Why Emotional Intelligence in Sales is the Next High-Performance Differentiator

emotional intelligence for sales success

Often known as emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ), EI has long been recognized as a critical component of professional success. In its basic form, EI refers to people’s ability to recognize, understand, and manage their emotions and those of others. Although the classic model of EI was formulated by science writer Daniel Goleman in the mid-1990s, we are just now beginning to understand the true influence EI can have on professional outcomes – particularly in sales. In fact, the World Economic Forum ranked EI as one of the most important skills to have by 2025.

Consider recent research and documented outcomes of EI competency in professional and sales success:

  • It’s reported that EI is responsible for 58% of professional success.
  • For each percentage-point increase in EQ, a person can add $1,300 to their annual salary.
  • Sales reps with high EI produced twice the revenue of those with average or below-average scores.
  • In one company, sales reps who received EI training outsold the control group by an average of 12%, equating to over $55,000 each. Meanwhile, the ROI for the EQ training was $6.

Yet, many organizations focus primarily on building hard sales skills on their sales teams, while neglecting EI skills. While there are numerous competencies that make up EI, experts largely agree with Goleman’s citation of five primary capabilities that lead to high performance. We’ve examined these five foundational competencies and why they are so critical to assess and develop among today’s sales workforces. 


Self-awareness can be defined as the ability to recognize what you are feeling, to understand your habitual emotional responses to events and to recognize how your emotions affect your behavior and performance. In other words, when you are self-aware, you see yourself as others see you, and have a good sense of your own abilities and current limitations. 

Interestingly, 95% of people think they’re self-aware, but only 10-15% actually are, and working with colleagues who aren’t self-aware can cut a team’s success in half, leading to increased stress and decreased motivation.

For salespeople, being self-aware means they’re better able to manage their time and energy around their emotional states, less likely to anger or annoy a potential client or prospect with their own negative emotions and bounce back from disappointment and rejection faster than salespeople with low self-awareness. 


A recent study found most sales professionals work well beyond 40 hours per week, a great majority of them consider their job “challenging,” and around 54% describe their lifestyle as stressful. 

On top of being stressful, there is a fair amount of rejection that comes along with sales, with 7 in 10 cold calls ending in rejection. Sales professionals who lack EI also lack the ability to roll with the punches and handle rejection, resulting in burnout or departure from the profession altogether. 

This is where self-regulation – or impulse control – can play a significant factor in sales success. Scoring high in self-regulation means you’re able to stay focused and think clearly even when experiencing powerful emotions. Being able to manage your own emotional state is essential for taking responsibility for your actions and can save sales pros from hasty decisions that they may later regret.

A self-regulated salesperson is able to avoid bringing negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, or frustration to sales conversations. Further, they’re capable of creating enthusiasm and motivation over the long term to drive their job performance. 


Amid a stressful and rejection-rich work environment, it can be difficult for sales professionals to remain motivated. Yet, the ability to use their deepest emotions to move and guide them towards their goals, generate the desire to complete a task or accomplish a goal, and take initiative to persevere in the face of obstacles is a vital contributor to sales success. 

Under challenging situations, professionals with low EI will often lack the incentive to rise above the situation. That’s where self-motivation comes in. Simply put, salespeople with strong motivation get more done in a day. They respond better to rejection and seek out training and opportunities to improve their skills. They listen more to coaching and embrace new behaviors that help them reach their goals. 

Often, the absence of self-motivation reflects on key metrics such as close rates and quota attainment. 


Empathy is the counterpoint to self-awareness. The ability to sense, understand, and respond to what other people are feeling requires someone to be aware of their own emotions. More importantly, building empathy allows sales professionals to respond to customers’ emotions productively. 

For example, an empathetic salesperson is adept at judging how the customer or prospect is feeling, so they can adapt their approach and steer conversations in a productive, successful direction. Empathy also helps salespeople visualize the customer experience to better understand their needs, their goals and their pain points so they can address them in the most effective manner. 

Sales reps can build empathy by always looking to define the problem they are trying to solve for the customer or prospect, truly understanding the thoughts and feelings they may be experiencing. This approach can lead to answering key questions such as, what would the customer want to know during the sales process or what information would make them more comfortable to buy?

Social Skills. 

Social skills are the ability to have social awareness and to manage, influence, and inspire emotions in others. Being able to make meaningful connections, maintain relationships and inspire others are essential foundational skills for successful teamwork and leadership. 

A sales professional with strong social skills will excel at prospecting because they are able to maintain a larger, more connected network from which to draw sales opportunities. In short, salespeople with strong social skills are better able to “read a room” and make adjustments to their own behaviors and actions to get the outcomes they desire. 

Furthermore, in today’s digital world, social skills in the sales profession go beyond just talking to customers or prospects. Salespeople with strong social skills can become thought leaders in their space, building their own personal brand and the company’s. Using social skills with social media, at conferences or networking events, or simply connecting online with colleagues can all lead to greater business relationships and the potential to reach a new customer base. 

EI is a True Differentiator Among Sales Professionals.

Emotionally intelligent sales professionals perform better than their non-emotionally intelligent peers. Yet, the importance of EI in sales is often overlooked. As we’ve outlined, high-EI sellers are aware of their own emotions and can control them, have the patience to delay gratification, discern customers’ emotional states and adapt/align their own emotions with those, remain positive amid rejection and create strong emotional bonds with customers. 

The benefits of high IE can be seen within a company’s salesforce, with sales reps who are better equipped to enjoy their work, stay at the workplace longer and consistently meet or exceed sales objectives. In turn, high EI sales reps drive customer loyalty, customer satisfaction and customer success.