Emotional Intelligence in Sales

Emotional Intelligence in Sales




By Executive Coach, Karen D. Nutter


Salespeople are sometimes known for talking too much, not listening enough, and not hearing when they do listen. This can be exasperating for their customers and anyone else involved in a potential transaction and can cost them sales, as well as negatively impact their reputations.

Dr. Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., a well-known psychologist and leading researcher on Emotional Intelligence, has said: “Emotional intelligence emerges as a much stronger predictor of who will be most successful because it is how we handle ourselves in our relationships that determines how well we do once we are in a given job.” This view, with much research to back it up, has influenced countless organizations that now include EI in their training programs, including sales, healthcare, logistics, and non-profit organizations. I believe that as a group, salespeople can greatly benefit from enhancing their EI skills and possibly increase their sales closings in the process.

Unless you live under a rock, you probably need to interact with others on a regular basis. And, in the workplace, you most certainly need to communicate and work with a variety of people; peers, management, subordinates, customers, etc. These work relationships can subtly shape your career; what you achieve, what you earn, your potential for promotion, and the like. Depending on the type of work you do, and your level of responsibility, you’ll rely on some skills more than others, but you will need to utilize the five components of Emotional Intelligence to varying degrees no matter what your workplace looks like: Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Motivation, Empathy, Social skills.

Self-regulation is one of the components I think salespeople can benefit from most. Recently, when a friend of mine,  a new real estate agent, asked me what I thought would help her most in her career, I blurted out “a muzzle!” She laughed, thank heavens, but took it to heart as I explained that past experience has taught me many salespeople just don’t listen. (Having spent 10 years in sales myself I feel qualified to make that statement!) And, they often don’t understand the value of being silent at times while letting customers just take things in and ask questions. Many of them are simply too focused on pressuring people to do what they want, instead of listening and responding to them. This is so wrong – and whatever happened to “the customer is always right”, anyway?

In my book, The Power of EQ, I mentioned I was a successful salesperson early in my career. Looking back, I realize that I was using EI skills back then, although I didn’t know it at the time. I instinctively understood that if I didn’t know what my customers needed, I probably wouldn’t make a sale. I self-regulated by paying attention to them and offering guidance; speaking only when I was providing true value.

Studies show that when salespeople go through EI assessments and training, they develop more accounts, achieve higher sales, and experience greater customer retention than those who do not.  And showing empathy and practicing social skills are especially important for salespeople because, given a choice, people will buy from people they like.

To paraphrase Goleman, salespeople need to practice empathy, relationship-building, and influence. He emphasizes that cognitive empathy lets us understand how a person thinks, so we need to talk in a way the customer understands – but we mustn’t let this become manipulation. Top salespeople apply empathic concern, where you sense and care about the person’s needs. Rather than persuade someone to buy the wrong thing, sales superstars ensure they match the customer’s needs to what they actually have to offer, even if it means sending them elsewhere. This builds a lasting relationship of trust – and creates a customer who will come back.

For my friend, and others in real estate, it’s helpful to recognize that real estate, like most sales, is entirely relationship-based, and people need to feel they can trust and rely on their realtor. Realtors are selling themselves and their services as much as they’re selling homes. Their customers are making a major life change that in itself will be stressful and disruptive even under the best of circumstances, and they will be looking for the realtor to “be there” for them in a way that no other salesperson has to be. It’s critical that sales professionals know how to access and utilize emotionally intelligent skills to make the entire process go as smoothly as possible. When that doesn’t happen, it can be a nightmare. When it does, everyone wins.