Empathy Tops the Salesperson Skills List

BY Tim Londergan
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Some salespeople are clairvoyant. They must be. Because they pounce headlong into the sales pitch without having heard the needs, fears and emotions of the prospect. They must possess salesperson skills far beyond us mere mortals. Seemingly, their ability to perceive the needs of the client materializes through limited sensory contact with the customer. Amazingly, their clairsentience gives them the confidence to proceed with their preemptive solution to the client’s problem without the messy back-​and-​forth of actual conversation. However, in the real sales world, we mortals must deal with discovery, research and forming a value hypothesis to provide an estimate of what the client needs; preferably, after we’ve had a chance to talk.

Salesperson Skills Do Not Include a Sixth Sense

Sure, we may have a good feeling about a warm call or be convinced that our mojo’s workin’ this week. But there are few instincts that can replace the diligence required for discovery and homework needed to research the prospect’s industry. Salesperson skills notwithstanding, we must have the opportunity to really listen to the prospect. Once we establish credibility and digest our conversation we need to see, feel and understand where this person is coming from. Standing next to them (figuratively) allows us to empathize with their position and connect with their confusion, fear or pain about their pending decision. Let’s be clear, empathy is not agreeing, it’s about understanding.

I care that customers think I care… and that’s enough!” – preferring to remain anonymous

Empathy as a Sales Superpower

Speaker and author, Maria Ross, discusses the role of empathy in sales and marketing with Matt Heinz in his Sales Pipeline Radio. Forever the brand strategist, Ross prefers to define connecting with people as the “empathy edge”. She informs us that using empathy as a salesperson skill gives us another method of information gathering in context with the client. It’s an emotional touch point. “It’s about being able to see and understand another person’s point of view and use that information to move forward” (Ross). Imagine the power of anticipating the prospect’s reaction and being able to adjust to those reactions. Being astute, you can change pace, double back on the track and make the changes necessary to home in on the target to close the sale. Switching gears, let’s imagine the clairvoyant seller who goes in with a prescription looking for the ailment. They have not taken the steps to see, hear, feel ,or value the pain that their prospect carries. That’s sales malpractice.

Prescription Without Diagnosis is Malpractice

Unavoidably, salespeople all too often prepare for a sales call without the necessary information. It’s a reality that exists every day for every seller. Well, James Muir offers a solution with two great responses:

  1. “Do what research you can prior to your next contact”
  2. “Make discovery the objective of your next meeting"

When searching the above quote about prescription and malpractice, I stumbled upon Muir’s article and was pleased to be directed to a sales guy. Even more so, he understands the power of empathy. In fact, he explains the missed opportunities and problems associated with sales malpractice. His urging is toward listening and empathy with the total understanding that face-​to-​face meetings are not always possible. Salesperson skills often require developing a value hypothesis and “estimating a solution” prior to having met. However, “only after you have met with the client and determined the actual scope of their need is it appropriate to suggest a solution and craft your sales objective,” says Muir. 

Talk to Your Customers

The last word goes to Maria Ross as she urges you to get in front of your customers wherever possible. Customer interviews, either formal or informal, or dropping in on sales conversations can be cathartic. You will be a better marketer, a better listener and generate more sales.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash