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A guide to sales EQ: How to use emotional intelligence in sales

Sales EQ
Topics
What is sales EQ?
The four levels of sales intelligence
Understanding your buyers’ emotions
Using sales EQ to convert more customers
Final thoughts

Even top sales professionals sometimes struggle to connect with prospects. Despite having the perfect product or service for the prospect, sales can stall for no apparent reason, leaving you wondering what’s missing in your approach.

Having a better grasp of your sales emotional intelligence (sales EQ) means you can understand yourself and your customers on a deeper level and transform your sales strategy from transactional to relational.

In this article, we’ll look at what sales EQ means and how to improve your sales EQ and use your emotional intelligence to get a competitive edge.


What is sales EQ?

Sales EQ refers to the qualities of emotional intelligence – the ability to recognize, understand and manage emotions in yourself and others – specifically applied to the sales process.

For over a century, people have used intelligence quotient (IQ) scores to measure a person’s intelligence.

However, it soon became clear that this view of intelligence was incomplete because it didn’t account for a person’s creativity or ability to cope with emotions.

Emotional intelligence, measured using emotional quotient (EQ), has proven to be a valuable quality.

In the book Emotional Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman found that more than 85% of senior leaders owe their success to emotional intelligence rather than traditional intelligence.

Other studies have shown that employees with a higher EQ are more likely to perform better at work and less likely to burnout.

A high EQ is also important in sales. In one study, trainers put front-line sales managers and reps through a program designed to improve their emotional intelligence and enhance their sales performance. As a result, total sales revenue increased by an average of 12%.

Jeb Blount, author of the popular sales book Fanatical Prospecting and CEO of the sales training company Sales Gravy, popularized emotional intelligence in sales in his book Sales EQ.

According to Blount, “the new psychology of selling” helps engage prospects, improve product differentiation and influence buying decisions.

Unlike more basic sales methodologies, focusing exclusively on a product’s features and benefits, sales professionals with a high EQ concentrate on the buyer. Sales reps can tailor their approach to the buyer’s emotional needs and decision-making process.


The four levels of sales intelligence

One of the key concepts introduced in the book is the four levels of sales intelligence – although there’s no definite hierarchy.

Sales intelligence typically refers to customer data used in the sales process but here it refers to the different types of knowledge a salesperson can use.

According to Blount, ultra-high sales performance comes down to four distinct intelligences:

  • Innate intelligence

  • Acquired intelligence

  • Technological intelligence

  • Emotional intelligence

Salespeople who combine these four types of intelligence in their sales process will outperform their rivals and convert more customers.

Innate intelligence

Innate intelligence refers to a person’s natural ability to recognize patterns and solve problems. Different factors can affect a person’s baseline intelligence, from genetics to upbringing (nature and nurture).

A high baseline intelligence can help a salesperson overcome unexpected challenges and tailor their approach to each prospect.

People who’ve nurtured their innate intelligence will likely be more comfortable analyzing sales data, understanding innovative products and communicating with buyers in certain industries (such as medical sales).

Acquired intelligence

No matter their level of innate intelligence, people can still learn new skills and increase their knowledge. You advance your acquired intelligence over time by learning new sales frameworks, studying different markets and navigating unique selling environments.

Sales professionals with high acquired intelligence typically have a growth mindset, shown by a deep desire to continue learning and a willingness to challenge the status quo.

These reps are adept at using sales training and coaching to enhance their techniques. They constantly evolve and look for ways to improve their sales process based on experience and feedback.

You can see this intelligence in a person’s ability to craft compelling sales pitches, tailor approaches to different customer segments and easily navigate complex deals. It’s the intelligence that grows and deepens with every sale, every customer interaction and every challenge overcome.

Technological intelligence

Sales EQ focuses on the human element of sales, but technology is undoubtedly an important part of the modern sales process.

Rather than relying on memory or gut instincts, today’s sales teams use various sales tools to track progress and close deals. Technological intelligence refers to the ability to effectively use and integrate those tools in your sales.

Technological intelligence involves understanding and using customer relationship management (CRM) systems, social media, workflow automation and data analysis tools. Sales professionals with high technological intelligence can leverage these tools to manage customer interactions and gain insights that drive their sales strategies.

Technological intelligence is evident in the way sales professionals feel comfortable adopting new sales technology, adapting it to their unique situation and using it to optimize their sales process.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence brings the human element to sales. EQ is a pivotal part of building and maintaining strong customer relations.

Sales reps with high emotional intelligence can understand the emotional needs and drivers behind a customer’s buying decision and adjust their sales approaches accordingly.

When a sales professional has a high EQ, they can handle rejections and objections gracefully, maintain a positive attitude and stay motivated.

Sales-specific emotional intelligence is key to nurturing potential conflicts into opportunities and ensuring long-term customer satisfaction and loyalty.

IntelligenceDefinition
Innate

A person’s natural ability to recognize patterns and solve problems

Acquired

Specific knowledge and skills learned over time

Technological

The ability to effectively use software and other tools

Emotional

The ability to recognize, understand and manage emotions


Integrating the four intelligences in sales

According to Blount, ultra-high-performing (UHP) sales professionals use each type of intelligence in their process, combining them to engage with prospects.

Each of these levels complements the other: A certain level of innate intelligence is important, but even salespeople used to getting the top grades in school will struggle if they don’t keep learning.

Likewise, a tech-savvy sales rep may have access to more data but without emotional intelligence they won’t be able to use those insights in a way that appeals to the customer.

Sales professionals can apply these levels of intelligence to their sales by first recognizing their innate strengths and where they could improve. Take the initiative and look for opportunities to enhance the different types of intelligence through ongoing sales training and other resources.

Integrating these four types of intelligence helps sales professionals create a more dynamic, adaptable and successful sales strategy that resonates with clients on multiple levels, leading to increased sales performance and customer loyalty.

However, while many sales managers recognize the importance of acquiring new sales skills or learning to use the latest sales tech, emotional intelligence is often overlooked. In the next section, we’ll look at specific ways you can build your sales EQ.

Analyze your sales interactions. Listen to recordings of your sales calls and try to spot any changes. What emotions were at play? How did your mood and attitude affect the outcome?

It can be difficult to analyze our own behavior, so we actively seek feedback from colleagues, managers and even customers. Getting an external perspective can provide unexpected insights into your approach that you may never have considered.

Here are three ways you can increase your self-awareness today:

  • Listen to recordings of your sales calls

  • Look for any patterns of how you respond to specific scenarios

  • Enlist a sales coach or mentor to analyze your calls and offer advice

Empathy

The next step is to understand what’s going on with your customer.

Empathy is the ability to recognize and share the feelings of another. In sales, empathy means casting aside preconceptions and putting yourself in your buyer’s shoes. What are their needs, challenges and emotions?

To cultivate empathy, focus on actively listening during your interactions with customers. Pay attention, not just to the words they use, but also to what they don’t say. What can you learn from their tone of voice and body language?

For instance, can you sense a client’s hesitation or concern, even if they don’t explicitly express it? Do you recognize when a customer is genuinely enthusiastic about a product?

True empathy also means going beneath the surface to uncover deeper motivations. What would purchasing your product or service mean for the customer? What challenges would it help them overcome? How would it help them become a better version of themselves?

When you can answer those questions, you’ll better understand the customer and how to adjust your pitch to align with their needs.

Here are three tips for improving your empathy:

  • Practice active listening to understand your customer’s perspective

  • Use role-playing exercises to put yourself in the place of your customer

  • Ask open-ended questions that encourage your customer to open up

Social skills

Improving social skills involves more than just being friendly or outgoing. It means learning how to interact meaningfully with others so that you can persuade without being pushy and build genuine rapport.

Social skills include effective communication, active listening and the ability to adapt your approach to different types of clients.

For example, how do you adjust your communication style when speaking to a detail-oriented client versus a more big-picture client? Are you able to read cues that suggest a client is losing interest? If so, do you know how to re-engage them?

Improving your interpersonal skills starts with observing and learning from each interaction. Pay attention to which approaches work best with different types of clients. Practice mirroring their communication style – if they’re formal, observe the same formalities. If they’re casual, take a more relaxed approach.

Like any other talent, social skills improve with practice. Look for opportunities to talk to a wide variety of people, such as at networking events, trade shows and conferences. These environments provide opportunities to get comfortable talking with different people and refine your skills.

Here are three ways to improve your social skills:

  • Pay attention to your non-verbal communication and body language

  • Join public speaking groups or workshops

  • Attend events with a wide variety of attendees and start a conversation

Self-control

Sales can be a high-pressure environment, making self-control a crucial skill. Ultra-high performers must manage potentially disruptive emotions and remain calm, even in the most challenging situations.

Consider:

  • How do you react when a client is indecisive or continuously raises objections you’ve already covered?

  • Are you able to maintain your composure?

  • Can you patiently address each concern?

Developing self-control involves recognizing your emotional triggers and creating strategies to manage them. A simple technique like pausing to take a deep breath before responding can reduce the tension and maintain control.

If you’ve struggled before with specific situations, reflect on how you could have handled things differently. Learning from these experiences is essential to improve your self-control in future sales interactions.

Here are three ways you can improve your self-control:

  • Identify your emotional triggers and plan how you’ll respond to those triggers

  • Practice pausing for a few seconds before responding to challenging situations

  • There’s plenty of evidence that a healthy diet, exercise and good sleep can help you relax, so maintain your physical health as much as possible


Understanding your buyers’ emotions

As you work on the above skills and improve your sales EQ, it’ll become easier to understand the customer journey and why they make decisions.

For example, emotion initially motivates many customers to purchase. They then justify their purchasing decision with logic. According to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious.

The average salesperson may assume that B2B transactions are purely logical, but data from the IPA shows that emotions still have a bigger impact on purchasing decisions (and are only slightly more based on rational thinking than B2C purchases).

Emotion chart B2B decision making


Emotions can take the form of desires, fears, aspirations or personal values.

An example might be a customer who’s emotionally drawn to a product because it resonates with their sense of identity or fulfills a deep-seated desire.

Logic then comes into play when customers need to rationalize their decisions, either to themselves or other stakeholders. At this point, factors like cost, functionality, return on investment and practicality matter most.

A customer might love the idea of a high-end product but will need logical reasons to justify the higher expenditure before they say yes.

For sales professionals, recognizing when to focus on emotional appeal and when to bring in logical reasoning can be the difference between closing the sale and losing it. Ask questions about the prospect’s wants and listen carefully to their answers, paying attention to any cues that suggest a more emotional or logical mindset.

After connecting with a customer on an emotional level about how a product feels or the status it brings, you can provide factual data or cost-benefit analyses for a more logical appeal.

Ensure your sales collateral caters to both emotional and logical aspects. Use storytelling and visual elements to evoke emotions and back them up with data, testimonials and case studies for logical support.

Understanding and balancing the roles of logic and emotion in buying decisions enables the best sales professionals to connect more effectively with their customers, providing a satisfying and comprehensive buying experience that addresses both their emotional desires and logical needs.


Using sales EQ to convert more customers

Applying your emotional intelligence to your sales can significantly enhance your ability to move customers through different sales pipeline stages and overcome any roadblocks.

From the first time you interact with a prospective customer, use your sales EQ to create a positive and memorable first impression. Show genuine interest and use active listening to better understand the prospect’s needs, desires, and pain points.

When the customer objects, emotional intelligence can help you remain calm and composed.

Use empathy to decipher the deeper reasons behind that objection. Show that you understand and care about their challenges and present your solutions as a means to genuinely support them.

As the prospect moves through the sales cycle, tailor your language, tone and closing strategy to align with what you’ve learned about them.

After you’ve made a sale, your sales EQ will be instrumental in maintaining those customer relationships. Keep in touch with customers post-sale to establish a long-term connection and show that you’re still committed to providing the best possible outcome.

Responsiveness to any after-sales questions or concerns builds a customer’s loyalty and increases customer retention.

Whether or not you successfully close the deal, review your interactions and see where you can improve your approach.

Employing these strategies helps sales professionals effectively use their sales EQ to guide customers through the sales pipeline, from initial contact to closing the deal and beyond.


Final thoughts

Integrating emotional intelligence into the sales process means salespeople can go beyond traditional strategies and create a deeper, more empathetic connection with their clients.

A heightened sales EQ means sales teams can engage more effectively with prospects, discerning their expressed needs and the underlying emotional drivers behind their decisions.

In turn, a deeper understanding of prospects leads to more productive conversations, more accurate client needs assessments and ultimately more successful deals.

A better understanding of the art of emotional intelligence helps sales organizations increase their immediate sales outcomes while building long-term customer relationships.

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