Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Two Qualities that Top Salespeople Possess

Two Qualities that Top Salespeople Possess

Blair Kidwell, Jonathan Hasford, Broderick Turner, David M. Hardesty and Alex Ricardo Zablah


In an ever-changing sales environment, what attributes does a salesperson need to be successful? Many sales managers consider emotional intelligence to be a trait that matters a lot for sales success. These sales managers believe that the more emotionally intelligent a salesperson is, the better he or she will perform. However, new research in the Journal of Marketing discovers that simply having high emotional intelligence is not enough to be great at sales. Instead, it matters both how skilled salespeople are at the ability to use, manage, facilitate, and perceive emotions and how confident they are in these abilities.

Our research team surveyed more than 350 salespeople and their managers in four different industries (real estate, B2B sales, fitness, and insurance). Our analysis found that salespeople who were high in both emotional intelligence and emotional confidence (which we refer to in our research as emotional self-efficacy) were emotionally calibrated. Thus, these salespeople are able to be calm and relaxed around their customers and build rapport. Because they build this rapport, they are more successful at sales than salespeople who are not emotionally calibrated. Our research found that these benefits of being emotionally calibrated diminished among salespeople who were in a state of stress, but improved among those salespeople with relatively longer job tenures.


We discovered that if a salesperson was lacking in either emotional dimension (intelligence or confidence), he or she was a worse sales performer. In particular, those low in emotional intelligence, but high in confidence, we termed emotionally overconfident. These salespeople are often inattentive and display too much excitement and eagerness. These salespeople find it more difficult to build rapport with their customers.

In contrast to these inattentive salespeople are those salespeople who are high in emotional intelligence, but lack confidence in their emotional skills. These salespeople are termed emotionally underconfident. They often find it difficult to build rapport with their customers because they are often filled with self-doubt. Finally, salespeople who are low in both emotional intelligence and emotional confidence are negatively emotionally calibrated. These salespeople also find building rapport with their customers to be more difficult and they often express anger and frustration during the sales process.

We believe that if sales managers continue to invest in emotional intelligence training or selection tools, they should also invest in developing and sustaining emotional confidence. If their salesforce does not have the emotional confidence to match their emotional skills, then they cannot realize the benefits of these skills. We suggest that emotional intelligence training includes an awareness of emotional confidence. Moreover, salespeople need to be aware if their emotional skills are lower than their emotional confidence, as our work suggests that having high confidence and low emotional skills can backfire.

Our research has important implications for recruiting and managing a salesforce. For instance, many salespeople have high levels of confidence in themselves regardless of their actual abilities. Managers may need to initially screen and provide feedback that reduces the potentially detrimental effects of overconfidence in salespeople.

Our research also suggests that emotional calibration is most beneficial for salespeople who work in supportive environments. An environment with supportive supervision, high teamwork, and access to the organizational resources needed to serve customers is found to be the best one for a salesperson to leverage high emotional skills and confidence. Moreover, environments where salespeople can have longer tenures and lower felt stress are more likely to see improved sales performance when the salesforce is emotionally calibrated.

For salespeople looking to use our research to improve their sales performance, we suggest that you do two things. First, consider how confident you are right now about your emotional skills. Next, you should take an assessment of your emotional intelligence ability. You can use our scoring tool here ( After getting your scores, reconsider how confident you should be in your emotional skills. For example, if you receive a high score, then you should be more confident in your emotional skills and use these in your interactions with customers. However, if you do not score as highly as you thought you might, then you should calibrate your confidence in your emotional skills. There are very few benefits to being confident when your emotional skills are low.

Read the full article

From: Blair Kidwell, Jonathan Hasford, Broderick Turner, David M. Hardesty, and Alex R. Zablah, “Emotional Calibration and Salesperson Performance,” Journal of Marketing.

Go to the Journal of Marketing

Blair Kidwell is Professor of Marketing, University of North Texas, USA.

Jonathan Hasford is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Tennessee, USA.

Broderick Turner is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Virginia Tech University, USA.

David M. Hardesty is Gatton Endowed Chair of Marketing, University of Kentucky, USA.

Alex Ricardo Zablah is Gerber/Taylor Professor of Marketing, University of Tennessee, USA.