The 2 Kinds of Intelligence Your Sales Team Needs in 2019 and Beyond

I have to tell you something. It might be awkward but you should hear it. Ready? Okay, there’s no easy way to say this but... your sales team might not be as smart as you think they are.

sales emotional intelligence

10 min. read

There are a lot of ways to be smart. Book smart. Street smart. Smart as a whip. Even wicked smart.

Your salespeople will likely have a combination of these different kinds of smarts and more. But what about the two most important kinds of intelligence used in sales today? I’m talking about emotional intelligence and inspirational intelligence.

Why are they so critical? A workplace study shows that 90% of top performers also have a high level of emotional intelligence. And as more and more buyers research solutions before interacting with a salesperson, a salesperson's ability to go beyond features and inspire prospects to buy becomes an even greater asset.

How can you make sure that the mix of smarts on your team includes these? In order to spot them, you’ll need to know what to look for.

Inspirational and emotional intelligence in the wild

These kinds of intelligence and their associated behaviours can be a bit ambiguous so some role-playing might make it more concrete.

Let’s say you’re a sales manager at a widget company. (Congrats on achieving the most stereotypical job in sales!)

Anyway, your salesperson, Emmett, is starting a discovery call with a prospect.

Here’s how Emmett’s call goes:

  • He’s ready with discovery questions and, as the call starts, he dives in.
  • After running down through his list of questions, he starts his pitch, tweaking here and there based on the lead’s answers.
  • Emmett chats away because he knows building a rapport with leads is important.
  • Then he shows off his expertise, answering all the lead’s questions about product features, even the ones he’s not 100% sure about. A positive end to a positive sales call.

Across the sales floor, another one of your sales reps, Bridget, is jumping on a discovery call, too.

Here’s how she leads her call:

  • Bridget starts by asking the prospect about how their new office space is working since she saw on Twitter that they’d recently moved.
  • She then asks the prospect to walk her through their current widget procurement process.
  • She lets the prospect talk, interjecting only to clarify a point or prompt the prospect to explain further. When they’ve finished, she says, “It sounds like you’re frustrated with the responsiveness of your current widget supplier.”
  • That naturally segues into Bridget introducing your company’s solution, highlighting the fact that you recently decreased another client’s factory downtime by 50% with your quick order turnaround guarantee.

Both Emmett and Bridget are talented salespeople. But only one of them is displaying the two aspects of intelligence that help you win in 2019. Who is it?

I’ll give you a minute to think on that…






Okay, got your answer ready?

It’s Bridget who is showing how intelligence in sales today goes beyond just smarts.

B2B buying isn’t based solely on logic, so you can’t solve for it with a formula or use a one-size-fits-all approach. Selling today requires your salespeople to tap into emotions and inspiration unique to each sale, not just repeating details about features and pricing like a robot.

Let’s break down emotional and inspirational intelligence with a look at how Bridget uses them on her call and how your sales team can use them to strengthen their client relationships.

What is emotional intelligence (EQ)?

Emotional intelligence involves empathy, resilience, and vulnerability. There are five major components of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness → understand your own emotions and their impact on others
  2. Self-regulation → control your emotions and impulses and adapt to changing situations
  3. Socialization → build rapport and have meaningful conversations with others
  4. Empathy → determine and appropriately respond to others’ emotions
  5. Motivation → drive, will, morale or enthusiasm to take or complete an action

A person with a high EQ is adaptable and unafraid of change. They know their own strengths and weaknesses and strive to do their best. They relate well to others and maintain curiosity and an open mind.

In the example, Bridget shows her high EQ by relating to the prospect and asking open-ended questions that let the lead talk. She adapts her approach to the call as she gathers more information, repeating back what the prospect says to clarify and understand the underlying emotions and feelings involved.

Now, that’s not all that would be involved in Bridget closing the deal. Just as you wouldn’t want to be treated by a doctor who has a great bedside manner but little medical knowledge or skill, Bridget would still need to draw on her combination of abilities, talent, general intelligence, product knowledge, and personality to succeed.

Why does EQ matter in sales?

The correlation between high EQ and success is tenuous. It’s hard to fully assess what’s attributable to a person’s EQ and what is due to their personality, ability, or access.

That said, emotional intelligence does correlate to what we know works in sales. Tapping into the emotional aspect of the sale, adapting to situations and overcoming objections, building rapport, staying calm under pressure, empathizing with the customer, internal motivation and drive—those are all things any sales manager would look for in a sales rep. The only difference is that they may not specifically call it EQ.

Studies have shown that emotional intelligence is directly related to resilience and, through that ability to bounce back, motivation. Rejection is a reality in sales, but controlling the emotions around it is easier said than done.

Sales reps with a high EQ will be able to focus on the things within their control and focus their energy there. This could involve reacting more positively to client objections or, like Bridget in the example call, listening intently to client challenges.

How to improve your team’s emotional intelligence

You’re probably thinking, “This is great and all, but how do I get more of that emotional intelligence goodness on my sales team?” The good news is that EQ is not a ‘you-have-it-or-you-don’t’ kind of attribute. It can be trained.

Here are some areas to work on and things to watch out for around emotional intelligence:

Listen beyond words

Listening is a great tool for salespeople, but they shouldn’t forget to listen beyond just what a lead is saying. Take tone, word choice, and body language into consideration. When you’re reviewing sales calls with your team, pay attention to whether or not they’re reacting only to what the prospect is saying and not the overall tone.

A good example is when someone says something is “fine.” Is it really okay or are they just saying that to end the conversation? Here, the tone they use can help point the listener in the right direction.

Practice empathy

It’s important to remember that empathy isn’t just imagining yourself in someone else’s position but also feeling the same emotions they are. Listen for how your sales reps respond to prospects’ challenges.

There’s a subtle empathy difference between “Yeah, I bet that can be frustrating.” and “That is definitely a frustrating challenge.” The first one maintains a distance and can come off a bit patronizing, while the second has the sales rep putting themselves in the prospect’s emotional shoes.

Pause, then react

Watch for how often your sales reps pass judgments or react emotionally without hearing people out. Do they consider how their reaction will affect others?

Pause before you react and focus on the action that will lead to the best outcome for everyone involved. This is a great one to work on not only with clients but within the team as well.

Reduce negative self-talk

Managing internal responses and thought processes is also part of emotional intelligence, so be aware of how your salespeople talk to, and about, themselves.

Buyers respond to confidence so they’ll be able to tell if a sales rep is dinging their own confidence with negative self-talk. Everyone can be a bit hard on themselves from time to time, but if you see a salesperson continually reacting poorly, know that it’s only a matter of time before that negativity is passed on to prospects.

High EQ salespeople are pros at regulating how they react internally to missed quotas, rejection, objections, and other stressful sales situations so that they project confidence when talking to prospects.

Take responsibility

Do your sales reps take responsibility for their mistakes? Do they learn and grow from them or just put them in the rearview and move on?

A high EQ isn’t about perfection, nor is it about dwelling on the past; it’s about knowing yourself well enough to have an honest picture of who you are, your strengths and weaknesses. High EQ salespeople will be driven to improve.

Cultivate a sales culture where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for growth to help your team improve their emotional intelligence.

What is inspirational intelligence?

Inspirational intelligence involves inspiring the customer to think beyond just features, beyond just the here and now of pain points.

Customers know a lot about solutions before they even talk to a rep. Tell them something they don’t know. How will buying from you help them avoid an issue down the road? How could it improve their business in a new or surprising way?

Inspirational intelligence in sales

Inspirational intelligence is about using emotions, positive and negative, to move people toward a particular action.

Your salespeople use inspirational intelligence when they talk about the negative consequences of not making a decision or taking action. They’re using it when they talk about all the benefits your solution will bring.

Inspirational intelligence is about building a relationship and gleaning the information needed to have a valuable conversation. A sales call can’t be completely spent getting at their needs—the sales rep should already have a good understanding of the needs and use the selling time to go deeper.

Since buyers are coming into the sales process more informed than ever, think about the value your sales reps can provide. Maybe there’s an aspect of your product or service that the buyer hasn’t considered.

Sales enablement plays a role here, too. Salespeople can add inspirational value through content. Maybe it’s a case study that shows a customer using your solution in a unique way or a how-to blog post on unconventional uses.

In the examples at the beginning of this post, Bridget takes time to understand the prospect’s challenges and then highlights a relevant case study. Just saying that you offer quick fulfillment of widget orders doesn’t inspire much of anything. Showing how this leads to a real-world consequence—in this case, less costly downtime—can inspire the prospect to sign on and do the same.

How to improve your team’s inspirational intelligence

Inspirational intelligence can transform your sales. Here’s how you can help your salespeople add it to every client relationship they forge:

Give your sales reps insight into the entire customer journey

Make sure you have a full view of prospects’ actions so your salespeople can follow the customer and propel them further along their buyer journey.

If they’ve downloaded an ebook or attended a webinar, for example, these details provide greater insight into the challenges the prospect faces and the knowledge they already have. This helps prevent your sales reps from rehashing information, which keeps the sale moving forward.

Help them think ahead

You can’t inspire if you aren’t staying ahead of the prospect and anticipating the content and information they’ll need next. Help them leverage data, metrics, and AI-driven customer insights that robust sales tech stack tools, like proposal automation software, can provide.

Free up more of their time

Automate administrative tasks that take salespeople away from selling. This frees up a sales rep’s schedule so they can spend more time building relationships with prospects.

Put an emphasis on product knowledge

Ensure your team not only has the details they need to sell but also knows the product so well that they can think critically about it to offer different solutions and use cases as required.

Make sure they’re building relationships the right way

Encourage your sales team to dig more into the prospect’s business, not the prospect themselves.

The old-school way of forging connections through personal details (“I saw on LinkedIn that you went to Cornell—go Big Red!”) is not as inspiring these days as a deep understanding of a prospect’s challenges (“I get that your sales cycle length is a big challenge. I’ve helped a lot of companies shorten their sales cycles to get ahead of their competition.”)


Emotional and inspirational intelligence is a subtle, but important, edge your sales team can take advantage of. By honing vulnerability and the ability to see beyond features to inspire more sales, your super-smart sales team will be a closing machine.

The 2 Kinds of Intelligence Your Sales Team Needs in 2019 and Beyond

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