Every month, Sherpa Co-founder Alex Fisher answers your questions about senior living sales and emotional intelligence based on her experiences as a successful leasing counselor, sales director and community owner. Read more about Ask Alex in Alex’s Open Letter To Senior Housing Professionals. To submit a question, email AskAlex@sherpacrm.com.
Dear Ask Alex,
As a hiring manager of our Advisors, do you have any advice on the best profile of a counselor that would find Prospect Centered Selling to be the most natural style and process versus more task oriented sales?
Brandi at Balfour
This is an important question, Brandi! As with most positions, hiring a great leasing counselor starts with a great job description. In this description, I would include a summary of the sales scenario typical of our industry and level of care, with clear expectations. A successful Prospect-Centered Sales® counselor should demonstrate competence in three key areas:
- First, in their ability to connect and build trust with the prospect and their circle of influencers.
- Next, in their ability to understand and “untangle” emotions arising from the current situation.
- And last, in their ability to guide a prospect towards the solution.
Achieving success in this realm requires a high degree of emotional literacy. We tend to hire for previous experience or “pedigree” and often ignore emotional intelligence. Experience in senior housing sales is not necessarily an indication of future success. If someone learned transactional selling and they did it for 10 years, those habits become ingrained and can be difficult to change, especially if they require a big paradigm shift and the person is not coachable. In my experience, it is easier to teach a new employee about the industry than it is to increase their emotional intelligence.
Bestselling author Daniel Goleman says emotional intelligence is twice as important as any other competency in identifying an outstanding leader. In his essay “What Makes a Leader?”, he identifies five traits emotionally intelligent people exhibit: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.
In his essay, Goleman defines self-awareness as “the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions and drives as well as their effect on others.” Hallmarks of self-awareness include self-confidence, realistic self-assessment and a self-deprecating sense of humor.
This trait, as it applies to sales, manifests as curiosity. I believe a great sales person is insatiably curious about themselves and other people: who are they, what are they feeling and how is that informing their thoughts about themselves, their life, relationships, etc. This is critical for listening, gaining good discovery, asking good questions and building trust.
Find more about the importance of curiosity on the Sherpa blog: 5 Reasons Why Curious People Are Great at Senior Living Sales
Self-regulation is the “ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods and the propensity to suspend judgement—to think before acting.” Goleman says self-regulated people also display trustworthiness, integrity, comfort with ambiguity and an openness to change.
In sales, this trait shows up in individuals who thrive doing planning sessions for prospects. Generally they exhibit an ability to stay “open” before making assumptions about what is going on and to be comfortable with that ambivalence we often hear from prospects who say, “I need to move, but I don’t want to!”
Goleman identifies motivation as “a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status; a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence.” Hallmarks include a strong drive to achieve and optimism even in the face of failure.
Motivation in sales is the “why.” We need people who are motivated by a strong “helping instinct” and who won’t give up at the first sign of rejection. It takes time to help someone navigate the process of change, and tapping into our genuine desire to help someone transition to a better situation is what keeps us in the relentless pursuit. This trait will make someone less likely to give up on a prospect just because they are “not ready.”
Empathy is “the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people; skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions.” Empathic people are experts in building and retaining talent, cross-cultural sensitivity and service to clients.
Almost a secret weapon in sales, these individuals demonstrate an ability to understand how someone is feeling, especially when voice to voice or face to face. What our prospects want is to be understood (“Leaving my home is hard, it makes me sad and vulnerable…I am afraid of running out of money… I feel guilty about telling my mom to move out of her home.”) An empathic person can recognize these emotions and validate them. This gives the prospect space to process their emotions without feeling “sold to.”
When it comes to emotional intelligence, Goleman defines social skills as “proficiency in managing relationships and building networks; an ability to find common ground and build rapport.” People with social skills are persuasive and effective in leading change.
In sales, counselors with social skills seamlessly interact and manage multiple relationships—within a sales team (hopefully with at least one more leasing counselor) and certainly with their colleagues in operations. Additionally, social skills are important in cultivating referral sources and managing the lead base. After all, the lead base is a collection of people in need of help, and we believe that we need good “gardeners” versus “hunters”.
Hiring a good sales counselor is as simple and as complicated as my answer. Establishing and finding an individual with the skills of a Prospect-Centered Sales counselor is not an easy task, but is made easier by starting with a clear picture of that individual’s desired traits in mind.
You’ll find more good advice for “behavioral interviewing” in this Harvard Business Review article by Annie McKee: How To Hire for Emotional Intelligence
Happy interviewing! Best of luck, and thank you for your continued example of quality sales leadership in the senior housing industry.
Alex is cofounder and Chief Creative Officer at Sherpa, the only CRM built by senior living sales experts. Formally trained as a fine artist, Alex is also a principal at One on One, a co-owner of three senior living communities in the Midwest and a mother of three. Contact her with questions at AskAlex@sherpacrm.com.