One of the mysteries of the business world is why sales executives assume that low productivity and the resulting high turnover is inevitable with their sales teams. Research has shown it is appropriate to apply the Pareto Principle to salespeople whereby 20 percent of all salespeople now make 80 percent of all sales. That means 80 percent of the sales force fights over the remaining 20 percent of the business not produced by the top sales pros.

With so many salespeople competing for shares of such a small pie, the turnover rate in sales is obviously very high. But many executives are willing to accept, as a cost of doing business, the unending expenses of recruiting, selecting, and training the continuing flow of newcomers into the sales rank. They should, instead, recognize that the poor productivity and high turnover rampant in the sales field are the result of faulty hiring practices.

Research has shown that 80 percent of the essential competencies required for success in the workplace are emotional intelligence, which is far greater than IQ or personality traits. Emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) has been a "buzzword" in the business world for the past several years. By definition, EQ is an individual's ability to recognize and regulate emotions in themselves and others. In practical application, it is one's ability to understand how our emotions and the emotions of others impact action and performance.

EQ has no greater application than in a sales position. A recent study of Fortune 500 companies including AT&T, IBM, and PepsiCo by the Hay/McBer firm in Boston found that the top 10 percent of the sales forces in the companies surveyed totaled nearly $6.7 million in sales while the norm was only $3 million—more than two times the average or additional sales totaling 88 times the average salary of $42,000. The top 10 percent of those sales forces were very strong in EQ competencies while the average salesperson was not.

Different sales roles (i.e., hunters vs. farmers) require most of the same competencies, but self-awareness was found to have the largest difference between the two different sales roles.

Consistent among all sales roles are what we'll term the Fab Five EQ Sales Competencies, which are:

Intuition and Empathy. This is the salesperson's awareness of the prospect's feelings, needs, and concerns. This competency is important in a sales role for the following reasons:

  • Attitude toward others: One's ability to look positively and objectively upon others.
  • Understanding others: An intuitive sense of a prospect's and/or customer's feelings and perspectives, and showing an active interest in their needs.
  • Customer service orientation: The ability to anticipate, recognize, and meet customers' needs.

Results Orientation and Decisiveness. This is the salesperson's adeptness at inducing desirable responses from the customer or prospect. This competency is important in a sales role for the following reasons:

  • Communication: Sending clear and convincing messages that are understood by the customer or prospect.
  • Influencing: Using effective tactics and techniques for persuasion and desired results.
  • Gaining commitment: One's ability to develop a motivation act.

Self View. This is the salesperson's level of courage and self-esteem that provides thick enough skin to persevere through various obstacles he or she encounters throughout the sales cycle. This competency is important in a sales role for the following reasons:

  • Handling rejection: One's ability to handle a no or a non-sale, not take it personally, and be able to recover and restart quickly to try again.
  • Self-esteem: The higher the self-esteem is, the more passion and courage the salesperson will have in the social arena.

Self-Awareness. Knowing one's internal states, preferences, resources, strengths, and limitations. This competency is important in a sales role for the following reasons:

  • Self-confidence: One's ability to believe in his or her own abilities and strengths to personally take charge in achieving and exceeding goals.
  • Persuasiveness: One's ability to stand their ground in negotiations and in handling sales objections to exude to the customer or prospect that the product or service meets their needs.
  • Competitiveness: One's desire to win and be perceived as competent in the eyes of others, as well as desire to be personally recognized for his or her accomplishments.
NOTE: A positive and attentive thinking bias in this competency leads to being effective as a "hunter" salesperson and will be motivated by sales commissions earned as a result of individual accomplishments. A negative and inattentive thinking bias in this competency leads to being effective as a "farmer" salesperson and being motivated by security or team-based incentives.

Self-Expectations. This is the salesperson's emotional tendencies that guide or facilitate reaching goals and his or her sense of personal commitment to responsibilities. This competency is important in a sales role for the following reasons:

  • Achievement drive: Striving to improve or meet a standard of excellence we impose on ourselves.
  • Initiative: Readiness to act on opportunities without having to be told.
  • Optimism: Persistence in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks.

These are all essential competencies in selling. The salesperson who knows the product or service inside out will not succeed in the long term without possessing these essential competencies.

Mike Poskey

Mike Poskey is the President of ZERORISK HR, a Dallas-based human resources risk management firm and exclusive provider of the ZERORISK Hiring System. ZERORISK helps organizations build great cultures by identifying, developing, and retaining top talent. The ZERORISK Hiring System blends a revolutionary behavioral science with state-of-the-art technology to reduce unwanted turnover and improve employee performance. For more information contact us at (800) 827-5991.

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