There are many reasons companies win business. Some are innovative, creating disruptive products and services that make their competitors look like dinosaurs. Others work hard to create high-quality products that are worth their high cost. And there is another reason, one that CEOs and sales managers often overlook. It’s the emotional intelligence (EQ) of the sales department.

Steven Stein and Howard Book are the authors of The EQ Edge. Their comprehensive work in the study of emotional intelligence shows that soft skills are as important to winning business as hard selling skills.

High-EQ sales cultures win more business for a variety of reasons. One is that they move fast because they manage results, not excuses. They are good at disqualifying opportunities that are never going to turn into closed business and move on to more likely prospects.    

Here are two EQ skills Stein and Book list as helping your sales organizations move faster and win more business:

Self-regard. In the EQ world, self-regard is defined as “inner confidence.” It’s the ability to admit your strengths and weaknesses. This skill is at the core of resilience, grit, and the ability to bounce back.

Salespeople with high self-regard also have developed the ability to separate their “do” from their “who.” When they fail in trying something new, they assign the failure to what they do, rather than take the failure personally and ascribe it to who they are.

Without separation of do and who, salespeople demonstrate behaviors that hold them back from reaching their full sales potential. They take no’s from prospects personally, creating self-doubt and negative self-talk. This leads to limited risk taking. Instead of pursuing bigger accounts, they default to either working only with existing clients or to pursuing small, easy accounts to avoid hearing the word no.

Salespeople who haven’t separated their do from their who also take feedback from their sales managers personally. When they get feedback, they move into “yeah, but …” statements or get defensive. I call them eggshell salespeople. They easily crack from any feedback. As a result, the sales manager dreads giving them feedback and avoids such conversations. Without feedback, the salesperson leads a comfortable but status quo life. Growth happens only with honest, well-intended feedback.

So what can sales managers do to increase their sales team’s self-regard and improve their EQ in sales?

Teach your salespeople the concept of separating what you do for a living from who you are. Your role in sales is just that — a role. The who in life is your self-worth, your character. This include traits such as confidence, honesty, loyalty, empathy, and personal accountability. None of these traits go away when you fail. In fact, these characteristics make you bounce back and do better as a salesperson.  

One reason that sales organizations don’t move as fast as they need to is that too many salespeople are engaged in covering up their mistakes. When people are busy trying to do this, they’re not focused on identifying why a problem happened, what they can do to fix it, and how they can prevent it from happening again.

In raise-your-hand cultures, salespeople quickly raise their hands, accept responsibility for mistakes, and move on. Their focus is on improvement and progress, not excuses and blame.

Assertive salespeople say what they need nicely without becoming abusive or aggressive. Lack of assertiveness creates victim sales cultures. When salespeople aren’t able to state what they need, they adopt an attitude that “everyone is doing it to them.” They have bad prospects, bad territories, bad bosses, and bad friends. Do you see a common theme?

No one is doing anything to them. This salesperson lacks the assertiveness to state what she needs for a win-win business relationship. For example, assertive salespeople are comfortable letting prospects know they need to meet with key stakeholders in order to put together the right recommendations.

Nonassertive salespeople go along to get along. They avoid rocking the sales boat and asking for what they need. Nonassertive salespeople invest hundreds of hours writing practice proposals. Then, when the prospect chooses to do business with the assertive salesperson — the one who asked to meet all the decision-makers -— they act like a victim. “I have the worst territory and prospects.” No, you don’t have a bad territory. You aren’t assertive and good at stating what you need in business.   

So what can sales managers do to improve assertiveness? Encourage their team to work on the right end of the problem. The root cause for lack of assertiveness is fear of losing something. A salesperson is afraid of losing the deal.

Apply reality testing and conduct a mini win-loss coaching session with your salesperson. Point out where the wins are happening. The salesperson will see that wins happen when salespeople honor the sales process needed to win business. That includes meeting with all the buying influences. This awareness helps to create a coaching opportunity.

Now you are ready to work on both the hard and soft skills needed to win business. Role-play the hard selling skills required to create win-win partnerships. Work on improving assertiveness skills. Ask the powerful questions: “What are you afraid of losing?” “Is that based on perception or data?”

Teach your sales team that it’s OK to be assertive and to disqualify a prospect. When prospects aren’t willing to partner or are simply not a good fit, help your salesperson get comfortable telling them that this opportunity isn’t right for your organization.

Teach your salespeople the concept of separating what you do for a living from who you are. Your role in sales is just that — a role.”

Colleen Stanley | President and Chief Selling Officer, SalesLeadership Inc.
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