High IQ Might Obscure Your Competitive Advantage
It’s been 26 years since the publication of Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Since its original publication in 1995, EQ has been recognized by many as an important aspect of successful leaders. We’ve come to understand as well that high-performing sales executives are likely to score high in EQ.
But consider the role of EQ – and IQ – as factors in the business development activities of your Subject Matter Experts, known in our business as “Doer-Sellers.” The architects, engineers, consultants, accountants, lawyers, creative directors, scientists, and others who are integral parts of new business pursuit or capture teams. Individuals who you count on to create the right solutions for your prospects. But also to build close relationships with these prospects, to understand their real needs and fears, to represent and differentiate your firm in highly competitive pursuits of high-stakes, big ticket, RFP-driven opportunities.
It’s almost certain that these SMEs have high subject-matter IQ. They are experts in their fields. To win the most important opportunities, you should be asking whether they also have high EQ. And whether their IQ is dominating their pursuits.
Our perspective is this: Pursuit teams with appropriate subject-matter IQ while demonstrating to the prospect-high EQ will win more competitive bids than teams don’t exhibit that high EQ. And we further believe that too many teams let subject-matter IQ drive their business pursuit efforts, thus making it more difficult for them to win. Here’s what we mean.
What Do Buyers Want?
We’ve been looking at empirical evidence of buyer behaviors and decision making since the time of Goleman’s original book. Our focus has always been on highly competitive pursuits in which senior executives are choosing from among several top-tier providers to take on very important, often mission-critical, projects. We estimate we’ve reviewed the processes and outcomes of over 400 such pursuits, from the viewpoints of both pursuit teams and decision makers.
While it’s true that buyer behaviors shift a bit with market conditions and changes in available tactics, we’ve seen remarkable consistency in decision-maker preferences. This has been apparent to us not only over time, but across diverse verticals, from advertising and architecture to aerospace and engineering. There are four overarching considerations that, together, comprise the entirety of an individual decision-maker’s choice.
- The technical aspects of the solution, including fees.
- The perception of the decision-maker that the pursuing firm understands that individual’s objectives, needs, concerns, aspirations.
- The chemistry that’s developed between the pursuit team and decision-maker.
- Political concerns, which can be macro in the market or micro within the organization or simply between the decision-maker and direct stakeholders.
There’s remarkable consistency in how these four areas are “weighted” for any specific pursuit or individual buyer. Here’s the default allocation that seems to be in place nearly all the time:
- Solution: 28%
- Understand the Individual: 31%
- Chemistry: 24%
- Politics: 17%
Of course, your mileage may vary. Each pursuit is different. Each decision maker is different. But this is a very important guideline and, in the successful pursuits that we’ve been involved with, it’s predictably effective.
Consider the feedback your teams receives after successful and unsuccessful pursuits. We’ve noticed a remarkable inconsistency. For example, when you’ve lost, perhaps the most common feedback sounds something like this:
“It was very close”
“You scored 1.5 points below the winner on the committee’s scorecard.”
“The other firm was slightly less expensive.”
“Their solution was a bit better.”
“There was a technical gap in your submission”
“Please try again next time”
Now contrast this with the feedback your winning teams receive.
“We were impressed with your passion and dedication.”
“Your team displayed a deep understanding of our real challenges (or opportunities).”
“You shared our vision for this project.”
“We felt a very high degree of trust with you.”
“You really got us.”
The only thing missing from the second list is “You had me at hello.”
There’s clearly a difference in the two. We can draw three conclusions, two of which is very relevant to the issue of IQ vs EQ.
- Too often, decision-makers aren’t revealing all their thinking to losing teams.
- Winning teams are not necessarily winning because they have the most brilliant solution.
- Winning teams have gone further in establishing stronger, more empathetic relationships with prospects.
Numbers two and three call out to us the importance of balancing IQ and EQ.
Why EQ Matters
An online search for the elements and benefits of emotional intelligence will turn up a lot of information, focusing initially on the benefits of high EQ to the individual. You’ll also find important attributes that can predict a team’s effectiveness in a pursuit. The website PsychCentral notes that
A high EQ helps individuals to communicate better … defuse conflicts, improve relationships, empathize with others…
Let’s look at these attributes in the context of how buyers buy, i.e., the four factors we’ve described. Teams with high EQ will appreciate the importance of Understanding, Chemistry and learning about Politics. They will develop strategic plans to incorporate activities into their pursuit that will allow them to maximize their performance in these areas. Maybe more importantly, they’ll be emotionally and behaviorally equipped to execute these plans in an authentic, client-centric manner.
On the other hands, teams that allow subject matter IQ to dominate their pursuits will place more emphasis–and possibly too much emphasis–on the development of the Solution. Perhaps they feel they can win mainly by having a superior solution. We believe that will give them a “high score” in only 28 percent of the factors that might really matter to the decision-makers in a highly competitive, high-stakes pursuit. And they might not invest enough time and energy into the other 72 percent, which might truly make the difference between winning and losing.
The good news is that teams can be redirected. Pursuits that more closely allocate strategies and tactics against the four decision-making factors can be planned. The chances of success are improved when such plans are developed and executed long before an RFQ or RFP drops. That is, teams that establish Understanding and Chemistry and can chart the Political waters in advance of the RFP will be at the top of the prospect’s consideration set when the formal proposal period begins.
To generate a better win rate, ensure that your pursuit or capture teams are using their EQ with them same intention and intensity as they’re using their IQ.
Written by Bob Wiesner.