales.

The world of selling continues to shift towards a buyer-centric reality. That means customers gain all the wiggle room they need to delay the purchase.

Salespeople with low EI tend to adopt a ham-fisted approach to customer engagement thus making poor decisions to push the deal through.

Lowers empathy

Without empathy, building rapport and nurturing authentic relationships with peers and clients will be extremely difficult. Empathy enables sellers to listen actively and step into their customers’ shoes. Thus eventually discovering their goals, priorities, and pain points.

Only then can sales professionals develop tailored solutions that squarely match customers’ needs and meet their expectations.

Embracing EI to Make the Sale

While rational factors such as pricing, feature sets etc affect purchase decisions, emotions still play a large role.

For the most part, brands are — at their core — emotional constructs. A product may have better features objectively but prospects may still pass on it. They may favor a competitor whose branding sparks a strong emotional connection.

Moreover, it’s hard to outweigh the trust factor associated with the reviews of a person’s friends or the celebrities they follow on social media.

This means that salespeople who can perceive their customers’ emotional state have better chances of closing deals. Data bears this out. In fact, numerous research has already established the potency of emotional intelligence in leadership as well as the selling dynamic.

Salespeople with high EI enjoy key advantages

  • High-EQ sellers are aware of their own emotional state and can control their emotions. They know how to cover up emotions that might turn off customers (e.g., lack of enthusiasm or excitement, anxiety, distraction, irritation, greed, insincerity, fear, nervousness, etc.).
  • Reps with high EQ have the patience to delay gratification. This means they can continue prospecting with high energy even when they know it will take time to sign the deal.
  • Practitioners with high emotional intelligence can discern customers’ emotional states and can adapt and align their own emotions with that.
  • Salespeople who have mature levels of EI know how to fine-tune their pitches in order to pull the right emotional triggers.
  • High-EQ salespeople remain positive even amid tons of rejection. They do not take rejections personally and consistently avoid harboring negative emotions.
  • Sales reps who can establish strong emotional connections with customers are better at understanding what customers feel, need, and expect.
  • Strong emotional bonds with customers significantly improve retention rates, client satisfaction, and customer success.

In sales, relationships practically matter a lot more than actual products or services. Those based on emotional connections have the strongest bonds.

How Managers Can Help Their Teams Develop Emotional Intelligence

To build a high-EI culture, sales leaders should start with themselves and their immediate team. Prominent sales legend Gordon Tredgold published an infographic that cites ten simple ways to improve emotional intelligence:

  1. Listen twice as much as you speak.
  2. Respond, rather than react.
  3. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes
  4. Apologize directly if you are at fault.
  5. Don’t interrupt or change the subject.
  6. Be vulnerable.
  7. Empathize with others.
  8. Create a positive environment.
  9. Ask, don’t tell.
  10. Praise more.

On a larger scale, here are some steps sales managers can take to help their teams develop high emotional intelligence.

Develop self-awareness

Implement a focused, distraction-free downtime schedule for each salesperson. This period of assessment will help bring clarity about tactical moves as well as mistakes made during the day.

Build empathy

Encourage sellers to step into their prospects’ shoes. Compel them to listen more actively to what customers are trying to say.

Develop resilience

Advise sellers not to take failures personally but to link such shortcomings to activities during the sales process.

Demand accountability

Encourage professionals to admit and own mistakes. Their goal should be to have other stakeholders join the conversation and develop effective solutions.

Build confidence and assertiveness

Assertiveness helps improve lead qualification and accelerate the sales process.

Sales leaders can incorporate formal EI skills training into their sales coaching model. Moreover, as emotional intelligence encapsulates a set of specific soft skills, formal training in these skills should also be considered.

Top EI Skills You Should Develop In Your Sales Team

Sales is a skills-intensive field and the list of critical skills sellers need to succeed continually evolves with changes in technology and business realities.

Many competencies in EI are soft skills organizations HR departments are already familiar with.

Here are some of the competencies and traits that will strengthen EI among sellers:

  1. Self-Awareness — this is the ability to discern, recognize, and understand one’s own emotional state.
  2. Self-Control — this is the ability to hold strong emotions and moods in check to prevent involuntary actions that send a negative signal to prospects, peers, and customers.
  3. Self-Motivation — this is the ability to personally generate drive, enthusiasm, and positivity even in gloomy or difficult situations.
  4. Empathy — this is the ability to view and understand things from the perspective of the person being engaged.
  5. Curiosity — this trait drives sellers to listen, ask the right questions, and understand more about the customers.
  6. Resilience — this trait enables sales professionals to roll with the punches and keep going despite rejection, frustration and other setbacks.
  7. Relationship management — this is the ability to build meaningful connections, manage conflicts, and influence other people.
  8. Socialization — this is a broader variant of the previous competency and encapsulates several social and networking skills.
  9. Stress Management — this skill involves various techniques and therapies to help professionals effectively assess and manage their stress levels.
  10. Active listening — this ability requires full focus and intent concentration, enabling sales practitioners to formulate responsive solutions for prospects.

Bonus: Resources to Build Emotional Intelligence

Here are additional resources you and your team can easily access to build and reinforce your EQ:

  1. Infographic: 10 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence and Become a Better Leader by Gordon Tredgold
  2. Podcast: How to Use Empathy in Sales [Backed by Science] by Sam Jacobs featuring David Premier.
  3. Article: Stress Reduction for Salespeople: Dominate Sale Like Never Before by Clan Mcloughlin
  4. Comprehensive List:  The 30+ Most Desirable Sales Skills & Traits You MUST Develop To Become An Unstoppable Rep by Max Altschuler
  5. Book: Discover Your Sales Strengths: How the World’s Greatest Salespeople Develop Winning Careers by Benson and Tony Rutigliano.
  6. Podcast: The Secret to Incredible Sales Management and Building a Coaching Culture by Sam Jacobs featuring Marc Jacobs
  7. Training Provider: About Emotional Intelligence by TalentSmart

You Can’t Take the Emotion Out of Sales

Emotions are part of being human and ignoring them even in business is always the wrong move. Economics may be guided by supply and demand but purchase decisions are still influenced by emotions.

Clearly, emotions will always be staples in a buyer-seller interaction.

However, emotions can also — and often — backfire. Salespeople with low EI tend to let their own emotions get the better of them.

Fortunately, emotional intelligence can be developed and honed. Thus enabling sales professionals to initiate meaningful conversations and nurture relationships with customers.

With competition becoming more intense, high EI has become another advantage to aim for among ambitious sales organizations.

The question is: do you let emotions run wild or use them instead to run up your sales?


Also published on Medium.

Michael Ferguson

Michael is the CEO of Rainmakers — the career marketplace for salespeople. He's a serial entrepreneur having founded 3 startups. He has also launched a Top 25 Free App in App Store and has had an exit. He writes about startups, sales, and hiring. Michael has been featured in publications including Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc and Huffington Post.