Three Ways Empathy Grows Relationships and Sales

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Posted: January 9, 2013
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An empathetic salesperson – almost sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?  It’s time to pay attention to this emotional intelligence skill because empathetic salespeople often outperform their non-empathetic counterparts.   

Empathy is the ability to step into another person’s shoes and know what they are thinking and feeling.  Can you think of a more important skill when trying to connect, influence and persuade others? 

David Kelley, founder of the design firm IDEO, located in Palo Alto, California notes the importance of empathy in his work in innovation.  Mr. Kelley worked with Steve Jobs for 30 years in the design and development of new products.  During a recent interview with 60 Minutes, he shared the importance of seeing design from the customer’s perspective, not the engineer’s perspective.  He emphasized,  “You must have empathy and recognize where the customer is coming from.” 

My simple, anecdotal research shows that salespeople are sorely lacking in these observation/empathy skills.  How do I know?  One of the questions I ask prospects is, “What are three business problems you solve for your customers?”   The answer I hear is doesn’t answer the question I asked.   Most of the time I hear an answer that sounds like a product dump.  “We provide systems that speak to one another.  We have great on-time delivery.  We have a deep bench of expertise.” 

All of the above is nice, but what problems are you solving for your customers?  Prospects don’t want to know what you do, they want to know what problems you solve or new ways of thinking you can bring to their organization.    

Here are three tips to help you improve your empathy and sales results. 

#1Stop trying to sell something.  When you call on a prospect, do you have a presentation prepared or a list of thoughtful questions prepared?  If you have a presentation prepared, you are not focused on gathering information and understanding your potential client’s perspective.    You are focused on selling and closing without gathering enough data. 

#2:  Focus.  Most salespeople are so used to being connected to some kind of device that they have lost their ability to be present and focused during meetings.  Their mind is distracted on what just happened, what’s going to happen, instead of what IS happening!   Empathetic salespeople read and relate to others because they are present.  They catch the non-verbal communication clues such as a change in tonality, a shift in body language or a change in facial expression. 

#3:  Research.   Meet with your best customers and set up informational interviews.  Do not try to up-sell, cross sell or renew business.  Instead, apply your empathy skills and step into their business shoes.  Ask your customers about trends they are seeing in the industry.  Share trends and changes you are observing.  Ask them about new demands from their customers.   This will provide you and your company information on the products and services you should be providing and how you should be providing them.   

It’s the New Year so make a resolution to be more empathetic when working with your clients this year.  You might enjoy this article from the Wall Street Journal featuring Mr. Kelley.  He gives a great example on how empathy played a part in developing a better product.

Good Selling!

Colleen Stanley