Emotional intelligence in sales: Why it's important and how to boost it

8th Mar 2017

What is emotional intelligence, and how can sales professionals develop their EQ to make more informed, rational decisions? Fellows of the Association of Professional Sales, business psychologists Lance Mortimer and managing director of Sales Motivations, Bryan McCrae explain. 

How many times have you met someone who is academically talented but unable to socialise or really click with workmates?  

Their high IQ may help them to thrive in analytical roles that produce extremely important output for others, but often they only rise so far through the hierarchy.

Contrast that to someone who may not have exceptional skills and knowledge, but possesses the ability to socialise and network. To the uninitiated, this talent can be labelled as ‘political playing’. In fact, it is a different and more recently identified type of intelligence in action: what some call Emotional Quotient (EQ).  

There are many examples of the high EQ type of person in ‘C level’ roles throughout the world: think Lord Sugar and Steve Jobs, for example, who both failed either to go to, or to finish university. Richard Branson and Donald Trump also epitomise this kind of intelligence. Clearly it isn’t just IQ that helps you get on in life - EQ plays a big part too.  

So what is emotional intelligence in sales? 

Daniel Goleman, who has written some of the most popular work on the subject, suggests that EQ is the ability to understand and manage emotions - yours, and those of others.  

When we think of it in those terms, and consider the role of sales people, we can quickly begin to understand the important role that EQ plays in sales. Buying is an emotional experience.  Even when we think we are making rational decisions, often we can unconsciously be hijacked by emotions. As salespeople we need to understand a buyer’s emotions and help to manage them, or else we risk being less successful than we’d like.  

How do we do that? Simon Sinek, a leading author and speaker on Leadership, suggests that we should train ourselves always to start with the question ‘Why?’. We should try to understand what internal purpose, cause or beliefs have been awakened. Sinek’s approach hits right at the heart of EQ.  

This does not always happen, however. In this author’s own experiences and data, a lot of the time we tend to concentrate on ‘What?’ or ‘How?’. These questions have a leaning towards IQ, or more logical thinking. They represent an explanation of what you do and how you do it. As we know from decision-making, however, logical thinking is not the system that usually makes our decisions.

Why does EQ matter? 

Lacking EQ can have a serious impact on our career. We have all witnessed an emotional outburst from someone at work, for example. Being emotionally unintelligent in the work place can not only be embarrassing, but it can damage our outcomes. A really big outburst may be impossible to recover from, as reputations can be shattered in an instant.

Steve Peters discusses how we prevent such disasters in his excellent book The Chimp Paradox. He describes how different parts of the brain contain different characters that control how we act.  

Being emotionally unintelligent in the work place can not only be embarrassing, but it can damage our outcomes.

First, let’s consider a part the brain that Peters calls the Chimp, which is quick to respond and does not need a lot of fact or confirmation. The Chimp is constantly vigilant for attack. It is paranoid and irrational, worries a lot, and acts accordingly to try to protect itself.  It is very fast and strong, and can take over our emotions before have a chance to stop it.  

For example, someone cuts in front of you whilst you are driving and comes a little too close. Do you shake your fist and blow your horn,? It is simple to see how the Chimp can take over. 

A more controlled part of the brain is what Peters classes as the Human. If it was cut up in traffic, the Human would sit back and think about why the other driver acted that way.  Maybe they are late for an important meeting? Perhaps there is an emergency at home? 

The Human is more rational, logical and puts things into perspective. It likes to have evidence and facts before acting, and is happy to change its mind if the argument allows.  It likes plans and actions, but is not as powerful as the Chimp, so can often get over-ruled.  

How to boost your EQ

As Peters says, you cannot change the nature of the Chimp. But if you want to act in an emotionally intelligent way, you need to manage the Chimp. This you do through the Human.  

Managing the Chimp can take various forms:

  1. Divert the Chimp. If you feel tense and realise that the Chimp is stirring and about to explode, then play some competitive sport, where losing is not so important as losing a big deal.
  2. Exercise the Chimp. Have a ‘safe buddy’ you can sound off to. The other person does not take offence, but acts as a sounding board as you let them have both barrels. This lets the Chimp wear itself out, so it can go back to sleep.
  3. Box the Chimp. Tell yourself that the actions suggested by the Chimp are only suggestions, not commands. This is a skilful way of acknowledging the Chimp’s needs and trying to manage them. One way of boxing the Chimp might be to ask it if it wants to deal with the anxiety and stress that its preferred course of action will cause. This can help it to calm down and understand that alternative courses are preferable.

Our skill at managing emotions has a major impact on how well we are perceived and accepted, not just at work but in general. Being able to relate to others and understand their view will help to get a positive outcome. Failure to understand or relate can have the opposite effect.  

The long term trend in society is towards greater use of emotional intelligence. We as humans have become more aware of our emotions over time. The way we interact with other people has changed.  Some behaviours that were accepted in years gone by are regarded as unacceptable in today’s working world.

As sales professionals, it is to our advantage to develop and become acutely aware of our EQ. This becomes even more important where we are working across multiple countries and cultures.  We need to be able to adapt, and to understand that, behaviourally, one size does not fit all.  

The responsibility for developing your EQ falls on you. In regular selling situations, the advice would be to tap into your emotions and those demanded of the situation.  When you have these under control, you can call upon your IQ to use its logical skills to put into words why you and your customer can both win if you collaborate.


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