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Sales organizations invest thousands of dollars in sales training every year. They offer such programs as lead generation, asking effective questions, negotiation, and account management.

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to training. The good news is that the company is investing in its sales team’s professional development. The bad news is that most sales coaching and training programs don’t teach an important skill for influencing people: empathy.

Empathy is an emotional intelligence skill, defined as the ability to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. It’s the ability to know what another person is thinking or feeling. Without empathy in sales, a salesperson can’t influence others, and prospects don’t buy from salespeople who don’t understand them.

So what can salespeople do to learn this powerful selling skill? It’s fairly simple. But as we all know, simple doesn’t mean it’s always simple to do.

Here are two concepts to help you develop empathy in sales:

1. Pay attention.

Yep, it’s that simple. Turn off your smartphones and tune into your prospect. Many salespeople are losing their ability to connect with others. In their desire to connect, they actually disconnect. Salespeople constantly check email or texts, worried about the conversations they are missing. Instead, they often miss the conversation happening right in front of them.

Empathetic salespeople know you must be present to win. When you are present and focused, you pick up many nonverbal communication clues from prospects, such as a change in tonality, facial expression, or body language. The empathetic salesperson picks up on those clues, and adjusts his or her questions and approach.

Let’s look at a salesperson selling recruiting services. She meets with a manager who  lost a key employee who left unexpectedly. The empathetic salesperson notes the stress in the prospect’s voice and face, and acknowledges the situation. “John, I’m really sorry to hear about Patricia. If I were you, I would be feeling both disappointed and frustrated with the short notice.” This empathetic salesperson knows that her prospect doesn’t want to answer a bunch of questions or hear advice until he knows that someone feels his pain.

2. Take your shoes off.

The best salespeople step out of their shoes and into those of their potential client. They think about a day in the life of their prospects, with the goal of creating a deeper connection.   

Incorporate stepping into your prospect’s shoes in the pre-call planning. Ask yourself a few questions:   

  • What time does this person’s day start or end?
  • How many high-priority plates is this person spinning?
  • What are the stressors of her position?
  • What are his underlying worries and fears?
  • Where is she getting resistance when initiating change?

Incorporate this insight into your sales conversation. “Melanie, I imagine there are days where it gets a little tiring being the change agent. It’s the old two steps forward, one step back. How are you managing?”

The empathetic salesperson treats his prospects the way he likes to be treated. He doesn’t avoid tough subjects or potential objections to doing business. He knows concerns are part of the day in the life of his prospects and a natural part of doing business.

For example, you’ve got a great product and it can solve your prospect’s problem. However, purchasing your product requires internal changes, time, and use of resources. The empathetic salesperson stops trying to close and focuses on connecting. He steps into the prospect’s shoes and brings up her concerns. “Janet, there are definitely things my company can do to improve your current situation.   However, if I were in your shoes, I would be worried about the amount of time and resources it’s going to take to make this change. Would this be of value to discuss further?”         

The prospect is relieved: Someone gets me! And who do prospects buy from? Clued-in salespeople or clueless salespeople?  

At your next sales meeting, use and apply your hard selling skills. But don’t forget about the soft skills. Empathy in sales creates an emotional connection, which elevates the sales conversation. Pay attention to the verbal and nonverbal communication. Step into your customer’s shoes and see the world from their perspective. It’s a great view for building long-lasting relationships and business.       

Empathy creates an emotional connection, which elevates the sales conversation.​”

Colleen Stanley | President and Chief Selling Officer, SalesLeadership, Inc.
Quotable Video Highlight
Watch Colleen Stanley discuss how to use Emotional Intelligence as a key influence skill.

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