Interviewing Sellers for Emotional Intelligence

Written by
Lucas Price
November 16, 2023
8 min

We know sales has changed.

For perhaps the last five to 10 years, selling has been relatively easy. Obviously, it wasn’t a cakewalk to hit quota every time, but sales teams were evolving rapidly, often selling into markets with large budgets to support their digital transformations.

Now, it’s a different story. Budgets are much tighter, and sales teams can’t rely on the tactics they’ve used to find success in the last several years. Suddenly, the tech stacks sales teams have been using are being scrutinized, and many organizations are wondering where to cut off excess spending.

As all the success becomes harder to find, salespeople and their core skills are becoming increasingly important. But how do you know which sales candidate you’re interviewing will be able to sell in this new environment?

While experienced salespeople from established companies may excel in a structured environment and may have done well with an expansive tech stack and soft market, they might not thrive in the fast-paced and unpredictable world of sales at a growing company. To identify the right candidates who can excel in this environment, it's essential to evaluate their emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence, often overlooked in traditional sales assessments, is a key competency that can make or break a sales professional. In this article, we'll explore how to interview sales candidates to discover their emotional intelligence and ensure a better fit for your dynamic sales team.


Why Salespeople Need Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage one's own emotions and understand the emotions of others. It involves self-awareness, self-control, empathy, and interpersonal skills. In the context of sales, emotional intelligence is vital because each deal brings its own set of challenges, and the pace can be highly stressful. Salespeople must not only understand their clients’ needs and emotions but also regulate their own emotions to effectively handle the demands of the job.

Here are some of the ways emotional intelligence specifically impacts sales:

  • Understanding Customer Needs: It’s all about solving problems and meeting the needs of customers. High emotional intelligence allows sales professionals to empathize with their clients, understand their pain points, and build stronger relationships. By recognizing and connecting with customers on an emotional level, salespeople can better tailor their solutions to meet their clients' needs.
  • Effective Communication: Emotional intelligence involves the ability to communicate effectively, not just in terms of the words spoken but also through non-verbal cues and body language. A salesperson who can read and respond to a client's emotions, concerns, and hesitations can adjust their communication style to build rapport and trust.
  • Building and Maintaining Relationships: Sales is not just about closing deals; it's about nurturing long-term relationships. Sales professionals with high emotional intelligence are skilled at building and maintaining strong, trust-based relationships with their clients. They can navigate the complexities of different personalities and adapt their approach to ensure ongoing success.
  • Resilience: Sales can be a stressful and high-pressure environment. Emotional intelligence helps salespeople manage their own emotions effectively, stay motivated, and bounce back from rejection or setbacks. Resilience is essential for maintaining a positive attitude and persistence in the face of challenges.
  • Adaptability: The sales landscape is ever-changing, and no two sales situations are identical. Emotional intelligence enables salespeople to adapt to different client personalities, industries, and market conditions. They can pivot their strategies and approaches to suit each unique situation, increasing their chances of success.
  • Self-motivation and Drive: Salespeople with high emotional intelligence are better at setting and pursuing goals, managing their time effectively, and staying focused on their objectives. They are more likely to exhibit a genuine passion for what they do.
  • Team Collaboration: Sales often involves working with cross-functional teams, including marketing, product development, and customer support. Emotional intelligence helps salespeople collaborate with colleagues effectively, understanding and appreciating the perspectives and contributions of others. This leads to a more cohesive and productive work environment.

The Keys to Identifying Emotional Intelligence

Okay, it sounds like emotional intelligence can be important for salespeople. And you want your team to be successful. So, how do you identify emotional intelligence during the hiring process?

Obviously, it comes down to asking the right questions. But it’s more than that. It’s about tailoring your hiring process to identify candidates based not just on their experience but on their so-called soft skills. Here are some key aspects of your hiring process that can help you identify emotional intelligence:

Behavioral Interview Questions

Ask candidates open-ended behavioral questions that require them to describe past experiences and real-life situations. These questions should focus on emotional intelligence-related scenarios, such as dealing with difficult colleagues, managing stress, or resolving conflicts. Asking questions about what they would do in hypothetical situations may tell you about their intelligence and interviewing skills, but it is more valuable to know about their behavior.

Evaluate the Candidate’s Active Listening Skills

Pay attention to how well candidates listen and respond to your questions. Emotional intelligence includes the ability to understand and respond to others' emotions. Candidates with active listening skills, such as maintaining eye contact, nodding, and offering thoughtful responses, may have higher emotional intelligence.

Connect with References and Recommendations

Reach out to the candidate's references and ask about their interpersonal skills, ability to handle stress, and how they interact with others. References can provide valuable insights into a candidate's emotional intelligence.

Understand the Blame Game

Do candidates blame other team members for problems or difficulties that arose in their last job? If a candidate is unable or unwilling to discuss their role in challenges at previous jobs, then that can indicate that they won’t score high on emotional intelligence. Candidates who understand that not everyone is perfect, recognize their contribution to the work environment, own their mistakes, and understand what they can do to improve will go a long way in helping you understand their level of emotional intelligence.

Using the Right Questions to Find Emotional Intelligence

To evaluate and compare candidates accurately, it's essential to maintain consistency in your interview process. This means asking each candidate the same set of questions. This approach helps eliminate bias and makes it easier to assess and compare candidates' emotional intelligence.

Tell me about a specific time you worked on an opportunity with a complex negotiation.

This question can reveal the candidate's ability to understand and navigate the often conflicting motivations of multiple stakeholders. Candidates with high emotional intelligence will likely describe situations where they have a high degree of awareness of the position of each stakeholder in a negotiation and an ability to address each party’s concerns while demonstrating emotional control and empathy.

Tell me about a specific time when you were justifiably angry at work but still managed to keep calm and maintain good relationships.

This question assesses the candidate's emotional regulation and capacity to constructively handle and channel negative emotions. Candidates with strong emotional intelligence should share a specific situation where they managed their anger and, by doing so, were able to affect positive change.

Tell me about a specific time when someone seemed not to trust you when they met you.

This question helps assess the candidate's ability to perceive and address the emotional state of others. Candidates with emotional intelligence may be able to explain how their actions led to the lack of trust and form a plan to change the situation. They may demonstrate efforts to build trust with reliability and understanding of the other person's perspective.

Consider someone with whom you had a conflict at work. How would that person describe you?

This question evaluates the candidate's self-awareness regarding their impact on others. It demonstrates their ability to understand how their behavior affects relationships, showing empathy and emotional insight. Many top performers’ weaknesses are the flip side of their strengths. This question may demonstrate a candidate’s self-awareness about the potential downsides of their strengths.

Tell me about when you realized you needed to change your communication or behavior with someone.

The response can provide insights into the candidate's awareness of their communication style and willingness to adapt and improve based on the needs and preferences of others, demonstrating self-awareness and adaptability.

Tell me about a specific time you received negative feedback about some aspect of your performance.

This question assesses the candidate's ability to handle criticism constructively. Candidates with high emotional intelligence will likely describe how they accepted the feedback, managed their emotions, and took steps to address the issue or improve.

Tell me about a specific time you sensed your communication style was causing a problem for someone on an opportunity you were working on.

This question highlights the candidate's ability to recognize the impact of their communication on others. A candidate with strong emotional intelligence would describe how they adjusted their communication style to resolve the issue, showcasing empathy and adaptability.

Tell me about a specific time you needed to work with a difficult person in a sales situation. How did you manage the situation?

This question assesses the candidate's interpersonal skills and capacity to handle challenging individuals. Candidates with emotional intelligence should describe their ability to empathize, defuse conflicts, and find solutions in difficult interpersonal dynamics.

Tell me about a specific time you worked on an opportunity with a complex buying organization.

The response can reveal the candidate's ability to navigate complex sales situations involving multiple stakeholders. A candidate with high emotional intelligence will likely discuss their aptitude for building relationships, understanding different perspectives, and achieving consensus.

Tell me about a specific time when you had to handle a demanding or irate customer. How did you approach the situation, and what was the outcome?

This question assesses the candidate's ability to manage emotions, show empathy, and de-escalate tense situations with customers, reflecting their emotional control and customer service skills.

Tell me about when you received critical feedback or faced a significant setback in your sales career. How did you react, and what did you learn from the experience?

This question assesses the candidate's emotional resilience and capacity to learn and grow from adversity in their sales career.

Emotional intelligence is a critical competency determining a candidate's success in a dynamic and unpredictable environment.

By using well-crafted questions and maintaining consistency in your interview process, you can better assess and compare sales candidates based on their emotional intelligence. So, get those questions ready and find the sales candidates who will be truly successful on your team.

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