The word ‘soft’ is enough to turn off any hard-driving business executive. After all, doesn’t it mean that a salesperson can’t stand their ground, is in touch with their “inner child” and won’t negotiate the tough business deals? Wrong. Research conducted by the Sales Executive Council shows that the best salespeople are assertive. They are comfortable taking control of the call and hold firm on their price during tough negotiations.
Assertiveness is not a hard-selling skill; it is an emotional intelligence skill. In simple terms, it’s the ability to ask for what you need without being aggressive. Top salespeople are good at asking for what they need in order to conduct mutually profitable business. That might be requesting and getting meeting time with the right decision-makers. It’s the ability to stay firm on your price, protecting margins and your job.
Emotional intelligence is a new competitive weapon for sales organizations competing in a global, information-loaded world. What is emotional intelligence? In layman’s terms, it is the ability for a person to perceive their emotions, understand why they are feeling the emotion and adjust their actions to achieve desired outcomes.
So why are these skills so important in the sales profession? Emotional intelligence bridges the “knowing and doing” gap. Most salespeople know what to do, however, under difficult selling situations, they often buckle and default to non-productive behavior.
For example, how many of you have seen salespeople move into a “product dump,” even though they know they should be asking questions, not presenting? How about the salesperson that discounts too soon and too often, even after he has attended a negotiation skills training course? Is it lack of skill training or lack of emotion management? Often it is a combination of both, but most salespeople focus only on trying to improve their hard selling skills, not their soft skills.
Here are three emotional intelligence skills to teach, train and coach your salespeople with. They will help your team close bigger deals, in less time, at full margin.
This is the foundational skill for emotional intelligence. Many well-intentioned sales managers invest hours in sales training, only to have the salesperson still buckle under pressure from a tough prospect or client.
The self-aware salesperson recognizes the value of downtime. She gets away from distractions and takes time to analyze and debrief sales meetings to examine any non-productive emotions that may have impacted her desired outcome. Was I intimidated? Was I not prepared? What was I saying to myself during the meeting?
If you don’t know what you are feeling and why you are feeling the emotion, it is hard to course correct. In today’s always-be-connected society, most salespeople keep repeating the same mistakes because they don’t take the time to reflect and analyze their behavior and actions.
Here’s the rule: no awareness and no change mean the same bad sales outcomes.
Assertive salespeople know how to state what they need, without becoming aggressive or pushy. They are good at moving the opportunity forward or disqualifying poor opportunities early in the sales cycle. A salesperson scoring low in assertiveness often ends up in “chase mode” because they aren’t comfortable setting firm agreements for the next step. Or they do a lot of practice proposals because they’re not assertive enough to ask for a meeting with all the decision makers. It’s the ‘knowing and doing’ gap.
The salesperson knows what to do because the sales manager has taught them the tactics for all of the above. Lack of execution stems from poor assertiveness skills. Unfortunately, sales managers often misdiagnose this selling challenge. They sit down with the rep and review tactical selling skills when the salesperson really needs help and training on assertiveness.
Ever heard the expression, “I feel your pain?” In other words, I am empathetic to your situation. Empathy is the ability to step into another person’s shoes and see things from their perspective. Hmm. I wonder if this skill would enhance the level of trust and rapport a salesperson can build with prospects and customers?
Many salespeople don’t appear empathetic because they have developed the bad habit of not being present and focused. Much of this is due to the recent addiction to technology. Think of the last company meeting you attended. How many participants were present? Or were most people checking their smart phone while a colleague was speaking?
Anything that is repeated becomes a habit and the habit of not being present and focused impacts sales results. Salespeople miss subtle communication clues such as a shift in body language, a change in tonality or that quick expression that crosses the face of a prospect or customer. As a result, they miss the chance to ask a clarifying question or deal with a potential problem. They aren’t really listening because active listening is a skill that requires focus and concentration. They are not tuned in. Prospects and customers know it, and give the business to the empathetic salesperson – the one that is paying attention.
Get soft in the year ahead and incorporate emotional intelligence skills training with consultative sales training.
Colleen Stanley is president of SalesLeadership Inc., a sales development firm specializing in emotional intelligence and consultative sales training. Reach her at www.salesleadershipdevelopment.com or 303-708-1128.