Straightforward question. What are the top personality traits of the most successful sales people? Chances are while you’re mentally reeling off the strongest skills, humility probably wouldn’t come high on the list. If we asked the same question to people outside of our industry, humility definitely wouldn’t crop up as a common characteristic. The old textbook view of sales people is about being assertive, persistent, even aggressive – not much room to be humble when there’s a deal to be had. So, let’s leave that out of date perception right there. Because, in the reality of today’s modern sales environment, humility has actually become an essential skill. One that every sales person should tune into if they want to win over clients and be successful.

Humility forms the bedrock of a wider topic that we’re hearing more and more about in Sales – Emotional Intelligence. All of the latest research shows that deeperrelationships impact the numbers more than actual products or services. Relationships based on emotional connections form the strongest bonds. Sales people who have the ability toestablish solid emotional connections are better at understanding what customers feel, need, and expect. Those with high Emotional Intelligence can yield positive results, significantly improve retention rates, customer satisfaction and sales success.

The classic model of Emotional Intelligence was formulated by science writer Daniel Goleman in the1990s. The umbrella term refers to people’s ability to recognise, understand, and manage their emotions and those of others. This ability allows individuals to adopt a wide range of feelings to drive the desired action and successfully achieve goals. Goleman’s original model cites five main competencies that make up Emotional Intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, socialisation, empathy and motivation. Humility underpins every element of Emotional Intelligence. And there is good news for those who feel these characteristics don’t come naturally – as there is clear evidence that it can be learned and developed over time through practice and training.

So why does ‘getting emotional’ work in business? The simple answer is that purchasing decisions are not based on logic. The first approach may be driven by supply and demand, however the final buying decision is influenced by emotions.In the absence of personal humility insales, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make a sale, or to convince customers that their needs are truly understood.

One of the ways humility is expressed is by having a willingness to learn and an openness to others’ ideas and input. In other words, ditching the ego. It is not a sign of weakness or meekness. Being curious and interested during client interactions will help salespeople to ask the right questions and prove that they are eager to fully understand their client’s business model. A vital skill that stems from humility is the ability to listen. For a sales person to be a good listener they need to be truly tuned into their clients. Listening goes beyond simply hearing factual data. The skill is to listen with the intent of learning and gain a thorough understanding of the customer’s business.

Showing humility is particularly valuable during the critical negation stages with a client. Whatever tactics are used to throw the salesperson off balance, humility is the solution. If a salesperson is not humble, they won’t listen, learn or show openness and empathy during disagreements. This will ultimately impact the outcome of the negotiations and their ability to sell well. Also, customers are a sales person’s best advert. Clients take recommendations from peers and listen to positive comments. Humility could take the form of salespeople asking clients to share their experiences with other prospects who face similar challenges. By taking an almost inferior position, what could be more humble than asking a client for their help to win business from another customer?

From a personal perspective, after working in the sales industry for more than 20 years, I am a firm believer that humility is a highly underrated trait. That is part of the reason I decided to obtain the Emotional Intelligence certification for myself, to support sales organisations looking to reap the benefits of intellectual humility. There is a strong link between humility and open mindedness, which leads to having that precious growth mindset. For companies wanting to improve their growth, coaching their salespeople to eat a large slice of humble pie might just be the best recipe for their future success.

Pascale Hall has held senior sales roles across a range of business sectors, including manufacturing, real estate, project marketing, healthcare and professional services for more than 20 years. For the last decade, Pascale has worked as a leading sales performance consultant and certified coach. She is currently working towards her latest qualification – the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification.