When we say we teach empathy, it’s really about reminding people to be empathetic — something we are wired for as humans. Empathy involves putting yourself in the shoes of your customers in order to relate to their world. One way we encourage empathy is by offering guidelines for the questions salespeople ask their customers.
For example, we suggest they seek specific examples from their customers, not what “usually” happens, and elicit stories as often as possible. Salespeople find that not only is this a different way to engage customers, they also uncover so much more because they stay present and ask more questions than usual.
For curiosity, there are several design tools we offer. One is called “fly on a wall” and the other is called “show me.” For fly on a wall, we send the salespeople to a paint store to practice the technique. We’ll instruct them not to engage with anyone and only observe the environment around them. They look for how people enter the store, how they exit, and what seems meaningful to them while there and what doesn’t. From this observation, they can begin to derive what customers care about.
The other tool, “show me,” is more hands-on. Instead of asking customers how they, for example, enter data, the salesperson asks, “Can you show me how you do that?” Often, what people say they do and what they actually do is different. We are teaching salespeople to be detectives — and collect relevant information about their customer’s world that point to underlying motivation and unmet needs.
The third pillar is customer-centricity. We remind salespeople, “It’s not about you, it’s about them.” We encourage sellers to begin to derive insights about what their customers care about, and even their customer’s customer, so they can share this with their customer. This is not about offering solutions, or even being “right,” but rather an attempt to spark a different kind of conversation about what the customer values.