Guest Lecture on the Role of Emotional Intelligence and Individual Traits in Sales Management

Professor Richard McFarland

When being responsible for sales management, one crucial task is the identification and selection of potentially successful sales employees. The importance of the recruitment process results from the assumption, that a substantial part of what characterizes high-performers lies in his or her given aptitude. In this vein, Richard McFarland, Professor at ESSEC Business School in Paris, started his lecture last Friday by saying “You can’t teach smart”. In addition, he emphasized the risk of hiring the wrong salesperson by stating that costs of an employee’s bad sales performance could make up to two annual salaries – depending on how much it has taken to detect it at all.

Since prediction of future sales performance is a very relevant topic and, as Professor Richard McFarland summarizes, many interviewers are not educated well in structuring the job interview and finally taking the right decision, he shared his experiences of crucial factors to assess with the students. A general predictor of a good performance in any job is cognitive intelligence. To test for it, Professor McFarland recommends the students to use valid measures, to take a multivariate approach and to benchmark the applicants with current top performers.

Further, factors like self-efficacy and optimism should be tried to evaluate during the interview, although it might be difficult. Optimism for example is found to have a direct positive effect on sales performance and is an indicator to better cope with stress. In addition, Richard McFarland suggests using the personality test “Big Five”. With regard to salespeople, the preferred outcome is that the traits extraversion and conscientiousness emerge as distinctive capabilities.

Finally, Professor McFarland provided the students with valuable insights on his main research topic: emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is defined as “the ability to recognize and to manage emotional cues and information both within one’s self and in others”. Since sales representatives constantly interact with customers, emotional intelligence is important for them in order to perceive the customer’s mood and to effectively adapt sales approaches to it. In order to identify emotional intelligence within the recruitment process, Richard McFarland advised against using mixed models for assessing emotional intelligence, as they are based on self-reported answers which could e.g. lead to faked answers. He recommended ability-based models, of which the only available one is the MSCEIT test. This test is reliable, valid and clean(er), as it examines emotional intelligence separately from other personality traits.

At the end of the guest lecture, Professor McFarland offered extracts from the “Big Five Personality Test” and the “MSCEIT” to the students. Thereby, they got a lively impression on the style of the questions and were able to check their own personality. We thank our guest for these valuable managerial implications for our potential future jobs as sales managers!