"What we’re sometimes lacking in our training and coaching sessions is emotion management."

Veronika Traublinger
February 2, 2021

Check out the interview with Colleen Stanley as we talk about emotional intelligence in all aspects of sales.

Colleen Stanley is president of SalesLeadership, a sales development firm specializing in the integration of emotional intelligence, sales and sales leadership skills. She is the author of three books, Emotional Intelligence For Sales Success, now published in six languages, Emotional Intelligence For Sales Leadership and Growing Great Sales Teams.

Prior to starting SalesLeadership, Colleen was vice president of sales and marketing for Varsity Spirit Corporation where she led a national sales team of over 100 sellers. Forbes Magazine named Varsity as one of the 200 fastest growing companies in the United States.

Colleen is a recipient of many awards for her work in sales development and thought leadership. Salesforce named Colleen one of the most influential sales figures in the 21st century and is recognized as one of the Top 30 Global Sales Gurus.

We at Ciara were very lucky to (virtually) meet Colleen to chat about emotional intelligence in sales. Read on to learn what is emotional intelligence in sales, how to align emotional intelligence and sales goals, how to identify the right talent as a sales leader, and much more.

Watch the interview on YouTube:

Thank you so much for talking to me, I really appreciate that.

Today, I want to learn about you, your books, and more about the topic of emotional intelligence in sales.

Sounds like a good lineup.

Perfect! As we may have some readers who don't know you, maybe can you quickly introduce yourself for everyone. 

Absolutely! I’m Colleen Stanley, I’m president of SalesLeadership and we’re a sales development firm. We teach sales training, sales management training, keynotes, I do some consulting - but every bit of our work is wrapped around the emotional intelligence component. So what we’re really working on with sales organizations is how do you integrate the soft skills training with their hard skills training. Because then and only then we believe that people are equipped with 100% of the skills they need to be successful. So that is our mission. 

Perfect, that sounds super interesting, Colleen. Before we dig deeper can you explain the expression emotional intelligence and how emotional intelligence in sales looks like?

So, big question you started out with. Let’s start with the definition. And there's many definitions out there. What I always like to do is to encourage people to take a look at this definition first: Emotional Intelligence is really knowing what emotion you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that emotion and then, probably most important, how the emotion affects how you show up. Because what we’ve seen in our years of sales and sales leadership training is that most sales organizations focus on teaching how to master the hard skills in sales. I often refer to it as the sales IQ. Now these skills are very important. These skills can be product knowledge, consultiveness, selling skills, questioning skills, negotiation skills, prospecting, business development... However, in our years bringing this work to our clients we’ve found that the sales EQ skills are important for the execution of the hard selling skills and behaviors. Quick example: I think everyone reading has heard the complaint “Salespeople talk too much, listen too little.” Now we’ve all read the books, attended the training that said, “You need to listen more. God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.” But what we’re sometimes lacking in our training and coaching sessions is emotion management. Impulse control training. Because that’s when a salesperson either gets nervous or excited and they start reverting to product dumping, presenting solutions too soon or too often. So that's why the sales IQ, the sales EQ, and training both sets of skills is important.

And how can I train emotional intelligence?

Well, that’s interesting. Because I think where this has been problematic, and primarily in the sales profession, emotional intelligence has been around for many many years but often it resided in leadership training. And then if it did get presented to the sales team it was presented as a separate body of work. So salespeople and sales leaders had trouble connecting the dots. So what I advise salespeople and sales leaders to do is, if you're having a selling challenge, diagnose both ends of the problem. Is this a hard skill training issue or is it a soft skill? And genuinely you will find it to be both. 

If you're having a selling challenge, diagnose both ends of the problem. Is this a hard skill training issue or is it a soft skill? - Colleen Stanley

So let's take the EQ skill of assertiveness. Assertiveness is that ability to state what you need nicely. So if you’re looking at someone who has deal slippage, they’re writing practice proposals - Is it because they don’t know how to navigate through a complex decision making process or is it the lack of assertiveness to state what they need? And what they need is to have a conversation with all of the buying influencers in order to put together a complete recommendation. What is really the root cause for lack of performance, achievement, potential, and even good attitudes and work ethic?

Putting myself into the shoes of a sales leader. Let’s say I have 50 reps in my team. I think it might be super hard to detect the lack of emotional intelligence and soft skills in my team. It's easier to detect if they can't cope with the tool or don't know my products. It's easy for me to see that and to act on it but it takes a lot of time and a lot of one-on-one coaching to detect a lack in certain soft skills. How can I fit that into my day-to-day work as a sales manager? 

That’s a great question because managers are running crazy. They’re managing up, they’re managing down, they’ve got operation issues and they have sales goals to hit. 

So the first step I would recommend for sales managers is to start studying emotional intelligence. You know everything in life starts with the decision. When you make a decision that you are going to become masterable on a topic, it starts with education. So reading articles, attending a podcast, or reading a blog like this. Educate yourself first. 

Then what I would do is probably get some official training or coaching because where emotional intelligence is misunderstood it always remains in that soft theoretical. And people don’t have frameworks by which they could teach their team to be empathetic, to manage their emotions so they can remain stable during tough negotiations, impulse control, optimism. 

So when you get a good teacher, trainer or coach, that’s when you can get the frameworks and then you are able to transfer the knowledge that will make everyone more successful. 

As a manager I'll probably always ask, “What is the return on investment.” When I train in emotional intelligence what is the benefit? When do I see the benefit? Can you tell me a bit about measuring success of emotional intelligence and soft skills training. 

Yes and I’m so glad you’re asking these questions because really this is where we have the real conversation. It is easier for all of us to do tactical sales coaching. And I love tactical sales coaching. Brief a call, debrief a call, how do we launch a new product. And so it does take some deeper thinking to incorporate the soft skills. 

I will give you a quick example. We worked with a client for several years and at the retreat the sales leaders said I really want us to take a deeper dive into empathy. Which is a major and powerful influence skill. So I taught them the framework for empathy. Two weeks later, I got an email from one of the participants, one of the salespeople, and he said, “I just landed a six-figure contract by demonstrating empathy.” So it wasn’t a hard selling skill but because he knew how to demonstrate empathy he was able to move a rather hostile prospect, make an emotional connection, and convert that to business. That's just one of the case studies I have here. 

So again, I think it’s the diagnosis where we’re looking at. If I keep teaching the same methodology - and I love methodology, if there is no process, you don’t have a playbook, it’s really hard to coach - but if I’m running into the same issue over and over again, as a sales leader, I have to ask the question: Am I working on the right end of the problem? Because if you told someone that they can actually demonstrate the skill but they’re not bringing the skill to a sales conversation I almost guarantee you, you have more of a soft skill execution issue then a hard skill execution issue. 

I think empathy is a good keyword here. Empathy and really building a relationship with your customers is getting increasingly important in sales. Especially in the beginning of this year, when the pandemic hit, everyone was like, “You have to show empathy. You don't know what the people go through at the moment what the company goes through at the moment it. Be personal. Be empathetic. But how do you show real empathy? Because I think just an email opener saying, “I hope you're well in those uncertain times,” is not really a good example of showing real empathy as a salesperson

And that is a great example. Because I do think the salesperson who sent that email is well intended but this is where they’re lacking knowledge on how to actually demonstrate empathy. So you might take that same sentence, “...uncertain times because you might be experiencing a, b, and c.” It's only when you can demonstrate the emotions associated with uncertain times as related to that buyer in their industry when the recipient of the email reading this says, “Wow, I like this person, they get me.” You know the basic human need is to be understood and so, first and foremost, when you study empathy we often think empathy is a verbal skill, which it is, but the step to really mastering empathy is mastering your ability to think and thinking requires slowing down, focusing, taking time. “What is the day in life like for my buyer today?” So you can’t do drive-by empathy. You can’t speed up empathy. Empathy is a thinking skill and then it’s a verbal skill. 

Do you think in the current sales world where everything is about quota - sending out 1000s of emails per week and doing 100 of calls per week to actually hit your goals and be rewarded by your manager or your company - in this world, is there actually a place for empathy?

Yes. And I think where I would have empathy for sales managers is that they're going to measure the numbers because you know that's something I can control. I can control how many go to this next stage. Now, these might be prospects that shouldn't even be in the pipeline they shouldn't be progressing. But I can at least track that. Now when you take a look at what’s behind control, behind control is fear. If I can’t control this I’m fearful I can’t control the outcome. So what I would say is if you take a look at the metrics, and I don't think this will be brand new for people, but you always have to take a look at the metrics. What’s my return here, I mean quantity over quality. Now if you start to take a look on quality over quantity that requires the EQ skill of delayed gratification. So let’s say I’m going to make a phone call and then I’m going to make a voicemail and then I’m going to follow up with an email - all of that requires delayed gratification because prior to making that outreach I should craft a personalized message. Because as a friend of mine said who worked in the technology space for years, “You know all we’re doing is speeding up the amount of garbage we’re sending out.” So if you take a look at it that requires self awareness. As a manager, what’s my fear if I don’t set that goal of 100 dials a day? Well, maybe your fear is you don’t know how to coach delayed gratification. Maybe you’ve got to take a look at your own delayed gratification and you’re going to have to invest more time in helping your sales people reach out with quality messages versus quantity. Because quantity frankly is very easy. Call, voicemail, email - no thinking and no connection with the prospect or customer. 

"You're going to have to invest more time in helping your sales people reach out with quality messages versus quantity." - Colleen Stanley

Totally agree. And I also think the fear of losing control is something that the pandemic showed us as well in terms of home office. Some managers had huge issues sending the team to remote work because they couldn’t see them working and if they can’t see them working then they don't believe they are actually working which kind of goes in the same direction here.

Yes and you know what’s interesting about that. When I was a VP of sales about 20 years ago I had 120 sellers all across the states. They were all in virtual offices. Now we call it remote sales management, back then it was just normal. 

Now what I recognize today is we probably simply hire self starters - people with good integrity, intrinsic motivation, and so when they worried about people not getting their work done maybe you need to back up and look at your hiring process. For some salespeople they don’t work well in a home office. It doesn’t mean that they are lazy or they don’t have a work ethic but these are the type of people that work better in an office environment. So, in fairness, I’ve seen some salespeople they were hired, they signed with the company because they have this really hip environment - but that’s where, when you’re taking a look at why someone isn’t succeeding, maybe you put them into an environment that's just not where they are going to succeed. And that’s ok. 

The second thing I would say is measuring the results because, if a person is getting the results done, that’s where I don’t need to worry about the hours they’re working. But if they’re not getting the results then I’m going to back up to where the results are falling apart. Is it the top of the funnel, the middle of the funnel, or the end of the funnel. So I think there is a lot to talk about with the remote offices.

You just mentioned the hiring process. When I’m hiring a new sales rep, a new sales team, what, especially regarding soft skills, do I need to look for? How do I detect if a sales rep has the soft skills they need for that job?


I’m so glad you ask that question because in my latest book I devoted nine chapters to it and I don't do active recruiting or anything. But I know personally I have had some missteps in hiring and it’s painful especially in a small company. And so in my first nine chapters there are a few things I would recommend you take a look at. 

One would be delayed gratification. I call it impulse control. There is a study done back in the 60s by Walter Mischel at the university of Stanford and it’s called the Marshmallow study. What the study was is that they took Marshmallows and they put a group of 4-year olds together and set a marshmallow in front of these children. They were in the room by themselves. And they said, “If you don’t eat the marshmallow until we come back in 15 minutes we will give you a second treat.” So, when they started watching these kids, some were able to manage their impulses others just started eating it right away. But what’s interesting is that when you follow these children through life the ones that were able to delay the gratification, score 200 points higher in SAT scores, they actually achieved more personally and professionally. So how does that play into sales? When you study prospecting, business development, then that is day in and day out work. You’ve got to put in a time to calendar block, if you are going after major accounts that could be longer deal cycles… That takes delayed gratification to stay in touch and be in touch. And skill mastery takes a lot of work. But what’s behind practice is delayed gratification. So that would be one skill. 

I would also say accountability. Ownership and accountability which we call self-regard. If you find people that have high self-regard, they have no problem raising their hand and saying, “Hey, I made a mistake.” Now, how this plays out in an organization: As a sales manager you're not sitting there going, “Who did it?” When you’ve got a person that is raising their hand then you can identify the problem and solve the problem quickly. And these are in general aslo people that are highly coachable. I don’t know about you but I had some people on my team many years ago that weren’t so coachable. How do you get someone to become better when they’re taking every little bit of feedback personally. And that’s due to lower self esteem.

So you’ve got delayed gratification, you’ve got empathy, locus of control is another skill I would interview for. These are the people in life that have a conditionable believe and a philosophy. If it is to be it’s up to me. So they’re not excuse-makers. 

So in sales, you can get some people that have external locus of control. “I don’t get enough leads.” “My SDR doesn't qualify the leads.” “I don’t get enough training.” And these are the victims of the world. And victims of the world never transform the world. 

So those are three soft skills that can make a huge difference in achieving hard sales results.     

Let’s imagine I’m a sales rep and now you’re explaining the different soft skills and maybe I’ve learned for myself that one of them or even two doesn’t match my skill set. Is there a way I can train my soft skills or actually notice that I'm missing them.

The mega skill in the foundation of skill for improving all of the other EQ competencies is emotional self awareness. And that is really carving out quiet time each and everyday And it can just be getting still and getting your mind ready for the day but it also can be asking reflective questions. You know, “What triggers showed up yesterday that caused me to respond in the manner I regret. Was I the trigger? Was I not aware of my tonality?” So emotional self-awareness is the key skill. 

We always teach our clients that what you’re not aware of, you cannot change. So that is where I would start. 

But you know emotional self awareness takes a certain degree of humility as well because that’s where you have to be willing to say, “Ok, I’ve got some blind spots here and I’m willing to work on those blind spots.” And that’s when you can seek some help or advice from mentors, friends, and colleagues - people that truly have your back. And then they hold up the mirror and say “Yeah, you might need to work on this.” 

"The mega skill in the foundation of skills for improving all of the other EQ competencies is emotional self awareness." - Colleen Stanley

Ok, so, of course, as a sales rep it’s important that I have emotional intelligence, certain soft skills to connect with the customer. But of course, my customers themselves have certain soft skills - certain ways they act, they feel. Is there a way I can detect how my customer actually is thinking or is behaving so I can target my sales accordingly? 

This is where I would say you're going to have something called emotional attunement and you're tuning into another person's emotional state. But remember, before I can tune in, I’ve got to be paying attention. So what i’ve seen happening in business and in life, we’re actually teaching ourselves to be highly distractive. So empathy is a paying attention skill. Self awareness is a paying attention skill. But if you're sitting there and are constantly looking at your phone, the fact is you're training yourself to be non EQ. Because high EQ is about paying attention. 

We always teach our salespeople to read and relate to other people. Reading and relating is tuning in. What’s the conversation that’s being said, what’s the conversation that’s not being said. Did the customer's facial expression change on a video call? Did the tonality change? So it's paying attention and then knowing how to adapt and that's where I would say you bring in the hard skills on what to say and do after that. So it is tuning in, but tuning in is paying attention. 

Are you teaching your team to be highly focused or are you modelling behaviours of distraction? And I find a lot of sales leaders are modelling distraction. Their offices look like a commanding control center and when you’re in a sales meeting you allow everyone to take calls or answer emails - It’s ridiculous what’s going on. And so then we can’t figure out why we can’t develop the person in the sales person. We’re not modelling the behaviour. 

I’ve heard from a lot of people that it has become harder to focus due to remote work. Especially video calls are far more distracting than meeting 1-on1 in person. Do you have any tips on how to focus and how to really detect facial expressions in a virtual setup? 

I think you’ve got to manage your external environment. I think there is even a book titled “Willpower is overrated”. You do not have the willpower, if you got your smartphone and it's beeping, to not look down - you get distracted. And then it can take you as much as in some cases 10-15-minutes to get back into very focused thought. So manage your external environment. 

At the beginning of the week I very intentionally block my calendar but I also have white space for this thing called life. I’m working on the important, not the urgent. So I’m very tight on managing technology and managing my time. And in fact, anybody who knows me will call me the phone police. Because when I’m in a meeting with you and you check your phone I will call you on it. 

If you manage time and technology it’s not so hard to focus. Make a decision to focus.

"If you're managing time and technology it's not so hard to focus. Make a decision to focus." - Colleen Stanley

One a bit more personal question: what was the moment in your career in your life where you've noticed, “Ok, wait, all those hard skills are super helpful to know what actually but actually the soft skills are where I need to start.” 

I was very fortunate. I would say about 11 years ago a good friend of mine and her business partner have been teaching EQ in the leadership world. And we sat down and she said, “You’ve got to incorporate this into your sales training process.” And I looked at her and meant, “What is emotional intelligence?” So for me it was really a discovery process. And, as I started studying it, I became aware of how many interactions I have personally blown up. I didn’t manage my emotions, got too impatient, made bad decisions because I wasn’t really slowing down to think and then execute.. I saw where I was sometimes under more stress than I needed to be, I wasn’t bringing my best self to conversations. I always had a lot of success, that was never the issue. It’s how can we have success and have joyful lives, productive lives, stressless lives? And there is a way to do it. It’s not an either or component. And so that, to me, was my AHA. Once I started studying it I realized how many areas I can improve personally and professionally by mastering these skills. I worked pretty hard on it over the past decade. 

I bet a lot of readers now also want to educate themselves in emotional intelligence. What resources can you recommend, of course besides your own book, to educate oneself? 

Absolutely. So I would start with a lot of the books written by Daniel Goleman. I would say he is really the person that is credited for bringing this world outside of the academic world into the commercial world. He has several books on this - he also has a book called “Focus”. Then I would also read any book that talks about brain science. Because when you start studying emotional intelligence you will also see that neuroscience ties tightly in with that. Scott Halford wrote a great book called “Activate your brain”, that will talk about some of this. There is Joe Dispenza, he’s got a few books on belief systems and how those can affect emotions and actions. 

So read the good sales books, I want you to continue those, but I believe a great salesperson learns, studies, and masters the physiology of sales which is your emotions, the psychology of sales, knowing yourselves and knowing others. And then also consultiveness sales skills. 

So when you master all three of those you’ve got the complete set of skills for success in life and business. 

I’m a big fan of really actionable advice.You’ve mentioned so many great resources that everyone can and definitely should read but I personally think it’s often hard to put all that knowledge into action. So if you could give one actionable advice that one can take and put into action right away, what would that be?

So one actionable item is that, let's start with emotion management because my belief is if you don’t remain stable you’re not able to execute knowledge skills and habits. 

So, first of all, we might all find ourselves getting triggered even though we’ve done the visualization but then you end up in that selling situation where someone is asking new things. So, number one, recognize when you’re getting emotionally triggered and take three deep breaths. This is taught by people studying meditation and the navy seals. Because when you take three deep conscious breaths you send a message to that part of your brain that is getting triggered and it says everything is going to be ok. 

The second thing in order to remain calm is when you find yourself getting triggered, simply state the emotion. “‘I’m getting upset.” “I’m feeling intimidated.” By stating the emotion you take it out of what’s called the crazy brain, the reptilian brain, and you move it to your prefrontal cortex, our logical brain. 

So once I’m able to be calm and relaxed then I have the resources to bring to the conversation the right skills and attitude. That’s where I would start. Really getting a handle on not getting emotionally triggered. So you can show up how you want each and every day. 

Perfect. I will practice it myself.

I always make a joke. I say, “My husband does a lot of deep breathing. I have no idea why.” 

I think I do.

Perfect! Well, Colleen, I thank you so much I actually don’t have any more questions for you. Do you have any closing remarks you want to share with our audience? 

If you’re looking for additional resources I would also suggest to go to our website its sales salesleadershipdevelopment.com. We actually have a free salesperson EQ assessment that you can take and get a report, lots of podcasts, lots of articles. So if you want a place to get started, lots of free resources here and we’re happy to help and contribute those. 

Yes, I have already been on that website and it’s really true, a lot of great resources on there. Thanks again to Colleen for joining me today! 

Big thanks again to Colleen for speaking with us! If you have any follow-up questions or would like to learn more about Colleen or emotional intelligence in sales, connect with her on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/colleenstanleysli/

Check out SalesLeaderhips Inc. and Colleens book “Emotional Intelligence for Sales Leadership” here: