By Colleen Stanley, SalesLeadership Inc.

You’ve preached the importance of consistent prospecting and business development to your sales team. All heads nod up and down in agreement.

You’ve dedicated a portion of each sales meeting to teaching your team new skills and strategies for opening up opportunities. Key performance metrics have been determined and are being tracked.

So with all this time and attention, why are so many sales managers and CEOs still complaining that there aren’t enough new opportunities coming through the door?

Most sales organizations try to fix selling challenges by throwing more hard sales skills training at the problem. In some cases, this might just be the right fix. However, in many situations, an empty sales pipeline often is caused by poor emotional intelligence (EI) skills.
Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey, who are leading researchers on EI skills, define EI as, “The subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

The most common complaints from sales managers and CEOs are:

  1. The sales team isn’t consistently prospecting. They’re good one week, then lose their momentum and shift into account-management mode.
  2. Prospecting efforts are producing only small deals and transactions. The big opportunities are lost to the competition.

Let’s examine these prospecting issues to learn how EI skills can positively or negatively affect lead-generation efforts and results.

  1. Sporadic prospecting.Sporadic prospecting efforts usually happen when a salesperson hasn’t developed the EI skill of delayed gratification, which is the ability to put in the work before achieving the reward. Salespeople who haven’t developed this skill get frustrated easily if they don’t get sales results quickly. For example, they might cold call, email, or attend networking events for two weeks. If no appointments are set, they throw in the towel and start surfing the Internet.When trying to build a personal network, they’re not willing to put in the time and effort needed to build alliance partners. They meet a potential partner for breakfast and then expect him to hand over his Rolodex. Relationships are built over time, and instant-gratification salespeople are reluctant to invest energy.Instant-gratification salespeople are often lousy at time management. They don’t plan their weeks and months very well because planning, well, it takes time and thought. They subscribe to the wing-it school of sales and show up at the office on Monday morning with no clue of how they’re going to spend their week. There’s no plan of action other than where they’re going to get their next cup of coffee.The salesperson with delayed-gratification skills will put in the time to carefully map
    out a pursuit strategy, identifying the opportunities and the buying influences within each prospect account. He or she creates a customized approach for each meeting and plans thoughtful questions and value propositions that will resonate with each individual buyer.The instant-gratification salesperson, on the other hand, shows up with a generic, one-size-fits-all approach that rarely results in a second meeting.
  2. Small deals.The need for instant gratification also affects deal size. Smaller transactions take less time to close, maybe three to six months. Larger deals, on the other hand, can take anywhere from nine months to two years to close. The instant-gratification salesperson quickly grows tired of the pursuit and chases low-hanging fruit.
    Large deals also involve meetings with a variety of buyers. This means that a salesperson must be good at reading and relating to a variety of people, which requires the EI skill of empathy. It’s the ability to tune in and understand what others are thinking and feeling.Empathetic salespeople recognize that each buyer has a different set of pains, a different set of needs, a different story. They’re quick to listen and slow to offer a solution. Empathetic salespeople ask more and better questions. As a result, they win business because they offer solutions that align perfectly with each buyer’s pain.No, you don’t need to stop teaching hard sales skills, such as email prospecting, cold calling, referral training, and LinkedIn strategies. Instead, add soft-skills training to your program. This holistic approach to sales will help you better diagnose and fix your problems and improve your business development efforts. Soft skills do produce hard sales results.

Colleen Stanley is founder and president of SalesLeadership Inc., a business development consulting firm specializing in sales and sales management training. The company provides programs in prospecting, consultative sales training, emotional intelligence development, and leadership training for sales managers. Colleen is the author of Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success and Growing Great Sales Teams.