The short answer – be a human.  Be genuine. Be open. Be curious about another person. Empathetic selling starts with seeing the other person in the conversation without expectation or obligation.

The long answer…

2022 (and beyond) will be the dawn of empathetic selling.  The most successful go-to-market teams (sales and marketing) will be known for their authenticity, insight and empathy.

The foundation of long term relationships which underlie every subscription business is mutual understanding. Effective understanding requires empathy — understanding another person’s emotional state. Empathy in sellers stems from authentic vulnerability and emotional awareness. After all, if a seller is unaware what’s happening with their own emotions, how can they help the buyer process their emotional needs?

How to Empathize as a Seller or Marketer

Listen to engage in Empathetic Selling

The most effective responses to questions and objections don’t merely solve a client’s surface-level needs: they fix the root cause. The core of a customer question or concern is typically a human need:

  • Who is this person?
  • What are their hopes, dreams, and fears?

Whether they recognize it or not, most buyers prioritize their human needs ahead of their professional preferences, so sellers should seek to understand their buyer’s personally.

For sellers today, the best connect as a person first. They’re not diving into a value proposition and a demo – they’re being real. Occasionally, I’ll hop on Zoom calls with people who seem clearly uncomfortable and I’ll ask “Would you like to do this off-camera — just on our phones?” And they’ll say “Absolutely: I’m just so tired of being on-screen!” After sharing our mutual exasperation, I’ve found prospects connect more deeply thanks to our mutual acknowledgement of our shared discomfort.

Sales scripts cannot capture the richness of authentic empathy, so incorporating human honesty and vulnerability into your sales conversations will rapidly lead to the cornerstones of a comfortable connection.

The simple script, from the Dawn of Empathetic Selling, is:

  • Why did you take this call?
  • Here’s what I heard (summarize – here’s what I heard)
    • Why the buyer has this problem
    • The urgency to solve this problem seems to be … (is this right?)
    • The other stakeholders you’ll need to align likely are (confirm or inform depending on what they know)
    • Where are you right now in solving this problem (ask and confirm)
    • The next steps seem to be (confirm or suggest)

Assist – Empathetic Selling is about being helpful

Top sales people of today are ones who recognize “My job isn’t to sell you something; my job is to help you solve a problem.” Therefore:

  • If a customer doesn’t have a problem, the seller should tell them
  • If the customer does have a problem, and they’re overwhelmed with too much information, the seller should organize that information

Success requires being honest with somebody about what’s best for them. Sellers should honestly tell prospective clients what their solution does and doesn’t do. Regardless of whether a prospective customer adopts your solution, helping them leaves a positive impression and  increases the likelihood that they recommend peers and minimizes churn.

Simplify – Empathetic Selling makes buyers’ jobs easier

Buyers are overwhelmed with options and demands on their time. The easier you make it for them to both work with you AND to engage the other stakeholders, the more valuable you are as a partner. For example, it’s best practice to send a follow up email after a meeting.  Too often, those emails are long, with multiple action items, and require effort to digest. That effort slows the process and undermines the seller’s utility to the buyer.

Short emails that can be read in 30 seconds with one action item are ideal. Including content the buyer can copy or forward to their colleagues simplifies the consensus building activities required of enterprises. Using technology like Outreach or Salesloft, sellers can craft multiple emails following the meeting and schedule them to be sent every 2-3 days so that the buyer stays engaged, but not overwhelmed. Most of these follow up emails don’t make any demands of the buyer – they are simply helpful reminders of the discussion and offer tools to help them navigate their own organizations.

The Impact of Empathetic Sales

In the long term, empathetic sales tactics enable strong, recurring relationships. If you’ve formed a strong relationship with a buyer, you can leverage that honesty to create more mutually-beneficial deals than would usually be possible.

Sometimes, for instance, an empathetic sale will allow your team to unlock a multi-year deal structure. While a customer might have been wary of such a commitment if your relationship lacked trust, after you’ve guided them through all the options, they’re more likely to be open to the idea that an implementation will take time. Imagine the power of being able to say, “Now that you’ve done your research and are pretty confident our product is the right fit, how about we commit to a specific period to enable everyone to adjust and the integrations to get up-and-running?”

Fast sales, such as ones that promise to dazzle customers with quick fixes and instantaneous results, may lead to more revenue today but quick churn tomorrow. In addition to increased client satisfaction, deep, empathetic relationships provide sellers with more reasonable clocks to prove themselves.

Looking forward, as the empathetic sale takes hold, be on the lookout for top sales teams to change their compensation structure. Buyers can tell when sellers are making a suggestion for their own self-interest. A few companies have experimented with higher base salaries for sellers and no variable other than a bonus contingent upon revenue generated and buyer feedback. Perhaps the most successful companies will weigh the buyer’s feedback on their sales experience as highly as we currently weigh compensation based on closed business. To change the behavior, we must change the incentives. 

As companies are increasingly willing to compensate people in manners other than based heavily on a percentage of their in quarter sales, they will increasingly align with a customer’s lifecycle and flow, establishing stronger, longer relationships. We’ll see increased honesty from sellers that aligns with the increasingly public world of social media and online reviews. Sales teams that previously shoved deals down client throats will increasingly find themselves involved in renewal cycles, recognizing the diminishing value of hunting and the increased value of land-and-expand. Honesty, trust, and empathy will power the sales of the future.