Emotional intelligence & the psychology of sales

Don’t keep battering away trying to increase sales, let In-Call Selling with Emotional Intelligence unlock your sales potential.

Many of you will have seen the excellent books The Challenger Sale or To Sell is Human and tried to incorporate their principles into your organisational sales approach. Indeed, with research revealing that fewer than 10% of sales professionals sell over 90% of products and services globally, we would be fools not to take the latest research regarding selling success seriously.

A three-year meta-analysis of the latest psychological research has enabled Performance Associates to effectively identify the DNA of these top performing sales professionals. Seven competencies underpinning selling excellence have been identified and, following extensive research examining the psychology behind these core competencies, a further 61 sub-competencies were identified that prove instrumental in driving superior sales performance.

Let me briefly outline the seven competencies, all of which respond to effective coaching, before drawing what I hope will be an interesting conclusion.

1. Sales knowledge

Sales knowledge considers the extent to which someone understands the stages of the sales process and how well they can utilise each part of it. There is a very strong correlation between having a thorough understanding of the sales process and achieving sales success. However, two factors in the sales process correlate more strongly than the rest in the top 10% of sales people. Can you name them? #1 was found to be Planning and #2 Gaining Customer Commitment. A word of warning though, when executed badly, they actually correlate with a reduction in sales!

2. Emotional adaptability

Human to Human (H2H) is fast replacing Business to Business (B2B) as the buzz phrase in organisations. The reason for this can be traced to a phrase we often hear: “People buy from people” [“And even when they don’t, they still buy from people!”]. Emotional adaptability is the bedrock of selling with emotional intelligence, focusing on those ‘soft skills’ that we know make the difference in the sales environment. They fall into two camps: dealing with our own emotions [attitudes, beliefs, motivation, confidence etc.] and dealing with other people’s emotions, including reading expressions and micro expressions.

Selling with emotional intelligence is a proven way of increasing sales; 8 to 12% annually. This is a skill that cannot be ignored in today’s highly-competitive markets.

3. Sales personality

Three of the ‘Big 5 Personality Factors’ have been shown to correlate significantly with sales success. So, should a high-performing sales person be more or less open to new ideas, compared to the average person in the street? Should they be more or less conscientious, have higher or lower levels of introversion or extroversion, worry more or less and even be more or less ‘likeable’? What can a sales person do if they don’t match the ‘ideal’? The good news is that all is not lost – as long as they can create their ‘ideal selling state’.

4. Role clarity

A huge factor in determining your mindset is understanding (and accepting) the expectations of your role and how it fits into your organisation’s vision. How well a sales person understands exactly what their role demands, in terms of outcome and results, correlates directly with their sales performance. It links to their ability to stay motivated in a changing environment, remaining focused during change, taking responsibility for their own development and even dealing effectively with conflict when it arises.

5. Cognitive aptitude

In a sales context, cognitive aptitude considers a person’s verbal and numeric skills as well as their general knowledge. The ability to articulate clear links between your products and how they meet your customer’s needs (including financial needs) is essential, particularly if your product is not the cheapest option for them. This will require verbal and numerical dexterity as well as good knowledge regarding which factors affect our customer’s business. This turned out to be one of the strongest indicators of sales success.

6. Motivation & engagement

Having motivated and engaged sales people is a key driver of success in any organisation. When things do not go according to plan successful sales people raise a hand and take responsibility, they don’t ‘blame’ others, but rather adapt their approach. They are admired for their fair principles and positive view of how people should work together, exhibiting higher levels of trust with their managers and other team members. Their drive to achieve comes from their beliefs about what they are capable of and what they deserve based on the effort they put in. It is highest in top performing sales people who often enjoy their work, find personal development interesting and have an ability to remain logical and manage their emotions effectively to meet their objectives.

7. Optimism, resilience & luck

Optimists have much higher levels of resilience and persistence than pessimists due to being more ‘hopeful’. As a consequence, optimists outsell pessimists by 37% year-on-year across all sales environments and 26% in pharmaceutical sales. The great news is that optimism is learnt, not innate. 25 years of research reveals that our opinions of whether we are lucky or unlucky are determined by our mindset rather than fate. Top sales performers tend to consider themselves as ‘lucky’ and, as with optimism, this can be learnt by ‘unlucky’ people.

Sales DNA

Our meta-analysis set out to try to discover whether there was a ‘sales DNA’ that was common to all top performing sales people. We had no preconceptions as to what we might find, but rather hoped that we could discover something to help all sales people learn from what research identified as ‘best practice’ in high performers.

Of the seven competencies identified, what is most striking is that five of them rely heavily on the salesperson having highly-developed emotional intelligence (both ‘intra-personal intelligence’ and ‘inter-personal intelligence’, to quote Howard Gardner from his work on multiple intelligence). The significance of this is borne out in research that clearly indicates that emotional intelligence plays a critical role in sales success. Indeed, when supported by specialist in-call emotional intelligence selling coaches, emotional intelligence trained sales managers and emotionally intelligent leadership, improvement can be dramatic.

 Emotionally intelligent leaders can increase organisational growth by 7% and profit by 29%

  Emotionally intelligent sales coaching can increase sales by 8 to 12% annually

If you want to learn how Performance Associates can help you integrate emotional intelligence selling into your organisation’s sales process contact us.


Simon Toy, Managing Director and Senior Consultant, Performance Associates.

Drop a line to info@performanceassociates.org

Visit Performance Associates’ website here or call 01530 223508 to see how emotional intelligence can help your sales process.


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