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The Importance Of Empathy In Sales

by Johnny Bravo · 1 comment

The Importance Of Empathy In SalesEmpathy is not a term you often hear thrown around at your weekly sales meeting. Instead your time is taken up by topics that are said to “matter” such as sales goals, upcoming meetings, prospecting, new opportunities, and recent negotiations.

If you’ve read some of the other articles here you may have come across “Sales Training Is Not Always About Sales Techniques“. As a quick recap I talk about the importance of created a well balance sales team by training them on aspects other than sales techniques (cold calling scripts, pattern interrupts, objection handing, etc) such as contracts, company processes, and product knowledge.

Well today I’d like to expand on that topic a bit to include even more subjects that revolve around human relations. These can include psychology, ethics, human behavior, and buyer personas. Specifically today we’re going to cover the topic of empathy.

Adding these types of topics to your training program will give your sales team a well rounded skill set.

According to Wikipedia, “Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being.

Having empathy means that you are able to put yourself inside the shoes of another person, seeing the world through their eyes.

The idea for this subject came from a post by Jim Keenan over at ASalesGuy.com. This article was intended to point out the difference between a prospects problem vs need.

Too often sales people are looking to fill a need. A need for their product that may not necessarily exist.

His argument is that by selling to a need, salespeople limit themselves because not all prospects know that they have a need. They go through their daily lives thinking “thing are just fine” and I have “no need for change”.

I bring this up because Jim points out a very important aspect of selling to people. They don’t always know there is a need. In fact, they sometimes don’t know there is a problem.

Why Empathy Is Important

That unknown factor is why empathy is so important for a sales person. Empathy allows a sales rep to view the world from the prospects’ eyes to see where the problem in their business is.

But there are other reasons that empathy is important to the entire sales process.

It builds trust. Which any sales pro will tell you is absolutely necessary to build lasting relationships. Empathy shows that you care about their business and you want to help it.

The more you show empathy to their blight, the more trust you will build. Don’t underestimate the power of empathy in this regard.

It makes you part of the team. In many sales methodologies there is the aspect of creating a vision. This is when you help the buyer create the criteria that their buying decision will be based on.

If you sell blue widgets then the buyer should make sure that the only widget they buy is blue. If you make small widgets, well make sure “small widget” is a criteria for buying.

But that is the salesy way to look at it and not a way to truly help your prospect. Instead you use empathy to find the problem within their organization. You ask questions, you do your research, you put yourself in their shoes. You figure out why their business isn’t growing as fast as it should be and you help make the change. Having an impact like that within an organization makes you part of the family.

Its a differentiator. Being empathetic will help you stand out from the other dozen sales people that the prospect has met with. This is because you are showing them from the very beginning that you are here to help, not make a sale.

It builds credibility. This relates to the trust factor mentioned above. Showing empathy ensures that you take the time to listen and understand before ever offering a solution to their problem.

Once you understand their business and their goals you can talk much more intelligently on why your product is what will fix their problem.

Can You Develop Empathy?

With work, I believe so. Like any skill there are people who are naturally gifted while others struggle with it. But with a little work and using some of the tricks below, you too can develop empathy.

An important skill that will help you is learning how to better listen. There is a saying that you were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. You should come into a meeting with no assumptions and instead work to hear what the prospect is trying to tell you.

If you are able to understand what they have told you then you will be leagues ahead of everyone else. Too often sales people will walk into a meeting and listen only until they hear some buzz word. This is especially true for newer sales reps. Don’t make the same mistake. Take your time, ask questions, and understand where they are coming from, where they want to go, and where you can help.

Additionally you want to think about a similar situation you’ve been in. Think about the implications if the prospect bought your product to their goals and situation. How would you feel? How would you react? Using your own imagination will allow you to be in their shoes for as long as you need to in order to help them.

You also want to be open minded to anything. Including that your product is not the right fit for their problem. This is not the end of the world because by being open and honest you may find other opportunities such as getting future referrals.

Lastly I would say you want to be aware of your own emotions on the matter. Do you want to make this sale? Yes absolutely. But that is short term thinking. Long term would be helping the client and building a lasting relationship.

Your emotions can distract you from the real reason you are there to help them. Be mindful of that and you should be ok.

What are you thoughts on the matter. Is empathy important? Is it something that can be developed? Let me know your thoughts and any stories of where empathy has helped you in sales.

~ Johnny Bravo

Image courtesy of pakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

ash f @ madlemmings July 25, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Hey Johnny, that is a tough topic. In sales and in any area where you have to work with people, empathy is the hardest. We all think we listen and understand, but most of the time we are focused on ourselves and our needs. I need to take some of your ideas and put them into practice I think.
Keep up the great posts
ash

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