‘Tis the season… the holiday season, the season of giving, the season of kindness, compassion, and love. It’s a time for joy. As we round out 2020 and approach the end of a long, crazy year, one that has changed so much in the world of selling and the world in general, we thought it would be appropriate to examine the role of empathy in our world – how empathy can positively impact the world of selling, and virtual selling.
How can we bring more light to the beginning of the wintertime darkness? How can we show more empathy? Not just in our personal lives, but in our professional lives as well.
Sympathy vs. Empathy
It’s important to open by defining and highlighting the differences between sympathy and empathy.
Sympathy (n) – the feeling of being sorry for somebody; showing that you understand and care about somebody’s problems.
Empathy (n) – the ability to understand another person’s feelings, experience, etc.
Sympathy is good, but it’s almost easy. When taken too far, it can feel like pity. You feel sorry for someone, but you’re disconnected from that feeling on a personal level, you don’t internalize it. Sympathy requires less energy, less OtherCentered(R)ness than having empathy.
Empathy is on a very different plane, it takes sympathy to another level. Empathy involves the capacity for understanding, to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
How Empathy affects Receptivity
Our Cornerstone Principle informs everything we teach in sales training, and covers this idea of someone being emotionally open, or receptive.
Empathy can be the key to unlocking someone’s emotional receptivity. This goes for anything life, not just selling – it’s true for relationships, friendships, family dynamics, etc.
In our current reality, the world feels very uncertain. People are afraid for their jobs, their health, the families, their futures. People are distracted and overwhelmed. They’re probably not very receptive to being talked at or sold to.
We shift from “selling” to creating receptivity with our customers with the two Ps:
- pressure and
This means you’re making the customer the priority (putting their needs and interests before your own) and removing the pressure (not forcing them into anything).
Empathy directly impacts the first “P,” making them the priority. Empathy is not just what you feel, it’s what you share. It’s all about making a connection. The deepest need we all have in any relationship, not just selling relationships, is to be uniquely appreciated and understood.
Think about regulars at a coffee shop. They feel uniquely seen and appreciated and understood when the barista remembers their order. “Hey Scott, having the usual?”
That feeling of connection matters to people. They feel like a priority; the barista is making them feel like a priority.
Once that connection is made, the customer does feel like a priority, and now everything that you say, do, or recommend (as the seller) is about them being the priority. This is where receptivity skyrockets. The customer will share more about their needs, open up more about their goals, give you more of the truth – because they feel like you are on their side, have their best interest in mind, and won’t use anything against them.
When your customer is receptive, they will actively listen to what you share and recommend in regards to how it might actually help their business, instead of just waiting for you to stop talking so they can brush you off and hang up the phone.
Faking this will not work. Your empathy must be genuine to actually increase your customer’s receptivity. Don’t patronize people. Sympathy isn’t bad, but it’s not helpful or unique. It doesn’t ensure that your customer feels like your priority.
I love the book, 212° The Extra Degree, which talks about that extra degree of effort. Go the extra mile for your people, your customers, by elevating sympathy to empathy.
In Virtual Selling…
Let’s get into how we demonstrate this as sellers, because this is so important for sellers, and leaders of sellers, alike.
Thanks to the current pandemic, we’re all in relatively the same situation. Most people are working from home, making adjustments to their routines and ways of living. This is a good time to “practice” empathy, because it’s easier when you’ve actually been in that person’s “shoes.” Right now, when you’re meeting with someone virtually, you can actually understand what they’re going through, because to some degree, we’re all experiencing the same thing.
The book Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman talks about 3 types of empathy: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate. There are subtle but distinct differences between these 3 kinds of empathy and their characteristics. In the words of Goleman:
Cognitive empathy: “Simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Sometimes called perspective-taking.”
Emotional empathy: “When you feel physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious.”
Compassionate empathy: “With this kind of empathy we not only understand a person’s predicament and feel with them, but are spontaneously moved to help, if needed.”
Compassionate empathy is where your head and heart come together, with compassionate empathy. This is what we should be aiming for.
4 Key Takeaways
We’ll move from the why to the how, with these 4 ideas:
1 – Decide
Make a decision – decide to have empathy for the other person. You cannot fake being OtherCentered. You cannot fake empathy. Your motive must be genuine.
2 – Feeling
In order to understand what someone is feeling and experiencing, you really need to make the effort to put yourself in their shoes, really imagine what they are feeling. The better you can put yourself in their situation mentally and emotionally, the more effective you will be in developing empathy.
3 – Feed it back
Communicate it back to them. Articulate your customer’s perspective and what they’re going through. Vocalize how you think they must be feeling. This is where you need to be extremely authentic and genuine, or it will come across as a tactic, or worse, patronizing. This opens up a great conversation, and the customer knows you’re in their corner.
4 – Your Decision as a Seller
This has to inform your decision as a seller: What do you do next? Should I sell? Should we talk now? Is now the right time? What do I sell? Is there anything I can give my customer for free?
There are things about your selling process that should change based on all of the above.
Ultimately, we hope that these ideas and our 4 takeaways have helped you as a seller think through ways to have empathy, display empathy, and serve your customers with a heart.
If your team is struggling to make the transition to virtual selling, click here for our new program.
We would be happy to understand your challenges and see if we can help. ASLAN started as an inside sales training company in 1996, working to help sales teams overcome the very same challenges we are all facing today in the world of virtual selling.
As President of ASLAN, Marc is responsible for all day-to-day operations including our sales and marketing efforts and growing our success in helping our clients be Other-Centered®.