Book Club: Colleen Stanley on the Importance of Emotional Intelligence for Sales Leaders

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Olivia Fuller: Hi, and welcome to Book Club, a Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I’m Olivia Fuller. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs. Today, I’m so excited to welcome Colleen Stanley. Colleen, could you just take a minute and introduce yourself to our audience?

Colleen Stanley: Well, first of all, Olivia, thank you for having me, I’m really happy to be here today. I’m president of Sales Leadership, and we are a sales development firm. We specialize primarily in sales leadership training, sales training, and then obviously work with a lot of companies on virtual keynotes these days in the environment of COVID, and consulting work. So that’s kind of the big umbrella.

OF: In your book, “Emotional Intelligence for Sales Leadership”, you explain how sales managers often approach the development of their teams by coaching training on the hard skills, but that soft skills are just as critical to sales success. Why should sales leaders focus on enhancing the emotional intelligence of their teams?

CS: Well, obviously my answer’s going to be biased because we’ve been working in this space for almost 10 years. I would say the first thing though, is when you start studying emotional intelligence and incorporating it into your sales training and coaching processes, what you’ll find is it really bridges the knowing and doing gap.

Let me give you a couple of quick examples. What we have framed often as the sales rep IQ– which is very important, by the way, consultative stuff, skills, negotiation skills, asking questions, asking for the business– but when you take a look at one part negotiation skills, you can teach a lot of the IQ there, however, many of us have seen a seller that’s been taught good negotiation skills, and then when they get with a really good negotiator emotion start running the sales conversation.

They get nervous, and because they get nervous, they start discounting or overselling or defending and justifying. So, the coaching in this situation would be coaching the salesperson on self-awareness in emotion management, because if you don’t remain stable, you’re not able to execute the hard selling skills. It’s really the bridging of sales IQ and sales EQ.

OF: Definitely. So, what are some of those soft skills that you think are most important for success in sales today?

CS: Well, there’s a lot of them, but let’s maybe take a look at three of those, and one I just mentioned, and that is emotion management. That is really the ability to remain calm or relaxed in any kind of sales conversation. In order to develop your emotion management skills, not default to fight or flight responses in a sales conversation, that requires the development of another skill and that is emotional self-awareness. That which you’re not aware of, you cannot change, and that which you’re not aware of, you’re bound to repeat.

If you ever observe, even in your personal life or professional life, if you continue to make the same mistakes, usually the root cause is you’re just simply not slowing down enough to think. What’s the trigger event that’s causing me to respond in a manner I regret?

Then I would say a third one, it actually starts with an E, is empathy. Well this, it’s actually become kind of a buzzword in business today, is knowing what somebody else is thinking or feeling. The reality is, how can we possibly think we want to know the human being, if we don’t know or can’t care about what they’re thinking or feeling? But here’s the caveat, Olivia, is many people confuse empathy with validation skills, repeating what someone has said. Empathy is not validation skills because really great empathetic salespeople say what somebody is not saying, they hear the conversation that’s not happening. In order to back up and develop the empathy skill, you’ve really got to sit and think because how can you know what somebody else is thinking or feeling if you simply don’t think, take the time to think about what you are thinking or feeling?

I would say, if you start with the three E’s, you’re going to get a very good start on sales success with yourself and leading a sales team, teaching those skills, reinforcing those skills, coaching to those skills.

OF: Fantastic. So, one important factor that you outlined in your book is a desire to learn continuously. How can sales managers really help foster a culture of learning among their sales teams?

CS: Well, the first is make it easy on yourself, sales managers. Include in your hiring and vetting process of potential candidates their aptitude and attitude for learning. It’s interesting, but I go off to speak to groups, CEOs, VPs of sales. Obviously, they are learners. They were taking time out of their day to come to a conference. Now, today they’re virtual, but back in the day they were in person. So, these are very busy people, so they have an aptitude and attitude for learning.

But I will pose this question: how many of you are vetting your potential candidates at your company for learning? The answer is always the same. They kind of look left, look right, then not too many hands go up. First of all, hire for learning, but like anything, then you’ve got to create a culture of that learning.

Number one, model it. Are you as the leader modeling it? Are you telling people, “Hey, here’s this book I read, here’s a conference I attended, here’s my mastermind group”? And then the third is actually incorporating your coaching. A really easy way to do that is to have a book group, say “Okay, you guys, this is the book of the month. This is what we’re going to be reading this month”, and then have members of your team teach the chapter to other people on their team. When you teach, you get better at the knowledge. So, those would be a few tips I would share with the audience on how do you really create that learning culture out there.

OF: So, you also discuss how building an emotionally intelligent sales team really begins during the hiring process, actually. What are some of the key things that you think leaders should be looking for when they’re selecting candidates that really demonstrate these emotional intelligence skills?

CS: One such skill is, in the EQ world it’s called self-regard. Actually, that’s simply having an inner confidence, but let’s take that a step further. When you truly have an inner confidence, you’re also a person that’s able to admit your strengths or weaknesses. When you’ve got a person that’s willing to admit their strengths and weaknesses, that leads to a highly coachable person, because coachability is huge in life.

All of us have been that sales leader that they were going to give that well-intended feedback, they use the sandwich method, something positive, what you need to improve on, only to be met with “Yeah but, yeah but…” or shifting the blame to you. So, when you hire somebody that’s got that ability to admit their strengths and weaknesses, you’ve also got a coachable person.

I also suggest hiring for humility because when you take a look at really confident people, there’s a fine line between arrogance and confidence. Humble people are learners because they don’t have know-it-all-itis. They’re actually really kind of curious about what they don’t know.

I would say a third skill to hire for is delayed gratification. I got to tell you, in these times of the pandemic, putting in the work to earn the reward, instant gratification are getting weeded out right now. Sales cycles are getting longer, you’ve got to reengineer value propositions, you have to learn how to maybe have new conversations with new decision makers. So, I would say delayed gratification is a huge skill, and backed by research for successful people, regardless of the industry.

OF: In the book, you also talked about the concept of defining your non-negotiables. So, the soft skills that are really most important for you on your team for salespeople to demonstrate. What are some of your non-negotiables for your teams and how can sales leaders identify and apply their own?

CS: Well, the first one, Olivia, is actually take the time to go, what is my nonnegotiable? I don’t think a lot of sales managers take the time to say, I guess the popular term would be what’s my red line? I think when you really get clear on that, taking the time to think– thinking is a great skill for all us to have– is writing those down and developing interview questions around those. For example, I grew up in the Midwest on a farm. I grew up in a work ethic family. Now today, where we’ve got work-life balance, and we’ve got lots of talk about that, I understand all of that, but there are times in your career where you’re going to be out of balance. It simply is the reality of life. So, one of my non-negotiables is a work ethic. A question I would ask, two or three questions around this, is tell me about the hardest you’ve ever worked in your life, because my concept of a work ethic, it might be very different than the candidate. I like to ask people when their first job was because you really can’t teach a work ethic if somebody’s never had a job until they’re 30. I’m being facetious there. So, I’d say a work ethic is number one.

I would also say honesty. Now, this is going to sound like, well, who’s not going to say that? But, if you back up, you can work with a lot of things, but you cannot work with a game player. You can’t work with somebody again that doesn’t have the confidence to admit a mistake, somebody that’s assertive enough to say, “Hey, Colleen, I disagree with you”. I mean, that’s where honesty comes from. This is actually being assertive enough to state what you need. I would say those are really two non-negotiables for me. I can accept mistakes. I will not accept a lie.

OF: Now, Colleen, given the world that we’re all in now, a lot of sales meetings and coaching conversations are happening virtually now. What advice do you have for how sales leaders can continue to facilitate really effective conversations through digital channels?

CS: One thing I will give people hope for immediately, did you know that remote sales management is not new? It’s been around for a lot of years. In fact, when I became a sales manager, I had the good fortune to start with a small company that actually today they’re the largest in the world in their industry.

We were remote sales managers. We had salespeople, all over the country, I guess you call them virtual offices now. So, be a little careful that you’re not making a bigger deal of it than it is. Now, with that being said, I do think with remote sales management, you’ve got to be more intentional. What’s making it difficult for a lot of teams right now is that they didn’t choose to start the business model with remote sales management. So, you’ve got salespeople that signed up to be in an office, a culture. There’s a vibe there. I’ve got my neighbors, it’s kind of fun. You’ve got your neighbor that you’re hearing ring the bell or whatever there.

So, I do believe managers need to be more intentional about reaching out. One thing, I’d advise everyone, sales leader, salespeople is to make sure you don’t fall victim to something that’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is a work of psychology that basically says we all think we do more than we do. We all think we’re better at things than we are. So, a sales manager might think they’re having enough coaching conversations. They might think they’re having enough communication, but if they really track it, their KPIs, maybe they’re not having enough of the conversation.

The second piece of advice– and I just worked with a group yesterday where they are an inside sales team that just had to move into the remote offices– so one thing I suggested to them, I said, recreate what the day in the life in the office used to be like, from the time you entered the door, you saw somebody in the highway, you won a big deal, you hung up the phone and said, “I screwed that up”. Create those moments remotely and involve your sales team in that. Do try to recreate as much of that as possible. So those would be my two tips.

OF: Well, Colleen, thank you so much for joining us today. You provided such tremendous advice for our audience, and we really appreciate you taking the time.

CS: Thank you, and thank you for being so well prepared. You made the interview quite easy and pleasant.

OF: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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