Today’s buyers are more informed and aware than ever before. Consequently, it’s no longer enough to be a transactional sales representative. Sales professionals must have strong emotional intelligence, and as Dean Manna and Alan Smith, among other researchers, have discovered, they are increasingly aware of the need for emotional intelligence. It’s a skill that has manifold benefits in terms of developing relationships and, eventually, closing deals. But what aspects of emotional intelligence are most critical for sales representatives?


People who are self-aware know their own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, values and goals, and they realize how they impact others. This knowledge, perhaps especially awareness of how they impact others, is key for sales representatives. In sales conversations, disagreements and misunderstandings sometimes occur, and being aware of how others are affected can lead to the correct word choices that clear up misunderstandings and help resolve disagreements in an amicable, straightforward manner.

To develop a blueprint of what they need to improve — whether correcting or working on weaknesses or having a destination to strive for — sales representatives should determine both their limitations and their goals. With those baselines in mind, they can begin developing action plans to achieve their objectives in both self-improvement and career development.

Social Skills

Socially skilled people know how to manage relationships and advance them to beneficial outcomes. Given that relationships are one of the primary elements of successful selling, having social skills is vital for sales representatives. Admittedly, for some, such as extroverts, social skills seem to come naturally. But even introverted reps can use their excellent listening skills and preference for deep relationship-building to succeed in sales.


Sales can be a grueling career, one filled with rejection and repetition, which is why motivation is one of the most important emotional intelligence traits for sales reps to acquire. Whether it’s monetary or another source of inspiration — such as the motivation of teamwork with co-workers — having a purpose for working in sales is essential for career success. It’s the trait that pushes sales reps through the fallow periods that occur either in a personal slump or during the naturally slow space in their industry’s calendar year.

How to Develop Each Area of Emotional Intelligence

It’s one thing to say sales reps need these areas of emotional intelligence to be successful. It’s another to figure out how to help them develop self-awareness, social skills and motivation. Helping them implement the following suggestions will help reps develop emotional intelligence.

1. Review Sales Calls

One of the easiest ways to hone both self-awareness and social skills is to review previous sales calls. While the instinct is to listen for tactically strong moves or strategic blunders, reviewing with emotional intelligence can reveal more than you might think.

For example, encourage sales representatives to examine vocal tone — both their own and the buyer’s. How did it change throughout the conversation? What caused those changes? They should also listen for content, not just in terms of tactics/strategy but in terms of awareness and social skills. What words and phrases did the buyer seem to respond positively or negatively to? Were there awkward pauses? Did the sales rep rustle papers too loudly, drawing an irritated sigh from the buyer? There are plenty of questions and nodes of analysis to consider from an emotional intelligence perspective.

2. Write Lists

A seemingly minor strategy to improve emotional intelligence is to use lists. Specifically, help reps take stock of and write down why they’re in this career: what they love about sales, what they don’t like about it, what they want to achieve, etc. This activity can illuminate what they’ve only abstractly thought about and, in the cases of the aspects they love or don’t like, can reveal their strengths and opportunities for improvement.

3. Ask Team Members

Sometimes, despite our best intentions and efforts, we’re simply too close to the situation to have an accurate read on things, especially if our analytical skills could stand to improve. Therefore, another route to consider is for sales representatives to ask you, as their manager, and their co-workers to help them spot where they’re strong, where they can improve and where they stand overall in terms of their emotional intelligence.

Having that outside perspective is helpful even if a rep is mostly in tune with the areas of emotional intelligence covered here. Their colleagues can either reaffirm their instincts or help them locate blind spots they didn’t realize existed. Both have value in helping to grow their emotional intelligence.

Sales reps can benefit from paying attention to multiple areas of emotional intelligence and working to develop them. Through self-scrutiny and review of past and present work, with the help of you and the rest of the team, sales reps can recognize their current levels of emotional intelligence and formulate a plan of action for strengthening the places where they need work.