Today’s post is by Jeff Seeley, CEO of sales and leadership training company Carew International, as well as a frequent keynote speaker, columnist, and blogger. Find him online or connect with him on LinkedIn.
Success as a sales leader begins and ends with the quality of our relationships.
Those with an ear to the ground have likely noticed increased attention recently to the “soft skills” required to win in “high-value” interfaces with customers. These days, the pressure is on to optimize the customer experience and expand the customer life cycle.
Five Trends That Impact Sales Teams
I read with great interest Gerhard Gschwandtner’s recent eBook, 5 Trends That Will Impact Your Sales Team in 2019. The five trends included AI/CRM, value, customer experience, sales training, and conversational intelligence. Gschwandtner was spot on in identifying these key areas – four out of five of which center on the quality of customer relationships and the degree to which sales professionals can connect with customers to cultivate trust, credibility, and rapport. And, for the most part, current thinking on sales skill development aligns with these trends.
Yet, as I survey the landscape relative to sales leadership development, I worry about the lack of attention on soft skills and relationship building, and that we are overly focused on AI and CRM for leadership effectiveness. How can we recognize the critical role of relationship building and communications skills for our sales teams and so egregiously ignore these same skills when it comes to sales leaders?
In business, we continue to focus our assessment of professional worth in terms of knowledge, experience, intelligence, and education. Sales professionals are typically promoted to leadership roles because of what they know, how long they’ve worked, or how well they’ve sold rather than their EQ (emotional intelligence) or skill in managing others.
This dynamic drives a misconception among sales leaders: that they should have all the answers. This means they tend to spend most of their time talking and telling rather than listening and understanding.
Add to that our preoccupation with hitting our sales numbers and improving sales cycle efficiencies, and it’s no wonder sales leaders are missing a key link in their quest to cultivate optimal performance among sales team members.
What Is EQ?
What, exactly, is emotional intelligence? In their book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, authors Bradberry and Greaves define emotional intelligence as “your ability to recognize and understand emotion in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.”
High EQ fosters leaders who are approachable, relatable, human – and trustworthy. The significant impact of EQ is widely recognized and documented: Research has shown that people with the highest levels of intelligence (IQ) outperform those with average IQs just 20 percent of the time, while 90 percent of top performers have high emotional intelligence (EQ). Bradberry and Greaves say EQ skills are more important to job performance than any other leadership skill.
We often wonder why successful sales professionals don’t succeed in leadership roles. Perhaps it’s because they set aside EQ-driven relationship-building behaviors that served them well in sales, and instead favor the managing, talking, and telling behaviors they perceive as leadership behavior.
EQ Practices to Help Sales Leaders
What if sales leaders fully leveraged their existing EQ and sales development practices as the foundation for their leadership development? This might include the following practices.
- Explore and then listen to understand and identify needs and motivations
- Be open, interested, and curious rather than judgmental
- Consider each sales team member’s perspective instead of your own
- Focus first on building trust – helping and adding value – before making demands
- Make emotional investments in your sales and sales support teams
With these fundamental practices in place, sales leaders would be able to fully leverage strong, trusting relationships with sales team members. They would be able to apply their EQ while honing and deploying specific leadership functions such as providing prescriptive and actionable feedback, assessing performance, managing conflict, solving problems, and motivating each team member to maximum performance.
I don’t mean to suggest that AI and CRM are not powerful tools for sales management; they absolutely are – particularly as a means to identify trends and problem areas and to drive efficiencies in the sales process. But these tools cannot cultivate the human-to-human relationships that foster trust, credibility, respect, collaboration, motivation, problem solving, coaching, and performance counseling.
As leaders, our communication is ineffective if people don’t connect with it – and us – on an emotional level and view us as resources and partners in their success.
What about the role of EQ in developing and retaining top sales talent? Maya Angelou famously said, “People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” People don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.
Establish Trust, Credibility, and Rapport
Sales leaders who fail to connect with team members for meaningful conversations will have sales team members who feel isolated, unappreciated, and insecure. It’s a dynamic that drives sales rep turnover and undermines sales performance. Conversely, the leader who is able to engage and model relationship-building skills will reduce turnover and cultivate sales team members who are better prepared to build trust, credibility, and rapport with their own customers.