Series on Emotional Intelligence: An emotionally intelligent approach to sales

Selling is not about you and how you feel. It is about how your prospects feel. Emotions drive sales! Emotions are powerful and they control our thinking, behavior and actions – all the things that also control our motivation to buy. Many sales professionals only communicate at the superficial level of selling features and benefits with a one-size-fits-all approach. This approach creates an unstable foundation when attempting to connect, engage, inspire and build value. Read on…


Jack went to a retail outlet to buy laptops for himself. He made it clear to the salesman that he wanted to buy just two laptops – nothing else – so, when the salesman attempted to sell him some ancillary products, he politely asked him to desist. Moments later, the salesman had a second go, and Jack explained firmly that he only wanted to buy two laptops, so please stop trying to sell him other things. Undaunted, the salesman carried on and Jack felt it necessary to threaten to walk out if the salesman didn’t stop.

Amazingly, the salesman still persisted – so Jack walked out, the laptops not bought. He walked straight into another shop and explained very clearly that all he required was two laptops. The second salesman duly obliged and sold him two laptops. The nice twist in this story is that, apparently, at the billing desk this salesman just happened to mention that Jack would benefit from a certain product – and Jack bought it!

How come the second salesman succeeded where the first failed? The key thing is the intent behind both salesmen’s behaviour. The first salesman’s remuneration is based on performance as defined by value of sales, so the salesman has a clear interest in making the additional sale – as evidenced by his persistence. The second person is on a salary and has no personal interest in whether the client buys or not.

Of course, he has a wider interest in the success of the business of which he is a partner and knows that that success is based at least as much on customer service as it is on price. He believed Jack would find knowledge of the extra product of value. In short, the first salesman was pushing the extra products for his benefit; the second was doing so for the customer’s benefit.

And the twist in the tail of this interpretation is that, of course, the first salesman believed that everything he said was of value to the customer. It was. But the reason he said it was his self-interest; the benefit to the customer was secondary. And Jack picked up this self-interest. Human beings are very good at picking up unconscious communication around needs. Although, consciously, the first salesman surely believed he was acting primarily in the customer’s interest, unconsciously he had a need, had an expectation, that Jack would buy the additional items.

The crux of this article is the observation that people are very good at picking up hidden expectations such as this, and they interpret them as demands. The salesman would never say “I demand you buy this extra item”, but that is the message the customer picked up. We don’t like demands being made on us. We resist them. The louder the demand, the more we resist. Hence Jack walked out when the demands became intolerable.

Because the second salesman wasn’t making an unconscious demand – he was genuinely and simply being helpful – Jack was convinced of the reasonableness of the proposition to buy the additional item. Extreme examples are useful to point out phenomena that are prevalent in a much diluted form – so diluted we don’t notice them. For all of us who do not force our services and products down the throats of prospects, it is worth remembering that the person we are talking to may still be feeling ‘sold to’, may even be aware of a sense of demand. You know that you were being demanding if you feel any sense of disappointment when the prospect declines to buy.

It’s a tough one to eradicate completely, but the principle way forward is for the ‘seller’ to let go of their need to make the sale more important than the buyer’s need to solve a problem. Find out from prospects what their issues and problems are, and demonstrate how your service or product solves them.