Let’s start with my preferred definition of empathy. “The ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation”. My belief, and my experience tells me that top performing sales people have a great capacity for empathy. In fact, it’s one of the most important traits to be effective at understanding what the client needs based on the client experience and their feelings about their experiences. It allows the sales pro to connect with their prospect/client at some emotional level for more effective interpersonal communication, a deeper understanding, and collaboration.
Isn’t a decision to buy in a B2B situation purely a logical decision based on the client’s weightings of how the product or service proposed meets unfulfilled needs? There is a considerable volume of current research that the ‘buy’ decision, even in tough, B2B negotiations, is based in emotion and then justified logically. This is not only based in psychology research, but is proven biologically as well! So, if emotion plays such an important part in the decision-making process on how something is bought, when it’s bought and from whom, it’s probably crucial to understand the emotions at play.
In a previous article on creativity, I talked about painting a picture for the prospect/client and then painting them into the picture. Not a stickman sketch, but a full blown, beautifully coloured, rich, vibrant portrait!
Being empathic in the selling process means really trying to tap into, and understand the feelings and experiences of the prospect/client by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.
And this is where top sales professionals paint themselves into the client’s portrait.
To understand what this portrait looks like, you have to ask lots of questions. Less successful salespeople make assumptions, and go straight to presentation. They don’t ask enough meaningful questions. It amounts to a recommendation of treatment without any real diagnosis. Sales pros asked lots of good questions not only to gather facts and figures, but also to comprehend and appreciate how the prospect/client feels about various aspects of the portrait.
So, you may say at this point “how can I be empathic, I’m just not a touchy-feely person”. Some of us have empathy hardwired into our DNA. For others, where empathy does not flow naturally, you can learn techniques to ” fake it till you make it’! Some research tells us that up to 98% of us have capacity for empathy (the outliers being extreme narcissists, and sociopaths). If you don’t feel naturally empathetic, there are techniques to help you become more empathetic.
Probably the best way to start being more empathetic is to be genuinely interested in the interpersonal interaction that you are in, in the moment. If you are genuinely interested in someone (and their business), you asked them questions about themselves rather than focus on telling them about your story. A timeless book on this subject which has been on the bestsellers list numerous times in its 80-year history (and has sold over 30 million copies) is Dale Carnegie’s ’How to Win Friends and Influence People’. So, be in the moment, make it about them, and ask insightful questions.
One researcher tells us we can become more empathetic through “radical listening”. In quasi-adversarial conversation, we often listen in order to scan for signs of danger, and think of how we will respond. Radical listening means listening attentively, without distraction, with the objective of truly understanding the other persons point of view. Covey refers to this as seeking first to understand, and then to be understood. Researchers tell us that one of the main roadblocks for us today in truly being ‘radical listeners’ is our personal devices. So much of our interaction becomes impersonal through texts, tweets, and email because these kinds of communication tend to isolate us from authentic communication. So, to be more empathetic, first be in the moment ~~ face to face (ideal) or at minimum voice to voice.
A Buddhist-inspired approach to becoming more empathetic is to spend a whole day becoming mindful of every person connected to your world and your activities. As you drink your morning Starbucks, you contemplate what the Baristas life story is. And what about the farmer who harvested the coffee beans? And the truck driver who offloaded them at the processing plant? You consciously think outside of yourself for an entire day (repeat as required!).
Some simple rules for becoming more empathetic?
Be genuinely interested in the other person.
Ask great questions to understand the client’s situation, their ‘portrait’, and paint yourself into it. Make truly understanding your objective.
Radically listen. Be in the moment. Seek first to understand, and then to be understood
Ask how your prospect/customer feels about things, not only how they think about them.
Minimal presenting at the discovery meeting. These interactions should be more about you learning about your prospect/client and their unique needs, than them learning about you.
NEVER prescribe without first doing a thorough diagnosis.
A harsh, inflexible, judgmental attitude limits the scope of empathy. Does your attitude need work? Assume positive intent.
There are lots of great books about becoming more empathetic. Author Jeb Blount has recently released his eighth book,’ Sales EQ’. to encouraging reviews. While I have not read this book yet, it is on my must-read list for 2017.
Next post, Thing Eight ~~~~~ ‘Your Belief System.
This is the seventh in a series of 10 articles on the traits and habits of highly successful sales professionals. Please consider providing some feedback by leaving a comment. If you enjoyed this article and would like to read future articles, please consider following me on LinkedIn.