Heart brain

How to conduct emotionally intelligent business in the age of AI

8th Nov 2016

Today’s technology is better than us in many areas of expertise. Artificial intelligence (AI) already beats us in games. It does a better job diagnosing illnesses. Cars, trucks, ships, trains and airplanes will soon drive themselves. In the future, artificial superintelligence will go beyond the abilities of homo sapiens.

When robots manufacture our goods autonomously, and AI serves most of our needs, what will be left for us to do? How can we add value to each other as human beings? In what areas of expertise will humans continue to win over technology?

It has been said that emotional intelligence, creativity and continuous learning will be the key drivers of future success for any service involving human labor. Everything else the machines will handle better. In this post, I share my learnings on the role of emotional intelligence in business.

Emotional intelligence is when you finally realise it is not all about you. - Peter Stark

Why emotional intelligence matters

An emotionally intelligent person is able to put herself in your position. She is able to understand your emotional needs and cares about your thoughts. She builds trust quickly, and makes you feel safe and comfortable in her presence.

An emotionally intelligent leader is able to create a working environment, where people care about each other. She is able to rally the team to fight during tough times, and stay humble during the times of success. She will make everyone feel that they are valued contributors to a greater cause.

An emotionally intelligent sales person is able to put herself in the position of the customer. She builds trust faster, and will be able to learn about the customer’s needs faster. With the trust and care, she is able to find the true value of the products and services offered, and draft mutually beneficial long-term agreements.

Emotional intelligence helps you understand your own emotional responses, correct your behaviors and handle difficult situations with grace. It makes you honest, humble and willing to say sorry when it is due. It helps you fight your greed and jealousy, and enables you to sincerely celebrate the success of others.

You have learned emotional intelligence, when the purpose of your work is to help your customers, team members and investors succeed. - Mikko Alasaarela

How to create signal in a world of noise

Today, we receive a lot of messages automatically generated by marketing automation software. Such tools are used by a majority of companies for prospecting. Marketing automation has quickly become about sending the greatest amount of messages to the largest number of prospects to gain the attention of the ones who have a current need for your product.

Another popular prospecting mechanism is called inbound marketing, which is about distributing as much content as possible in as many channels as possible. The intent is that people doing research for their current need will find your content. The inbound marketing tools available today have littered our social media feeds with impersonal content.

The problem with these approaches is that they generate a lot of noise. When we are flooded with robotic messages, and drown under a deluge of promotional content, we become jaded. We assume all messages to be automated and impersonal spam. We do not trust these messages and the companies behind them. We get a sense that the vendors don’t care about us, but are just hustling to make a buck.

Robotic mass messaging is not emotionally intelligent. There is no human being who cares about you on the other end. - Mikko Alasaarela

Referral is the most emotionally intelligent way to get past the noise. We all get influenced by personal endorsements from people we trust. When your customer refers you to their friends, you get past two initial hurdles at once. The hurdle of getting the attention of a relevant customer, and the hurdle of starting the negotiation from a position of trust.

How to build trust in business

It is often said that trust must be earned. This is actually not true in sales. You can’t earn trust without working together, so in the sales situation the trust has to be granted to you before you have worked together.

What can you do to make the customer grant their trust to you? Get referred to her by a friend who she already trusts. It is much easier to grant the trust to a vendor recommended by your friend, a fellow countryman, a buddy from your local Golf Club, or by a brother or sister in faith. If you think about it, the world has always worked this way.

You win, when you are the first person the customer grants their trust to. - Mikko Alasaarela

Getting the customer to grant their trust to you is easier said than done, especially when you go outside your home market. When you expand to a new country, you may not know any locals there yet. But referrals are something that you should do. There is really no faster way to gain the trust of the customer.

It is not enough to start the meeting from a position of trust. You need to be able to put yourself in the position of the customer, and avoid communicating them too many things. The following chapter discusses how to understand your customers better.

How to understand your customers

Ok, so now you are in a meeting with a customer prospect. There are two popular approaches that sales people use in their customer meetings.

The first approach is to tell the customer about all the benefits of the product or service and see how they respond to each. Then the the objective is to discuss the features that got the warmest response from the customer.

The problem with this approach is the unnecessarily high cognitive loadcreated by the options, which often cause the customer to hesitate making the move. It is much easier to say yes to a simple solution to a single problem than think about multiple use cases.

The second approach is to ask the customer how they currently solve the problem that the vendor is solving. Then the objective is to make the case how the vendor’s approach is better than the customer’s current solution.

The problem with this approach is that by discussing the current solution, the customer very easily convinces themselves that the current approach is good enough. The risk of leaping into something new is higher than the reward.

An emotionally intelligent approach is to focus on the buyer, not the problem. You build trust and create a bond by discussing the personal interests of the buyer. By being interested in their life and passions, you make them trust you faster. Then, the decision is not as much about the problem and the solution, but rather about who they trust to solve the problem.

Instead of explaining how your product solves the problem, make the customer trust you to solve the problem. - Mikko Alasaarela

Of course, you will still need to be able to actually solve the problem well. But you will win over stronger competitors every time by being a closer friend of the buyer. Just look around you and observe, and you will find this to be true. It is all about who the customer grants their trust to.

Why caring about others matters

We all make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes are so big that they cost us relationships, money and reputation. However, if you are perceived as a caring and humble person, you will recover from your mistakes much faster.

It is much easier to forgive a humble person than an arrogant one. - Mikko Alasaarela

Think about the following scenario. You bragged to your customer that you have the best service in the world, and no competition comes close. Then one of your service reps makes a grave mistake and creates a big trouble to your customer. The customer will likely now come back at you and call your BS, as well as terminate the agreement, no matter how much you apologise.

Here’s an emotionally intelligent scenario. You tell your customer how much you appreciate their trust, and that you will always be there to do whatever it takes to make the service work for them. Now, when one of your service reps makes a grave mistake, they will call you, angry at the situation. You tell them how sorry you are, how much you care, and that you will personally make sure the situation will get resolved. The likelihood of termination is much less.

Let’s put the same scenario to fundraising. You present your company to investors as the next unicorn, with huge momentum and almost guaranteed big exit looming in the horizon. After a year, you have burned the cash without yet having a solid product-market fit. I will tell you, it will be hard to gain the trust of the investors to finance your bridge round.

In an emotionally intelligent scenario, you present your company as one that has a chance to become an unicorn, if all the stars align and you succeed in everything you do. Then you proceed to explain that there are multiple hurdles to overcome, and that with their support, you will tirelessly fight to overcome them. You tell that you honestly believe you have a good chance, but you also understand how hard it is to get there. You tell them that no matter what happens, you will fight for them and do your best to earn their trust.

Now, when you go to raise your bridge round, you tell the investors which hurdles you managed to overcome, and which are still left. It is much more likely your investors feel that they are in the same boat with you, and want to continue to support you.

The same works with employees, partners, and everyone who places trust on you. If you are a humble person, you will get many chances to correct your mistakes.

Closing remarks

I sincerely hope this post helped you learn something new about emotional intelligence in business. I will write another post about this topic later. It will be about the experiences we have had at Inbot.

Inbot helps B2B companies grow by getting warm introductions to decision makers globally. There is a more detailed description below. If you are interested, email me. I would be happy to be at your service.


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