When I think of sales and interacting with people, I can’t think of a word that describes having a “client-centric” mindset more than empathy. This word embodies a mix of both emotional intelligence, social awareness, and the care factor that are all necessary to work with potential clients.
To make sure we are set on the definitions
Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Sympathy – feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
Sometimes these get confused so I wanted to make it crystal clear. You certainly need to be sympathetic in certain situations that call for it but empathy is more of the “state of mind” that you can relate to what people are going through and put yourself in their shoes.
Here’s an example of a situation I found myself in:
I was speaking with a potential client and we were “late-stage” with the partnership discussions and we had a follow-up call scheduled to progress this to the final steps and get started. On that call, my “champion” shared that their boss’s spouse was gravely ill and this project was on hold for a little while longer until they could get back into the office and focus on this.
I could’ve asked questions like:
Do you have any expected timeline?
What else can I do to help move the project forward
Should I follow-up in a couple of weeks to continue discussions?
All of these would have been bad ideas because it doesn’t put the client first. Sometimes there is NO timeline. Sometimes the waters are muddy and hard to navigate through. That’s not just sales, it’s life.
The empathetic approach is to recognize that there are bigger things at play here, real humans are in pain, and this (insert whatever you are selling) is not the top of mind at the moment.
It doesn’t mean it isn’t an important project or they don’t want to proceed. It’s that the timing has been shifted due to this unforeseen circumstance.
Using this logic and stepping away from the situation and looking at it from a different perspective I did a few things:
I helped my “champion” know first and foremost that I fully understand the situation and this is definitely not a good time to discuss.
I offered up myself as a resource in the comings weeks/months if they personally wanted to have conversations around process improvements away from the software
I acknowledged that there are too many unknowns to set any next steps and that I am going to put it in their hands to reach out
This approach led me to continue our great relationship, solidify myself and my company as professional and “client-focused”, and earn the right to receive a follow-up when the times were right. I built that trust through empathy.
I’ve found that taking an empathetic approach into most of my conversations has provided me the mindset to help clients even more because I’ve already convinced myself they are likely underwater on projects, are stressed about their work, and their home life isn’t an A+. Part of this gets into Emotional Intelligence and social awareness but I still think it falls under the category of empathy. If we know our business better than anyone then we should know our potential clients and all that they are going through.
With that in mind, a couple of additional thoughts to consider in your client interactions.
Be human and express you are also going through challenges as well which helps them reciprocate the empathy in a way
Re-read your emails a second time and ask yourself “what is my tone and what am I trying to accomplish by sending the email this way?”
When you hit roadblocks, don’t take it personally and try to uncover the true reasons behind it. It might not relate to anything you all have been talking about.
Remember that you can’t fake empathy, your mindset and attitude help shape those CARE muscles and if you want to get better at this then you must change your focus and outlook on the process and your interactions with every potential client.
I feel that if I was stack ranking the eight attributes that I would put empathy as higher on my list of strengths because it’s just something I’ve always done and has been in my DNA since childhood. This comes a little easier to me but it’s also allowed me to recognize the importance of it has seen its impact over the years.
I highly recommend auditing your level of empathy, both personally and professionally, and seeing where you can turn the dial in a positive direction.
More to come on empathy as I’m sure we’ll weave it into the other core attributes because it is so important but hopefully this starts giving you some thoughts about the importance of it all.