On this week’s episode of Conversational Selling, we’re joined by Colleen Stanley, President of Sales Leadership, Inc., a sales development firm specializing in the integration of emotional intelligence, sales, and sales leadership skills. Salesforce.com named Colleen as one of the top sales influencers of the 21st century, in addition to her being mentioned among the top 50 sales and marketing influencers and the top 30 sales gurus. She is also the author of three fabulous books: Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success, Emotional Intelligence for Sales Leadership, and Growing Great Sales Teams.

“If you’ve had the luxury and the good fortune of engaging in formal sales training programs, you would teach your team the skills, they could roleplay it in the classroom, and then you might see that the same salespeople that were modeling the right behaviors in a workshop would buckle when they got on a real sales call with a tough prospect. So, what I found is that EQ, the soft skills, actually helped with the consistent execution of the hard skills,” says Colleen.

We chat about the importance of emotional intelligence in selling and sales leadership, as well as: 

  • The hard and soft skills of selling
  • The importance of ongoing training in sales— why “one-and-done” training is holding you back
  • Integrating empathy into your sales process
  • Remote selling and emotional expression
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:



Nancy Calabrese: Hi everybody and welcome to Conversational Selling. It’s the podcast where sales leaders and business experts share what’s going on in sales and marketing today. And it all starts with the human conversation. I’m your host, Nancy Calabrese, and joining me today is Colleen Stanley, president of Sales Leadership, Inc, a sales development firm specializing in the integration of emotional intelligence, sales and sales leadership skills.

She’s the author of three fabulous books, Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success, Emotional Intelligence for Sales Leadership, and Growing Great Sales Teams. Salesforce.com named Colleen one of the top sales influencers of the 21st century, which is pretty awesome. She’s also been named one of the top 50 sales and marketing influencers and top 30 global sales gurus. Now, try to say that one three times fast. I am so honored to be speaking with a sales guru. And welcome to the show, Colleen. So happy to have you here.

Colleen Stanley: Well, thank you, Nancy. And what a buildup, right? My mother would be proud of that bio. They never did understand what I did for a living, but it sounds good. So thank you.

Nancy: You’re very welcome. So, you know, I know your hot topic is to combine several different components in the sales conversation. And emotional intelligence is so important. Why is it so important in selling and sales leadership?

Why Emotional Intelligence is Important in Sales and Sales Leadership

Colleen: Well, you know, what we found and we started bringing these, this topic, this body of work into our programs about 10 years ago. And for me, what really got the light bulb to go off was I really felt like this was the bridge between the knowing and doing gap, right? So for many of us, we have, if you’ve had the luxury and the good fortune of engaging in formal sales training programs, and there’s many good ones out there, you would teach your team the skills, they could roleplay in the classroom.

And then I would see that the same salespeople that were modeling the right behaviors in a workshop would buckle when they got on a real sales call with a tough negotiator, with a tough prospect. And so what I found is that EQ, the soft skills, actually help with the execution, consistent execution of the hard skills. Quick example, Nancy, I think everyone listening today would probably, at some point, say my salespeople present too soon and too often, right? So I’m going to teach them that questioning model one more time, roleplay it.

But when you really take a look, often you’re presenting too soon because you’re lacking impulse control, that desire to serve and help. Maybe emotion management, you’re getting nervous. You don’t have the self-awareness to realize what’s triggering your mouth to start moving too soon and too often. So I feel like if you can teach both sets of skills like diet and exercise, you’re going to equip your team with 100% of the skills needed to win business, particularly in this environment.

Nancy: When you said presenting too soon, I immediately thought of happy gears, and really not allowing that process to explain in more detail the whys behind it. I know you’re, as you’ve mentioned, you’re a big believer in integrating the hard skills of selling, consultative selling skills and soft skills of selling. Can you expand on that?

Colleen: Absolutely. So what we’ve worked very hard to do to make this not an esoteric process theoretical, is we’ll literally look at every selling step and stage and skill. And then what we will do is partner and teach the associated soft skill with it. So Nancy, you obviously run a very successful sales organization and you have probably seen in your years of coaching where every good sales manager or coach will teach get a clear next step, right?

On the calendar. Meet with all the buying influences. So you’ve taught the knowledge, but if a salesperson isn’t executing that knowledge, often that’s due to lack of assertiveness. They lack the ability to state what they need nicely. And what they need nicely as an actual calendar date on the calendar or meetings with all the buying influences, right? So assertiveness is the soft skill that supports the execution of asking for what you need on a call.

Meetings budgets, before writing proposals. I would also say emotion management is a big one, right? Because, again, you might be meeting with a prospect and to no fault of your own, they just met with another salesperson that over-promised and under-delivered, right? So now, they’re looking at this salesperson thinking you’re that same person.

And they’re a little bit tough on that person during the sales call. Not real friendly. Well, if a salesperson doesn’t have self-awareness and emotion management, they can start defaulting into fight or flight responses, right? Getting defensive, over-selling, or simply doing what we call the Tommy Boy behavior. Okey, dokey, I’m out of here. I don’t get paid enough to put up with this, right? So all those great skills, go right out the door even though the manager or the sales trainer has taught the hard skill.

Nancy: Yeah, so why does this integration work?

Colleen: Well, again, it’s because if you really teach just the hard skills, those are very, very important. So it’s not an either-or. But if you’re seeing them not executed, this is what I found. If I get emotionally charged up, my brain literally can’t think, right? So I can’t execute the skills I’ve been taught. If I lack empathy, really not sitting there being fully present, paying attention to the conversation that’s happening, and more importantly, the one that’s not happening, the unspoken objection, I can leave that meeting because I wasn’t tuned in to my prospects emotional state. And guess what?

I missed the meeting after the meeting. And that’s the one where they talk about, well, you know, they’re kind of a small company. Can they really handle us? No, do we really need to change, switch or move? And so because I haven’t developed my empathy muscle, I wasn’t able to ask the proper questions, the hard skills. So those are a couple of examples of where it’s a constant back and forth. And we’ve got a training coach on both.

Nancy: Yeah, so, you know, just to speak about your training experience and the importance of training in sales, I’m a big proponent that training has to be all the time. Many companies don’t believe in that or don’t look to invest in that ongoing training. You have any comments on that?

Colleen: That should stop. That should stop. And so we, you know, the term is called one and done training. And it always cracks me up, right? Okay, I trained my team once. now they’re trained for the rest of their life. And so, you know, all you need to do is sometimes study other professions that actually get called professions. Lawyers, accountants, all continued to go to courses to get their CEUs, right? And for some reason, in sales, we seem to think you’re born, or once you’ve learned at once, you don’t need repetition on it.

So this is really a culture shift people need to make. And I would say, the EQ skill behind this is really delayed gratification, right? Because, you know, to carve out the time for teaching, training and coaching, you’ve got to take time to calendar block this, pre-call plan your sales meetings for training and development versus roll call meetings and really put in the time for training and development. So sometimes, sales managers given the instant gratification, doing drive-bys, or just hope and pray strategies.


Nancy: Yeah. And you know, for the benefit of everybody listening, could you explain what EQ skills are?

What are EQ Skills?

Colleen: So EQ skills, basically, they’ve been kind of called the soft skills, which is, in many ways gives them a, sometimes a bad rap, so to speak, because, you know, in sales were hard-charging. I need to be aggressive and assertive and competitive. But really, you take a look at it, they’re often the hard skills to master.

So you can have, optimism is actually an EQ skill. And a really important skill in this day and age of these very turbulent business times we’re in. And so optimistic salespeople, they’re not Pollyanna, but they literally have a belief system or a thought process that you know what, this is temporary, whatever adversity I’m facing is temporary, not permanent.

I’m in control. So I’m going to focus on what I can control versus what I can’t control. You’ve got interpersonal skills, assertiveness, empathy, self-awareness, emotion management, reality testing. So there’s a variety of skills that fall into this bucket. And then it’s figuring out which ones you’re pretty good at and then which you might have a blind spot on that are impacting your personal and professional success.

Nancy: Yeah, so you’ve trained so many sales teams. Is there a story that comes to mind where, you know, it just clicked? An example, perhaps in one of your workshops, one of your clients or customers applied, what you taught?

Colleen: You know, one that comes to mind is we were conducting a happy sales kickoff. So this isn’t that, you know, reenforcement training that we’re talking about which the company does do pretty well with that. But this is a sales kickoff at the beginning of the year. And I was teaching the team, the framework behind real-world empathy. So this is a pretty big crowd, right? And so at the break, Nancy, a salesperson got on the phone and called a customer that had been really upset with the installation and delivery.

They’re a managed technology firm. And she immediately applied the model and she said, Hey, listen, I gotta tell you, if I were in your shoes right now, I’d be upset for two or three reasons. Number one, you’re busy, the last thing you need to do is be on the phone talking with me on something that should have happened in the first place. And the second thing is, I think we’ve probably put you in a really difficult position with your clients.

And then she stopped. And what happened was the magic of empathy. You’re right. But the customer diffused because often what happens like in upset customers, which is the sale after the sale, they simply are fighting to be heard. And the fact that she stated everything he was thinking or feeling, he was like, okay, we’re done with that part of the conversation, and they could move on to a solution. So it was just this beautiful example that happened after a four-hour training that somebody was paying attention and actually applied it.

Nancy: Wow, those two questions, I think, are pretty powerful. So everyone in the audience, I hope you jotted that down. It’s a great way to deflect in a professional way, right? You’re addressing the issue, you’re owning the issue and your customer is surprised.

Colleen: Yes, yeah. And I think that’s the big thing is often with the customer service, again, the sale after the sale, just as important. You bring them in the door, please keep them in the door, right? And so they often think they’re going to ask their fight for their position because, frankly, a lot of people haven’t been trained in real-world empathy.

So they start solving the problem right away. And what we always teach our clients is empathy first, advice second. I cannot hear you until you have demonstrated you’ve heard me. But that takes self-awareness because our impulse is I got to fix this. I care about you. Well, you’ve got to tap into empathy first, advice second.

Nancy: Yeah, I totally agree. Talk about the video you posted a month ago, which is really great. I found it on YouTube. So everybody go out there. The name of the video is How Too Much Empathy erodes Sales Results. Can you explain why?

Empathy + Assertiveness

Colleen: So I actually wrote that blog and it was inspired by some feedback I was getting from sales leaders, and they were sending me responses and questions. My team is showing too much empathy to their sales team. They’re getting burned out, stressed out. And so I thought, Oh, my gosh, in this time of the pandemic, we’ve all been trying to be very empathetic, right? But they were going overboard on it to where they were taking on the problems of their salespeople. They weren’t asking them to take action.

So empathy is this fine balance because too much empathy with a customer, you discount. You’re not good at stating what you need, right? So I always say empathy combined with assertiveness is the formula. So yes, I’m going to demonstrate that I understand where you’re coming from but we are also a company where we’ve got to take action and make money, even when it’s difficult to do so. So it’s that combination because if we just go overboard, and one, you tend to get very depressed and you’re taking on the work of others, frankly.

Nancy: Well, congratulations on the release of your latest book, Emotional Intelligence for Sales Leadership. Tell us more about it. And what is some of the key points?

Colleen: So thank you, first of all. Yeah, we’re very excited to get this out to quote the world. I would say there’s a few points for sales leaders listening today is number one, we really talk about the importance of their own emotion management when they’re coaching. So if you’ve run enough coaching calls, you’ve had a situation where you set up a well-intended coaching session with a salesperson, right?

You use the sandwich method. Positive, let me deliver feedback on what needs to be approved. And sometimes, you’ve got a seller that simply starts to lobbing back excuses. Well, if I had better leads, if I had better pricing, if I had better. And if a manager is not able to manage their emotional state, they can default into fight or flight. And what happens with this well-intended coaching conversation, it turns into the need to be right rather than get it right. And so they get caught up in the emotion and none of the great coaching skills or questions are asked.

I would also say we talk a lot in here about empathetic coaching. So again, I’ve seen managers where they actually score pretty well on empathy but they’re also good problem solvers. That’s another EQ skill. So a salesperson brings them a problem, like, you know, I’m just doing a lot of the activity, I’m not getting any results. And you can tell the person’s discouraged. So this isn’t a lazy person, they’re doing the activity. The manager puts on his problem-solving hat and says, well, let’s look at the activity plan again. Let’s take a look at those value propositions.

Let’s see what we need to reengineer. And the poor salesperson sitting there just thinking, Could somebody just show me a little empathy? And so again, you’d say, you know what, that must be discouraging because you’re doing all the right things and nothing’s popping. And I’m guessing you’re a little fearful, you’re not going to get the monthly quota, which could impact your year-end bonus. So again, empathy first, advice, second. So those are a couple of examples. And I can talk about several others. I want to make sure we’ve got time today.

Nancy: Yeah, well, isn’t it also all in the way you say it? And to, here’s another point, we are in the world of remote selling today, most of us are, right? And so saying those words, and then conveying them in a way, either over the phone or on a video webinar, how important is how you say what you say in today’s day of selling?

Emotional Expression

Colleen: I would say very important, and it ties into another EQ skill that’s been called emotional expression. And this is really interesting. Emotional expression is where somebody is listening not only to your tonality, rate inflection, but they’re also watching your facial expression. So here’s the example I use to teach this. I am sure everyone at one point has seen a pundit on TV, right? And they’re talking about the latest war that just broke out, but the person is smiling. Have you ever seen that? Well, we’ve just had a war break out.

And so, and or as they’re waiting to be interviewed, for really, this is a serious topic. They’re sitting there smiling. It’s incongruence. So sometimes what happens with sales managers, they may have a resting expression, we all know what I’m talking about. And it is not conveying empathy. And that’s simply their resting expression. So they really have to take a look in the mirror and say, What are my salespeople seeing what I’m talking? Because if there’s a disconnect, you could be saying the right things, but your face is saying and other.

Nancy: You know, it is so funny you say that, because since COVID, I’ve been very aware of my resting expression. And it’s something that I never paid attention to before. Now that you see yourself on Zoom meetings all the time. You know, I always like to ask this question. Tell me something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on

Colleen: Multitasking. So it is so interesting in training, when we had the face to face, now we’re doing it with our virtual instructor-led, but literally in face to face, we would say, okay, you need to take your cell phone, we’ve nicknamed that the adult binky, because it goes everywhere, right? It’s crazy. And, you know, and then we say, Now, you need to put it aside. And it’s kind of funny, they’ll put it off to the side and they put it face down and they think they’ve accomplished something great. And I’m like, No, no, no, it goes into your briefcase. You should see the look of fear on people’s face because they’re so afraid they’re going to miss something.

And then we’ve had sales leaders that actually allow that behavior. So sometimes, you know, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got that agreement up front. But there’s some cases, you know, it is their training. But here’s what happens. When sales leaders are modeling a culture of distraction, that’s what they’re modeling, their team cannot learn because it’s proven. You can only learn very intentional learning, which is when you’re going to become a very good deep consultative seller. You’ve got to be paying attention. You’re engaging the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is a glucose sucking machine, right?

If you are going to teach your team how to be perfectly present on a call, that’s, see, being present on a call is the requirement for empathy. But if you’ve allowed your team to constantly keep checking in, well, they sit down and have that 45-minute call, whether it’s video or phone, they can’t focus for 45 minutes because they’ve never done it before in their life. You can’t recall a habit you’ve not developed. So I am all over the sales leaders. I’m like, you know what? You need to model the behavior focus and paying attention. That’s what’s going to win in the future.

Nancy: Yeah, well, I just think it’s bad manners in a group meeting. You know, it’s simple is that for me, exactly?

Colleen: Well, and Nancy, what always cracks me up with this, this will be in a meeting where it’s when people, you know, prior to COVID, were going into meetings, first thing they did was pop up the laptop then they put their cell phone down. It looked like a command and control center And this is in a room, right.? This is a room that has posters that are called teamwork, respect. There is nothing that you can accomplish teamwork if we’re not paying attention to what anybody’s saying. So, again, it’s this big disconnect for people. You and I are on the same page there.

Nancy: Alright. So and what’s the one takeaway you’d like to leave the audience with?

Make Sure You’re Coaching 100% of the Person

Colleen: You know, for sales managers, the question, I think you always need to be asking yourself, am I working on the right and the sales performance issue? Does the salesperson need more tactical sales training, strategic thinking? Or do I need to give my attention to building their empathy skills, assertiveness, empathy, or excuse me, emotional intelligence skills? So empathy, assertiveness, impulse control, optimism, reality testing, and it’s generally not an either-or, but make sure you’re coaching to 100% of the person.

Nancy: Yeah, it’s a lifelong skill to develop, wouldn’t you say?

Colleen: Absolutely. And so it’s like anything, and it’s a very overused analogy, but frankly, still relevant. It’s like working out. You can work out for a year and if you take six weeks off, you get flabby. Yeah, the brain is the same way, skills are the same way. It’s not fair. I worked out for a year. Which is just something called life. So continuous improvement is continuous improvement.

Nancy: Well, I can’t speak for my audience right now but I know that they are taking away a lot of excellent nuggets. I’m so excited that you joined us. Now how can my audience find you?

Colleen: You know, I would suggest going to our website. We’ve got a lot of resources there. And that is www.salesleadershipdevelopment.com, salesleadershipdevelopment.com.

Nancy: Got it. For everyone out there today, I definitely would go find Colleen on YouTube. She’s an awesome speaker with some, as you heard. excellent points in the sales world. Happy selling everyone until the next time. And thanks again, Colleen, for joining.

Colleen: And thanks for having me.