Emotional intelligence in sales: why and how empathy sells

Meeting to analyze sales

You might have heard the term “emotional intelligence” in psychology articles, but did you know that the relevance of emotional intelligence extends into the world of sales? Just as emotional intelligence can benefit people in their interpersonal relationships, applications of emotional intelligence to the workplace have prompted impressive results.

In this article, we’ll break down what emotional intelligence is and where it comes from before considering how emotional intelligence can be applied to sales teams to help boost close rates and increase brand loyalty.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is a theory introduced by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in the 1990s, and refers to a person’s ability to “identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others”.

In short, emotional intelligence is a way to describe your ability to:

To be clear, emotional intelligence does not mean repressing, burying, or setting aside those emotions. Rather, it’s about acknowledging their presence and finding ways to cope depending on the circumstances. The concept of emotional intelligence can also be referred to as one’s emotional quotient or EQ.

Why is emotional intelligence important? Easy — it helps people not only come to terms with their own emotions, but also to relate to others. That might be through talking it through together or simply by being able to see the logic in why certain emotions arise, even when they might appear illogical on the surface.

Emotional intelligence vs. empathy: what’s the difference?

Empathy is an important part of emotional intelligence. It specifically refers to the part of EQ that involves understanding how others feel and why. While EQ covers the self, others, understanding, and regulation, empathy is primarily concerned with our ability to be understanding of others. In layman’s terms, empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes.

Why is empathy so important for sales?

Now that you know what emotional intelligence and empathy are, let’s examine how these concepts apply to the world of sales.

Being more emotionally intelligent helps build an honest way of relating to potential buyers and clients, and can be helpful in everything from closing the deal to building your brand.

Below you’ll find our top three reasons why emotional intelligence and sales performance go hand in hand.

1. Understand your buyer’s needs and expectations

By focusing on the target audience’s needs and expectations instead of merely making a sale, reps will be better positioned to speak directly to a customer’s core concerns. If reps are busy talking up the product’s or service’s qualities, that might sound great to the business but may be less likely to resonate with the buyer.

Buyers don’t necessarily want to hear why a rep thinks what they’re selling is great; they want to know how buying it is going to help them.

By taking the time to talk explicitly about the issues a potential client is dealing with, you can more coherently address how your product or service can solve those issues. This not only helps the client to feel heard, but is also a more effective selling strategy.

2. Create an emotional connection to secure a sale

As much as we might want to believe that you can run a business purely logically, the truth is there’s an emotional component to most purchases, even in a B2B setting. Creating an emotional connection between reps and buyers can go a long way in helping to close a deal.

This doesn’t mean reps ought to be bonding with clients by sharing intense details about their personal lives, though. Instead, it can be effective to aim to connect to the raw emotions potential customers are dealing with when it comes to their business needs. Are they afraid of falling behind the competition? Are they frustrated with outdated processes? These are emotions reps are well-positioned to address and empathize with.

3. Build trust in your company and your brand

Empathy can be a great way to build brand loyalty. Customers that genuinely feel understood by a company are far more likely to continue working with them. Being empathetic can help your messaging resonate, and it’s another way to connect with consumers and buyers. As long as that empathy comes from a place of honesty, there’s no downside. Just remember that the average consumer is better at sniffing out insincerity than you might expect.

How to increase your emotional intelligence

Now that we’ve clarified the importance of emotional intelligence for the sales process, let’s look at a few practical ways you can boost your EQ today.

Practice active listening skills

One of the characteristics of emotional intelligence is knowing how to be an active listener. Active listening is when you listen with your full, undivided attention. It’s expressed in a few different ways all at once such as making direct eye contact, repeating what you hear back to the speaker to clarify and show you’re retaining what they say, making sure you don’t interrupt, and most importantly, asking engaging questions – both for your understanding and to encourage the speaker to share more detail.

Try using these techniques in everyday conversations around the office and at home to get better at using these skills without thinking. Active listening is a fantastic way to make the speaker feel heard – something we all appreciate!

Learn from emotional intelligence sales training

Dedicated training materials focused on teaching emotional intelligence sales techniques can be a concrete way to prioritize upping your team’s emotional intelligence. While understanding the basics of what emotional intelligence involves is a great start, learning how to apply these skills to sales specifically is what will help give your reps a real leg up.

Focusing training on how EQ relates to business can help make sure reps know how to stay empathetic while maintaining professional boundaries.

Develop self-awareness and emotion regulation skills

Working on improving your sense of self-awareness can help greatly increase your EQ. If you’re not aware of what you’re feeling when you feel it, it can be difficult to understand how you come across to others, as well as what others are feeling themselves. Making space to acknowledge and name emotions that arise can help make you more in tune with them and, in turn, help you better regulate them.

Regulation skills to develop include looking for positive emotions and experiences in a given situation and actively choosing how to respond to a situation. Remember, your first instinct doesn’t have to be the one you go with.

Understand your strengths and weaknesses (or those of your team)

This might seem like an obvious tip for increasing your emotional intelligence, but it can have a big impact on your team. Taking the time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of yourself as well as your team will help you better see how to work together toward success. Struggling with something another teammate is great at? Use it as a learning opportunity. Or, vice versa, offer to help others in areas where you excel.

This can help prevent annoyance and frustration and turn it into an excellent way for the whole team to grow together.

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