Empathy in Sales Builds Trust

BY Tim Londergan
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There was a time in television advertising when sellers representing network affiliate stations merely had to show up and present a set of avails to secure a slice of the advertiser’s budget. Success meant you captured a portion of the budget equal to the station’s share of viewing. It mattered little that the client's campaign failed to deliver. Target gross rating points could be made up in future negotiations. In that era, empathy in sales was inner-​directed. Sellers despaired over depleted inventory or fretted over the competitors' next season’s blockbuster show.

Empathy in sales must focus on the client

Today’s image of sales achievement paints a much more colorful portrait. Regardless of the industry, sellers must focus their attention on the customer’s business and its enduring success. Thankfully, this outer focus pays dividends not only for the client at hand, but referrals in the future. Recently, Joanne Black published an article on LinkedIn entitled, “How to Build Trust and Stand Out.” Black focuses on the importance of trust and the relationships generated when salespeople truly care about a client’s business. This is supported by SalesFuel’s Voice of the Buyer survey which found that one of the top attributes buyers want from a seller is to “care about me and my business.” This is where empathy in sales makes a difference; unfortunately, it is not widespread.

Just 18% of salespeople are trusted advisors

Black cites a study by Steve W. Martin on B2B buyers that reveals their perceptions of the salespeople they meet. The results can help you understand buyer behavior and guide you to have more meaningful buyer interactions. Harshly, the study states that two-​thirds of B2B salespeople are average or poor. Who wants to refer an average salesperson? What’s more, the results show only 18% are classified as trusted advisors. 

What’s wrong with salespeople?

Martin’s study devoted five statements to this specific point and all of them relate to the lack of empathy in sales. The statements range from pushing an agenda, to an alienating communication style, to ignoring simple cues of differing perspectives. Remarkably, these issues can be resolved with an empathic response from a seller who is emotionally intelligent. Astute managers can conduct assessments for desirable personality traits and correct the course. On the other hand, clever salespeople can adopt habits and a mindset that lets them be a little bit better so they can eventually be a lot better!

Commitment to the customer

In the early 90’s, toward the end of the broadcast TV era mentioned above, my employer contracted with Jim Doyle as a sales trainer/​consultant. This was shortly after Jim founded his company, JDA​.media. His hiring was prescient on behalf of station management and extremely fortunate for me and my sales colleagues. This type of investment in sales training for the TV industry was unique and progressive. Newspapers had been doing it for years. Their efforts solidified client-​seller relationships that perplexed TV reps. Similarly, Doyle’s training included many four-​legged sales calls where he, or his associates, would team with station reps. The knowledge gained highlighted the critical impact of empathy in sales. Eventually, we understood the dividends of client-​focused selling.

Learning to grow. Growing to learn.

Salespeople with high assessment scores for empathy have compassion for their client’s problems. They will slow down and try to understand the situation and devise a solution. These people want to help because they care. This empathy in sales training is only part of what Jim Doyle shares in the discussion of his book “Selling with a Servant Heart” in SalesFuel’s Manage Smarter show. Check it out and see what insight you can gain from over thirty years of training salespeople.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash