How to Better Leverage Sales Soft Skills and Emotional Intelligence
“I have mastered the classroom training. I’ve done that for 20 years, and you know what? If I’ve done that I can do the other because I have the ability to learn. That has not gone away.”
As the world made a necessary but unpredictable shift towards a largely virtual workplace, Colleen Stanley, founder and president of SalesLeadership, Inc., found herself asking the very question she poses during leadership conferences and sales training alike, this time to herself:
“Do you adapt and have the resolve to adapt?”
One thing’s for sure, Stanley practices what she preaches. She was able to pivot her 20 years of industry experience into online training seminars and workshops in a matter of weeks. But this adaptability, resiliency, and an “aptitude and attitude for learning,” as Stanley puts it, is part of a much larger philosophy that she emphasizes throughout her professional practice:
Sales IQ is relatively meaningless without sales EQ, emotional intelligence.
When Stanley was recently featured on the Adapter’s Advantage podcast, she and host Mark Magnacca, president and co-founder of Allego, discussed this very idea, especially as it applies to hiring, teaching, and growing. Throughout their conversation, the two touch on:
- The importance of vetting for soft, in addition to hard, sales skills
- The value of emotional intelligence in executing sales pitches, meetings, and more
- The need to teach towards a student’s real problem, not just their outward-facing presentation
We’ve highlighted these key takeaways and more, according to Stanley and her years of expertise.
#1 The Importance of Vetting Candidates for Sales Soft Skills
“I will ask them, ‘How many of you believe that learning is important?’ … All the hands go up, right? And so, then I ask them the question, ‘How many of you are vetting your candidates for their aptitude and attitude for learning?’ They’re not.”
Stanley describes one of the most telling exercises she conducts during her sales management workshops—she asks sales leaders for their worst hire stories. “I can’t even tell you the stories we’ve heard,” Stanley says, half-jokingly, but goes on to pinpoint one common denominator across virtually all of the answers.
“It’s always about a culture misfit, bull in a China shop, didn’t take feedback well, they weren’t a learner,” she says of the answers she hears, time and time again. Never any mention of a failure to meet quota, difficulty creating opportunities, or lack of industry experience and expertise—sales managers seem to have no problem assessing these skills. “And so, what becomes very obvious for sales managers is they’re not vetting candidates for the soft skills.”
Stanley goes on to describe herself as the proverbial bull in a China shop in her early career. “Yes, I’ve had a lot of success,” she admits, “but I was pushing. I didn’t know how to have the crucial conversations, I lacked emotion management, I could escalate from 0 to 100. And you can get a lot done that way, it’s just that there’s a better way.”
If your candidates have exhibited the ability to learn and adapt, they may be more likely to accept feedback and meld into your organization. This underscores why evaluating individuals for sales soft skills can reveal how successful they will become.
#2 Teaching the Three E’s of Emotional Intelligence
“It’s the soft skills that help you with the execution of the hard skills.”
Two of Stanley’s books, Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success and the recently-published Emotional Intelligence for Sales Leadership, are directed specifically at the value of emotional intelligence.
But what exactly is EQ? Why is it so important in an industry that relies heavily on product knowledge, strategy, and analysis?
Stanley goes on to outline the three EQ competencies that she believes are foundational to any successful set of sales soft skills:
- Emotion management – The ability to manage one’s emotions is essential in closing what Stanley refers to as, “the knowing and doing gap.” You may have extensive product knowledge and in-depth training on how to handle certain conversational twists and turns. But if you allow your emotions to overtake you, you enter a sort of fight or flight response that creates a barrier between your intellectual self—how you know you’re supposed to respond—and your acting self—what you actually do in the moment.
- Emotional self-awareness – In Stanley’s eyes, this is “the mega EQ skill”—and she seems to think Socrates would agree, citing the quote often attributed to him, “Know thyself,” as an example of emotional self-awareness. “If you’re not aware of it, you can’t change it. If you’re not aware of it, you’re bound to repeat it,” Stanley relays on more than one occasion. Without self-awareness, you’ll be running around and around on the metaphorical “sales gerbil wheel.”
- Empathy – Self-awareness is a sort of building block towards empathy. The more in-tune you are with your own emotions and triggers, the better able you are to extend the same line of thinking to another person. While empathy is a valuable skill in any interpersonal relationship, Stanley also considers it to be a powerful influence tool: “because how can you possibly influence someone unless you know and care about what they’re thinking or feeling?”
As Magnacca points out, you won’t be very well attuned to the emotions of others until you’ve learned to spot them in yourself—not just the vague acknowledgment of, “Oh, I’m angry,” Stanley says, but the specific feeling of being disrespected, underappreciated, or disappointed, for example.
Once you’re able to spot these emotions in yourself and in others, you can more easily put a name to them. Better yet, you can use your emotional awareness to your advantage during training, sales meetings, and product pitches. “When you state, ‘I get the feeling that what I just said sounded like disrespect,’ wow, they’re sitting there going, ‘You get me,’” Stanley says.
#3 Noticing the Problem Behind the Problem
“I think the presenting problem can also be looked at as the visible and the invisible. So the visible we might think we see and know, but there’s a whole bunch of invisible there… I think it’s an important one for managers to get very good at identifying and coaching self-limiting belief systems, right?”
In this case, these self-limiting beliefs are the invisible. The person you’re communicating with has made up a story they’re telling themselves: “they’ve already written me off as a low-achiever, so why bother?” for example. Now, this supposed low-achiever believes their efforts are pointless; they come across as lazy or entitled.
The internal, self-imposed limitations are masked by external behavior—the visible.
Stanley stresses that you can’t coach to their visible behaviors. Trying to motivate a “lazy” salesperson won’t yield much success when, in reality, they’re plenty motivated but paralyzed by the fear of failure. “Fear runs a lot of people’s lives,” Stanley says, “so that’s what you’ve got to coach to, not a selling skill necessarily.”
Being able to understand an individual’s actual problem incorporates your own set of soft sales skills. Taking a step back and looking at your salespeople through the lens of emotional intelligence can allow you to better understand what is going on underneath the surface.
Adaptation is An Opportunity for Growth, Not a Sign of Failure
“[it is] The ability to admit, ‘I’ve got a blind spot, I have maybe a weakness, I need some help. I don’t need to be the smartest guy or gal in the room.’”
Emotional intelligence is an adaptation in itself, but it also gives you the power to continue adapting—“What do I need to change? What do I need to do? What do I need to be?” Stanley says. It’s this aptitude for improvement and growth that will make you and your team a real force to be reckoned with in the sales leadership industry, if Stanley’s success is any indication.
For more insight into how you can incorporate sales soft skills and EQ training alongside your sales IQ initiatives, listen to our entire conversation with Colleen Stanley on The Adapter’s Advantage.
You can also purchase her book and access free resources at www.salesleadershipdevelopment.com.