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Are salespeople more emotionally intelligent than the norm?

9th Feb 2018

Working in sales has always been competitive, but changes in organisations and the market over the last 10 years have increased demands on the modern salesperson dramatically.

To develop the resilience to respond to, and manage these changes while boosting personal and business performance, the modern salesperson must develop their Emotional Intelligence (EI), as emotions serve an important social and adaptive function.

And directly contradicting the stereotype of the cold, pushy sales executive, our research paper, “The Emotional Intelligence of the Sales sector, 2007-2017”, suggests that salespeople are more emotionally intelligent than the average businessperson.

However, the study of more than 2500 salespeople also reveals that unlike other job sectors, where EI improves with age and job seniority, the sales sector tends to plateau after the age of 39 and at senior management and director levels, with EI falling after the age of 50. 

What is Emotional Intelligence (EI)

EI is about being the best we can be by becoming aware of and managing emotions, both in ourselves and others. For example, deploying our full intellectual potential under pressure, requires effective emotion regulation, while adapting our behaviour within different social contexts enables us to collaborate better. 

EI can play a critical role in determining our happiness, success, motivation and productivity at work and home.

Based on our experience in EI training and development with companies worldwide, an EI-inspired business culture can create up to 20% more engagement and performance in team members and for the whole organisation (Maddocks 2017).

The study’s findings

In comparison with over 28,000 respondents from nine job sectors, the sales sector scored higher than average on Emotional Intelligence (+1.25% above mean average). Self-employed people have the highest Emotional Intelligence (4.5% above the mean average) with graduates and non-managerial positions the lowest (-3.25% below the mean average).

The study also found that the sector scores significantly higher in five aspects of EI indicating that salespeople tend to be more task focused (Goal Directedness, Personal Power), tough minded (Self Regard, Emotional Resilience, and Assertive), and able to form close connections (Connecting with Others). 

Through commitment to improving your EI, you can boost your individual and company sales performance in line with new market demands.

But other findings were more reflective of the stereotype including that salespeople can be more rigid (low Flexibility), guarded (Mistrusting), have unrealistic expectations (Over Optimistic), be potentially volatile (Emotionally Under Controlled), confrontational (Aggressive), and less team oriented (Over Independent).

Compared to other job sectors, salespeople score relatively higher on Personal Intelligence whereas Interpersonal Intelligence is average. Personal Intelligence includes aspects such as self-motivation, dealing effectively with set-backs and making confident decisions. Interpersonal Intelligence relates to behaviours such as placing trust in others, team working and managing confrontation constructively.

Surprisingly, the Sales sector scores below average on several Interpersonal aspects of EI. Exploring this more closely, a higher score on Connecting with Others (forming close relationships) but a lower score on Trust and Interdependence (collaboration and teamwork), suggests the typical salesperson may be more individualistic and less team oriented. This could therefore be an area for development, particularly when salespeople progress to become team leaders.

Career development

At the top level, senior managers and directors score higher on many aspects of Personal Intelligence (Self Regard, Self Awareness, Emotional Resilience, Goal Directedness, Authenticity, Balanced Outlook – Realistically Optimistic) suggesting they have developed some elements of EI that are important for effective leadership (Siegling et al, 2014).

However, this seems to be counteracted by lower scores in Interpersonal Intelligence. For example, directors score lower on Regard for Others and are more Aggressive, suggesting that at this level they are tougher and more demanding.

The study has highlighted both areas of strength and improvement in salespeople’s EI, that can be built on and addressed respectively. EI can be developed, but it takes practice. Noticing and managing our attitudes, emotions and behaviour in a changing social context is a continual process. 

Through commitment to improving your EI, you can boost your individual and company sales performance in line with new market demands, while also increasing your long-term career development. So, now is the time to understand more about the link between your emotions and behaviour in order to positively impact on your sales performance.

To find out more about developing Emotional Intelligence (EI) in your salespeople download free from JCA Global’s website now: “The Emotional Intelligence of the Sales sector 2007-2017” by Jo Maddocks, chief psychologist and Poppy Boothroyd R&D consultant, JCA Global.

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