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Emotional intelligence: How salespeople with high EQ perform differently

2nd Nov 2017

Much of today’s sales training concentrates on the techniques, processes, knowledge, technologies and pitches that once gave salespeople the sales edge. The competences required years ago encouraged salespeople to develop skills that showed how capable their products and services were in solving business problems.

Yet today, we live in a world that the buyer who needed all these technologies explained to them doesn’t exist anymore. Today, where information is everywhere and buyer attention spans are minimal at best, we need to revisit the skill-sets that are required to be competitive and maintain buyers’ attention.

So, what do today’s buyers require of us that encourages them to see you from a different perspective? How can you be ‘in touch’ with how the new buyer makes decisions, solves problems and maintains loyalty?

In our modern sales world, the undeniable fact is the power and importance of the buyer’s emotional experience when dealing with salespeople as they go through the buying process.

Great salespeople are able to master their own emotions before, during and after the sale. They are experts at recognising what emotions the buyer is displaying, what’s happening in the moment and responding appropriately and effectively to the challenges they are facing. They choose their behaviours instead of the situation choosing the emotions for them.

In other words, Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, is the holy grail that salespeople need to develop if they are to succeed in today’s buyer/seller environment.

In a sales setting, EQ can be defined as the emotional experience that the seller and the buyer experience, and they can be much more important than even the features, benefits and prices of the products. To sell value, a salesperson must become valuable to the buyer. They must earn the right to determine the correct products and services for the specific challenges the buyer or their business is facing.

What is EQ in a sales situation?

EQ is commonly described as the ability to perceive, interpret, respond to and deal with your own emotions and affect the emotional responses of buyers.

EQ competencies can be broken down into four specific components: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.


No-one is perfect. Everyone has their differences, strengths, weaknesses, generalities, inabilities and blind-spots. The big difference between those who have high self-awareness and those who don’t is the fact that they are conscious and mindful of their own strengths and shortfalls first.

  • They know their own emotional makeup.
  • They know what blindspots they experience.
  • They know the impact their own communications have on others.
  • They understand their weaknesses and how to deal with them.

This means a salesperson high in self-awareness has a clear picture of how they experience emotions and what affect those emotions have on them. They are able to ‘label’ how they feel at any one time and what messages these emotions are giving them.

Most of us find this difficult, because emotions usually occur at the subconscious level and rarely do we have the flash of consciousness that says ‘this is what I am feeling, the reason I am feeling it and this is what I need to do with it’.

Quality salespeople realise that self-awareness is dealt with within the situation they are working. They understand when to talk and when to listen, when they need to find out more details and when they need to back off, when they need to ask for commitment and when to let the buyer think things through.

Reflect back on sales situations where maybe you weren’t quite on the same wavelength as the person you were dealing with. Did you understand your own drivers at that time? Were you aware of what you were feeling? Or did you blame the other person for the inability to progress?

Developing self-awareness is key to establishing a firm foundation for building your EQ.


When you are aware of how you have developed your emotions in a situation, you can then move to managing what, in some instances, may be disruptive emotions. Have you ever experienced these kinds of emotions in a sales setting, either in yourself or your buyer?

  • Uncertainty.
  • Blame.
  • Insecurity.
  • Impatience.
  • Fear.
  • Judgment.
  • Irrational decision-making.
  • Under-confidence.
  • Over-confidence.
  • Self-importance, egotism.

These and more can derail your sales conversation and have an effect on your overall judgment of a situation.

Self-management is often referred to as self-regulation or self-control; how you manage this component of EQ is vital to your continuing success.

You need to be totally aware of what the emotions you are experiencing are telling you, so you can gain rational control and rise above them to become, if you like, a detached observer, so you can achieve a different perspective and become more realistic in what you are thinking and feeling.

Quality salespeople are able to know what their emotions are telling them. They understand why this emotion is occurring and actually make sense of what it’s saying to them. They can then employ their more rational, thinking brain and choose the right response to the emotion.

Social awareness

This is the ability to use EQ in a way that interacts with other people positively and progressively. Many salespeople we work with like the sound of their own voices so much, it’s as if they need to feel more significant than the buyer.

This is one of our most pressing needs as humans; the need to feel significant. If someone thinks we are important, it strokes our ego and makes us feel good about ourselves.

Salespeople with high levels of EQ in Social Awareness are able to maker the buyer feel important as you focus on them and their needs. How can we do this?

  • Really and deeply listen. Being listened to makes the buyer emotionally attach to you because you are sincerely interested in them and their challenges.
  • Look for something to complement them on. This has to be sincere and not patronising. When you see something that is worth commenting on, mention it for the reason of being genuinely interested rather than to ingratiate yourself.
  • Ask for their advice so they feel valuable.
  • Be curious about what they are saying.
  • Say thank you often.
  • Show empathy by being in their shoes for some time so you see things from their point of view.

Relationship management

The quality of our relationships with buyers can make or break current and future opportunities for business. This specifically can boil down to influencing skills, conflict management, teamwork and leadership style.

The way you influence a buyer in an emotional way can often break down the resistances that cause objections. Buyers can see manipulation through sales techniques a mile off, so influencing is more subtle in that it allows the buyer to drive the conversation in a way that ends up appearing to be their decision to buy rather than your adeptness at selling.

Dealing with conflict or disagreements is key to maintaining and developing the relationship, as it progresses the conversation by looking at the areas of agreement rather than highlighting what is incongruent in the discussions. As your relationship evolves, you begin to share ideas on how to overcome areas of concern and you work together to find solutions. Conflict becomes a source of solution-generation and benefit-creation and can build tougher resistance to price discussions, as you highlight future solution-value rather than short-term price discrepancies.

Teamwork can help you achieve more in supporting your buyers’ goals, as you work together as partners in attaining better results. Your support team within your company can make or break the relationship with your clients by providing back-up when required, or failing to follow-through on promises made.

How you lead yourself, your support team and your suppliers can have a big impact on the relationship you maintain with clients. Whenever you experience any challenges or set-backs in the sales process, your level of leadership can determine what the future state will be between you and client. By leading though problem-solving and decision-making, you prove yourself to be of real value to the client, both now and in future dealings.

High EQ response vs low EQ response

Let’s put all this into practical application. Just how would a high EQ salesperson respond differently to someone who is lower in EQ?

Here’s a specific example:

Your prospect has said that he’s not ready to make a decision yet, as he needs to look at some more options and test the market for solutions. He likes your proposition, but has to be confident he has made the right decision.

The response from a person with low self-awareness and self-management may be to question what they have done wrong in the sale so far, to allow the prospect to still think there may be other options.

Low EQ tends to rely on rational solutions, so they may respond with questions like, “What more do I have to do to get your business?’ or ‘Is price an issue for you?’

Rational thinking may not be quite right at this juncture and the low EQ sales person may rely on specific logical assessments to determine how he can progress the sale. He may miss the real point of how the prospect is feeling and the discussions may go down the wrong direction.

High EQ would mean the salesperson thinks through the social and relationship entities that would make the prospect feel better in this situation. High EQ would mean the salesperson would:

  • Be clear on their own feelings (curiosity, frustration, puzzlement, etc).
  • Know what is the best use of this emotion.
  • Give the prospect confidence in their decision-making.
  • Keep the relationship open by not forcing the issue.
  • Find solutions that would make the prospect feel confident in going forward.

The high EQ salesperson would think and say things like:

  • “What’s my immediate reaction to this?”
  • “What would be my best response to this?”
  • “Why would he say this?”
  • “How can I give him some reasons to still consider us when he compares with the competition?”
  • “Is there anything I can say that would build up value for our solution?”

Do you see how a considered response is better than an immediate reply? High EQ makes the salesperson think through repercussions before they are stated. It shows that most decisions are made emotionally, not logically, so we assess the prospect’s situation and help them decide without making rush decisions.


It’s long been said that ‘people act on emotion and justify with logic’. As today’s buyers are more able than ever to make logical decisions on-line and elsewhere without any input at all from salespeople, the emotional connection you can have with decision-makers becomes more and more a differential factor when you eventual make contact.

Developing your emotional intelligence is now seen as one of the most vital skills you can work on, as buyers look for value in other areas than simply price. You can become that differentiator by building these skills and proving yourself to be that true partner to your clients that makes you indispensable to their future operations.

Replies (2)

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By AhmedMurad
02nd Nov 2017 12:01

Nice article.

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By Deborah Burdett
02nd Nov 2017 16:04

Great article. When running sales training I often use an exercise called Perceptual Positions, which means putting yourself in another person's shoes

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