Experienced sales reps are pretty good at assessing how their customers and prospects feel at any given moment.
If they’re talking on the phone, for instance, a shift in tone can indicate whether they are confused, excited or starting to get angry.
On a video call, a customer or prospect’s facial expressions can tell a lot about whether they are skeptical of a pitch or eager to hear more.
Even an email or text message can convey how a buyer is moving through emotional states ranging from uncertainty about a purchase to complete confidence in a deal that’s about to close.
Recognizing a customer’s feelings is helpful for sales reps, but the biggest success in sales takes more than that. You need to deepen your emotional intelligence – not only identifying and managing the feelings of clients, but your own as well.
Emotional intelligence, which is sometimes simply shortened to EI, is an asset for people in almost any area of business, but sales people can put it to particularly good use. After all, selling requires being persuasive, even in tense situations. It involves people who have to make purchases that might put their professional reputation on the line.
Sales targets can be ambitious, which means reps have to deal with high pressure. Customers have stresses of their own, of course, which is why they often seek out products and services in the first place. In a sense, the emotional stakes are high on both sides of the table.
Without EI, reps may risk the cues that would help them win a customer over. They could push too hard or act in a way that damages future prospects with a particular customer. In other words, reps need EI because the work they do represents a key component of the overall customer experience they are trying to deliver.
This was reflected in the most recent Salesforce State of Sales report, which found that 78% of salespeople say listening has an extreme or substantial impact on converting a prospect into a customer. The same research also found 71% of salespeople say building a personal rapport impacts the close of a sale.
Brands also have to ensure they’re providing everyone their team, including sales reps, the best possible employee experience. EI helps here in that reps can self-reflect and offer honest feedback to their managers on how they can be better supported on the job. This is more critical than ever as organizations adopt hybrid work models, where reps and their managers might not be meeting in person as often as they once did.
There are plenty of books and other resources to help develop your EI, but start by breaking down the basic components and looking at them through the prism of buying and selling:
With each of these areas, start from within. What kind of mood are you in before making contact with a customer or prospect? Are you already feeling under the gun about your quota as the quarter is coming to a close? Did a negative interaction on your previous call leave you in a less than ideal temper? Is there anything going on in your personal life that could influence how you go into a new call or meeting?
Just being aware of your emotional state can help you avoid being overly influenced by it, or shifting your mood based on the need to make a good impression with a customer.
Now do the same thing with your customer. You can’t read minds, of course, but you can ask questions. Something as simple as “What’s keeping you busy lately” could help you perceive whether they’re in a good space to hear you out, or already overwhelmed with fires to put out. Asking “How’s the morale at your firm” might reveal as much about their emotions as their broader comment on team morale.
True EI doesn’t stop at spotting how we or others are feeling. It analyzes those feelings, much in the way companies analyze data to continually improve the experiences they offer.
If you’re feeling tired, sad or angry right before you sell, for instance, there are going to be obvious limitations in your ability to persuade a customer or prospect to accept a proposal. You might also forget key details or mix them up because your emotions are getting in the way. Thinking through the causes of those emotions is the first step in overcoming them.
Similarly, you need to try and understand why customers may be feeling the way they are. In some cases their emotions will be a result of what you’ve been saying or how you’ve been behaving. In others, their feelings may have little or nothing to do with you.
EI wouldn’t offer much value if it didn’t include an element of problem solving or working through our feelings and those with whom we’re interacting.
When your own emotions are the issue, it may come down to accepting a situation that isn’t really in your control. You may have to forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made, or be prepared to seek forgiveness from someone else later. There could also be an aspect of compartmentalizing your emotions – not necessarily letting everything go, but mentally deciding to deal with them later.
Managing the emotions of customers is best done with empathy. You can acknowledge, for instance, that the purchasing decision they’re making is a complicated one. You can also recognize that there are many other priorities going on within their job or across their business.
Where it makes sense, ask what might make them feel better about the purchase, or how you can help build their confidence in the product or service. Customers may feel better just knowing that their feelings are being taken into account by a rep.
As EI becomes a more vital skill within sales, remember that it’s not about achieving perfection every time. Instead, it’s an ongoing process of asking, listening, and doing your best, and then doing it all over again.