Everyone’s talking about selling with empathy right now, but truth be told I’m not seeing it executed extremely well. Here are some quick tips I’ve pulled from our Expert Listening and Questioning courses to help.
Quick note: If you’re not seeing activity from your team right now, you have a training gap. They may know what you want, but feel uncomfortable in doing it. Talk with them 1:1 and do a training session on what you want, how it sounds, and help them practice to build confidence.
Empathy in sales works wonders when we’re evoking a true connection with our client or prospect. That means by the end of the conversation, we understand where they are AND how they are feeling about it. We won’t get that with just one question.
Just like how “normal pitches” are especially gross right now, “rote empathy” is too. Rote empathy is the single question before the pitch or sales process. It likely doesn’t include a follow-up question and may even skip waiting for an answer. Some examples I’ve received in the past week:
“Hi LB, trust all is fine with you in these crazy times. I’m writing to tell you about…”
“Hi LB, is all OK with you and yours?” Glad to hear it, I’m calling because…”
“Hi LB. How are you? It’s the new normal! Tell me, what is your team doing about…”
True empathetic selling comes from showing the speaker we care about them and their answers enough to dig another level or two deeper, internalize the answer, and then share in return. Try follow-up questions like:
“So, how are you coping this week?”
“How has your reaction changed over the past few weeks?”
“Tell me more about how your team is adapting”
“What are you and your colleagues focused on most during this crisis?”
“Describe the impact on your business. Your team. Your life.”
“What’s it like working from home?” “Are you also managing little ones or homeschooling?”
Even as I type these examples, it’s nearly impossible not to type 4 questions on each line as my second, third, fourth question. Empathy is in the follow-up.
Try this rule of thumb: Ask until you get something you can connect to. If you’re getting surface-level answers, ask about what’s been great or what’s been the toughest. Then be ready to share your own experience. Empathetic connection is a two-way street.
Remember, empathy is about being able to see life from the speaker’s point of view. It’s a walk in their shoes. Sympathy is feeling sorry for them, empathy is understanding and dare-say connecting with them.
Great empathetic exchanges follow questions with statements. “Catching phrases” that show you heard and even understand.
“That sounds like a real challenge.”
“You seem so resilient.”
“That must be hard.”
“I’d feel so frustrated in your shoes.”
It’s an active listening technique that builds some feeling into your response. Conversely, sympathy is more like:
“I’m so sorry for your struggles.”
“I’m really feeling for you right now.”
A business colleague only wants sympathy if they’ve lost a loved one, folks. Don’t feel sorry for them, try to understand how they are feeling and let them know you heard it.
Empathetic selling is also about timing. Right now we need to slow the sales cycle. If you normally got 10 pieces of information, a follow-up meeting, and a quote on call one, set that goal for call three or four. Let’s all agree to make call one about understanding and building empathy. Then let’s shoot for understanding their situation and challenges today. Not only will this prevent you from being in the “rote empathy” bucket, it will help show you the path to sell your solution – be it immediate or down the road.
Leaders, two last pieces of advice:
Dig into this with your teams. Invest in some training to build these skills so you’re not hurting your brand and future pipeline. (Need some help with this? We’ve added new courses to The Sales Bar focused on empathy and selling during COVID-19. Click here to request info.)
Secondly, take a look at changing some call goals with your teams. It could be your pressure that’s helping the team come off as insensitive right now.