To Grow Sales, Cultivate Empathy

November 2018

Smart Selling: Distributor Sales Strategies From HIDA

By Elizabeth Hilla
Senior Vice President, HIDA

Some people are naturally empathetic – they easily sense and understand other people’s perspectives. If you’re one of those people – congratulations! But if you’re not, no worries – you can cultivate your own ability to empathize.

Why is empathy so valuable in sales?
Understanding your customer or prospect’s perspectives and reactions is the secret sauce for many successful sales reps. Empathy allows you to:

  • Emotionally connect with your customers because they see that you “get them.”
  • Anticipate likely objections to your proposal, and either address them in advance, or be prepared to respond when the objections arise.
  • Know what’s likely to confuse your client, so that you can think about how to communicate concepts in a simpler way.
  • Understand how much detail the customer wants to hear, and avoid going too deep and/or talking too much.
  • Identify what’s really important to your customer.

How do I become more empathetic?
As you prepare for your sales call, try to imagine what’s going on with your customer, and how he or she is likely to respond to your message.

Start by stepping into their shoes, in your own mind. Imagine what it’s like to be that person. If you were a nursing home administrator, for example:

  • What would your average day be like?
  • What would your biggest concerns and problems be?
  • What kind of everyday aggravations might be stressing you out?

Now, imagine being that administrator and listening to your sales pitch. Where does this solution stack up in terms of your other priorities as an administrator?

By thinking through the customer’s perspective – stepping into their shoes – you will likely think of ways to make your solution more relevant, and to make sure you come across as a sales rep who is trying to help them solve a problem, not just sell something. Your sales call might begin with a question tailored by this thinking: “Amanda, you have a heck of a big job here – so many things to accomplish and never enough staff to get it all done, am I right?” If appropriate, that might lead into a conversation about your solution, for instance, a new time-saving distribution service.

During the sales call itself, your eyes and your ears are your best tools for empathy.

  • Ask questions, and really listen to the answers rather than thinking about the next step of the call.
  • Watch the customer’s body language as well – does he or she appear interested? Confused? Resistant?

The empathetic salesperson uses these clues to course-correct through the sales call.

Use your experiences
Your experiences with other customers can also help you be more empathetic. What questions or objections have other similar customers raised? Let’s say you think a physician practice could really benefit from doing a particular diagnostic test on site, but that the product requires a trained staff person to run it, and that often arises as an objection. An empathetic salesperson can anticipate the customer’s concerns, and even bring them up proactively. “Clare, I think your patients would really benefit from having EKG testing here on location rather than being sent to a specialist. However, if I were in your shoes, I’d be worried about the amount of staff time involved. Would you like to take a look at it together to see if it makes sense?”

Empathy is particularly essential when you’re dealing with a service problem. For example, the customer calls to tell you that a delivery didn’t arrive, or wasn’t complete. An empathetic response like, “Juan, I don’t blame you for being frustrated. I’d be mad too if I didn’t get the product I ordered,” can help diffuse the anger while showing the customer you feel their pain as you move quickly to solve the problem.

Work hard to cultivate empathy. Imagine yourself in the customer’s seat. It helps you connect, build relationships, and show customers that you understand them.