Relationship Management: Get Emotional

Studies show higher emotional intelligence can boost sales results. Learn how you can be a more emotionally intelligent salesperson.

May 10, 2013

Good news: You can be trained to get better at reading your clients’ emotions.

A growing body of psychological research is pointing to plenty of reasons why you should want to: Salespeople with high emotional intelligence get better results and have more loyal customers. Being able to recognize their emotions can help you adjust your own emotional response and build better rapport.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to interpret and read your clients’ emotions, and then use that emotional information to adapt within a selling situation. It can help you make your clients feel more valued, improve your lead-conversion rates, build stronger personal connections, and even make you look more intelligent in your customers’ eyes, according to research conducted by Chris Blocker, an assistant professor of marketing at Baylor University.

Emotional intelligence has been getting more attention in recent years, particularly in terms of how it helps in selling situations. Major companies — like Coca Cola and American Express — are even investing in training its salespeople on EI.

Yet, too often, real estate professionals and customers aren’t on the same “emotional wavelength.” In fact, one study showed that 46 percent of real estate agent and client relationships have weak emotional communication, and only 26 percent operate on the same emotional wavelength, according to Blocker’s research for the Keller Center.

Boosting your emotional intelligence doesn’t mean you have to constantly pester your clients with questions like, “How does this make you feel?” It happens at a much more subconscious level. Real estate practitioners often use empathy and emotional appeals to inspire clients.

“Clients want agents to be emotionally engaged specifically when it comes to understanding the reasoning through the emotions involved in a home buying situation,” Blocker writes in his research, in which he evaluated 130 agent-client pairs who were involved in purchasing a home. “They want agents to use their EI to help them process the stressful situations that arise in buying a home.”

Sales trainer Colleen Stanley, author of Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success (AMACOM, 2013), created Ei Selling, a sales training program that integrates emotional intelligence. Here are a few ways emotional intelligence can be blended into improving your sales relationships with customers, according to Stanley:

1. Demonstrate Empathy

Empathy is seeing the world from another person’s perspective. It’s the ability to step into your clients’ shoes, allowing you to get a better “read” on what their emotional responses might be. In order to do that, you may need to learn more about them.

Stanley recommends using a questionnaire such as the Mackay 66, which was created by Harvey Mackay, author of Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive (Ballantine Books, 1996). It has 66 questions, from prospects’ personal hobbies to the names of their kids to their favorite places to eat. You might not want to ask all 66 questions, but use it as a reference to learn more about your clients’ lives as well as their needs so you can become more empathetic to their situation.

2. Address the “Sales Elephant” in the Room

The “elephant in the room,” as Stanley refers to it, is the obvious truth that is being ignored or unaddressed. The emotionally intelligent salesperson will pick up on that using the emotional intelligence skill of “self awareness.”

For example, maybe you notice some hesitancy from your clients when you’re showing homes in a particular neighborhood, but they’re not providing any feedback. The sales associate would calmly state: “It sounds like you may be hesitant about this neighborhood. Let’s talk about it.”

Some clients are hesitant to raise concerns among salespeople, believing agents will jump into sales pitch mode. But by you raising the issue for your client, your clients will feel like you really are watching out for his best interests, Stanley says.

3. Exercise Impulse Control

If your customer does shares a problem or concern, avoid the natural inclination to quickly “prescribe fixes” and respond too quickly with solutions, says Stanley, president and founder of SalesLeadership Inc. in Denver.

Take time to reflect and review actions with your clients. Let them feel heard first. You might say: “I can only imagine how frustrating this might be for you ...”

Then, ask questions and patiently listen to answers. If you’re in too big a rush to solve your prospect’s problems, you may make your client feel like you’re disregarding their concerns. Instead, identify the problem together, discuss potential implications, and commit to fixing the problem, Stanley says.

“What happens is when a prospect finally opens up, the salesperson gets excited and can’t control the impulse,” Stanley says. “But when you miss questions, you miss some of the criteria for finding the right solution.”

In her book Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success, Stanley suggests using the 3W’s formula for this:

•   Why is this a problem?

•   What is the personal impact?

•   What is the future impact of this if you can’t solve this problem? Will it become a problem that brings your client down?

“Don’t look for shortcuts,” Stanley says.

Another way to help with impulse control: When a prospect states an objection or concern, use an “agree and align strategy” by concurring, Stanley says.

For example, if the client says, “Maybe I’m not ready to move after all,” an agent not using the “agree and align” strategy may jump in and say, “Here’s why I think you should move now: You’re growing out of your house, mortgage rates are super low, ....”

However, the agent trained in the “agree and align” strategy would say: “You might be right. You might not need to move. Let’s explore some options, and together decide if this is the right time or not.”

When you hear an objection, look for ways to further the conversation and ask questions. Try to fully understand where your clients’ thoughts and perceptions are coming from and validate those concerns so they feels heard. Then, work toward a solution, Stanley says.

“Salespeople hear an objection and instantly go in defense mode and try to overcome it,” Stanley says. “But instead of doing that, agree with the clients. The safer they feel, the more they’ll reveal to you. ... When people feel heard, they respond by lowering their defenses and engaging in conversation. It helps you ask more questions, learn their story, and discover what’s really important to them.”