Empathy is having the ability to understand or feel the experiences of another person from their perspective. It’s about putting yourself in their position and viewing the situation through their eyes – what are they thinking? What are they feeling? Why are they having these thoughts and feelings?
For those in sales, it can seem as though empathy is the antithesis of what the industry values. Instead of seeking to sincerely understand the customer’s needs or problems, it’s about doing whatever it takes towards securing the desired outcome.
However, leading with empathy is the foundation to building genuine trust and connection with customers. When you’re able to understand where they’re coming from, the greater ability you have to influence and guide them to the right solution.
How to lead with empathy
To lead with empathy means to prioritize other people’s emotions. As a salesperson, this requires reflecting on existing habits and adopting ones that widen your understanding of your customers’ emotions, thoughts, and experiences. This may include changing your perspective, being more present, actively listening, asking clarifying questions, or pausing before responding.
Change your perspective
The key to becoming more empathetic? Get out of your own head and into your customer’s.
Imagine–literally–that you’re the one in their position. What emotions are they experiencing? Maybe they’re frustrated because their current software solution frequently crashes and causes their teams to lose hours of productivity. Being able to say to them, “I understand the frustration you’re feeling” means more than saying, “I’m sorry you’re frustrated.”
When you share a customer’s experience and validate their emotions, it creates an authentic connection built from mutual trust and understanding. Likewise, when you show a sincere willingness to not only understand their struggles, but to find the right solution that relieves them of their frustration, you’ll both attain a better outcome.
Be present and listen
While thinking three steps ahead is a useful skill, it usually means you’re absent from the present moment and more focused on getting to the last step. Customers can sense this and will likely feel that push, whether it’s intentional or not.
Take the time to slow down and be present. When you allow yourself to focus on the current moment, you are better equipped to accurately identify and manage not only your own emotions, but your customers’ as well. Likewise, being present allows you to successfully navigate tense exchanges and steer conversations in a direction that feels natural to the customer.
Being present also means practicing your listening skills. Are you truly hearing what your customer is saying or are you selectively hearing the parts you want to hear that match your understanding? Remove any bias or assumptions and truly listen. This means paying attention to not only what they’re saying, but how they’re saying it and what they’re not saying. Likewise, pay attention to their body language – you may discover their actions don’t match their words.
Ask clarifying questions
Being an active listener also means asking the right questions.
If a customer briefly mentions something that is followed by a strong emotional response, don’t be afraid to dig a little more. Asking clarifying questions can help uncover the full story of their situation.
However, don’t expect immediate or detailed answers unless you’ve established some form of trust or connection. By framing questions in a way that reflects a genuine desire to help, you’ll instill trust and give the customer the confidence to share their experiences.
Pause before responding
When dealing with situations with customers that are emotionally charged, what you say has the potential to make or break the relationship.
If you find yourself in a situation where a lot is riding on your response, take a moment to pause. Change your perspective and see the situation from their point of view. Usually, this can diffuse your initial reaction and allow you to respond from a place of understanding.
Leading with empathy allows you to manage the emotions of yourself and accurately recognize the emotions of others. As a salesperson, having this level of awareness not only improves your ability to interact with customers, but enables you to foster strong relationships and exceed business goals.
However, the key to becoming a more empathetic salesperson isn’t what you do or say during your next sales call – it’s about what you do or say in all your sales calls.
Being empathetic in work and in life
Empathy isn’t something that can easily be switched on or off depending on what hour or day of the week it is. It demands commitment and persistence in not only your work, but your life outside of work as well.
Fortunately, finding a way to include some simple yet effective habits into your routine isn’t too difficult.
Talk to people, especially strangers
The best way to understand the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of others is simple: talk to them! The more you interact with people whose perspectives differ from your own, the more aware you become of the breadth of experience that life offers. Even if you can’t relate, having an awareness of people’s needs, desires, and challenges empowers you to see the world through more empathetic eyes.
Let go of assumptions
Assumptions are shortcuts – instead of taking the time to fully understand a situation that’s not your own, your brain finds a way to fill in the blanks with what you think something is or isn’t. By doing so, you disregard the thoughts and feelings of others involved – which by definition, is an act of apathy, not empathy. Don’t hold onto preconceived notions; instead, ask questions to truly understand.
Learn to be present
Slow down and focus on each moment as it happens. When you function with a sense of urgency, it limits your ability to recognize and act on opportunities that require deeper understanding and care. Being present allows you to not only engage with the world around you, but to help others in their time of need.
To develop meaningful connections with others, give yourself permission to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t distance yourself from your emotions – it not only makes it impossible to experience your own, but to feel the emotions of others. Being honest and open, especially with people you don’t know that well, is scary business. However, by choosing to be vulnerable, you open the doors to not only genuine human connection, but also fulfilling relationships.
By adopting habits that create opportunities to be empathetic in your daily life, you not only develop a deeper understanding of the world around you, but you gain access to a wealth of emotional knowledge.
Empathy is one of the most valuable skills that one can learn. It not only allows you to bond with another person, but it enables you to understand their unique challenges, perspectives, and experiences.
In sales, leading with empathy can mean the difference between a good salesperson and a great salesperson. When you’re able to connect with a customer on a higher emotional level, the more likely they are to trust and believe in your ability to help.
As the year comes to an end and the time for reflection begins, consider your current sales strategy and process; review your habits and see if there’s room for improvement.
Ask and answer truthfully: Are you leading with empathy?
Also published on Medium.