Dos and Don'ts using empathy developing sales leads

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I get asked during sessions on how to use empathy developing sales leads. Everyone talks about the importance of sales to have emotional intelligence. It is a skill we all possess to some level; some have sharpened these skills more than others.

Empathy is part of our emotional intelligence. We use it to consider others’ feelings, especially when making decisions. My response often surprises people. We are all born with the ability to empathise. It is no different from cholesterol, there is a good type and a bad type. Empathy is no different. Whether it creates a good or bad outcome depends upon how you apply your feelings and resulting actions.

So, empathy without the right discipline to control it can be dangerous in a business environment. You need to manage your emotional feelings that include empathy channelling them with a clear purpose. Using your wisdom and experience you broaden your perspective guiding those feelings to become more compassionate. These are the virtues that support businesses to become more virtuous and competitive.

In sales, our goal is that the other party walks away satisfied. That requires you to step into the other party’s shoes, to see their situation from their perspective.

The follow-on question is always “But I do that, what is so dangerous about empathy?”

In the supporting video, I use some theatrics to show why empathy can be dangerous in a business environment. We take for granted what goes on around us and assume that is what everyone else sees.

No, it is what you see and perceive; it is your reality, not theirs. That is our first important milestone. When you empathise, you are giving your meaning to what you are feeling about the other person’s situation. It is not the meaning they are giving to their situation.

Your ability to empathise has a very narrow focus, a little like a torchlight.
Let us now split the beam of light into two parts because empathy has two parts:

  1. Emotional empathy is when you are trying to understand someone’s feelings. It is a spotlight focusing on that person in the here and now.
  2. Cognitive empathy is when you are trying to work out the best way you could help them. How you can make their situation better.

It is your cognitive empathy that presents the greatest risk because you could act on it. If you do act on it you will have not seen the full picture. This is our second important milestone. Many sales engagements involve more than one person in the decision process. If you do not consider other peoples’ perspective, their teams and business goals could lead to a bad decision.

This is why empathy can pose a risk and be dangerous. If we feel strong empathy for a small minority, we could make a decision helping them that harms the vast majority. Empathising with one contact and building a sales engagement upon those feelings has been the reason why many sales reps have lost deals they forecast to win.

You need to stop yourself short of acting on your cognitive empathy. You could be making the wrong decision. People often call these bad decisions emotional decisions for a good reason. You need to understand which the good and bad decisions are. This is the reason I said empathy is like cholesterol. There is good and bad cholesterol. You guide knowing which is the good and bad empathy is by broadening your perspective.

So, what is perspective? It is a mindset that directs your behaviour. You need to align your purpose with helping the decision makers and influencers. Your shared purpose must be to achieve their priority goals. Doing so guides your perspective. This is the third milestone. You must clarify and confirm you have discovered the full picture. It is the reason why poor qualification is a major cause for sales leads slipping in a sales forecast or loss.

Solution sales is a very human experience. Without a clear purpose, your mindset will return to its short term, the narrow focus of a spotlight.
Remember empathy is innate to us all. But if we fail to imagine another person’s perspective, it can work against us. We risk making emotional decisions.

Consider we are now talking to two contacts involved in the decision process. Let us assume the first is a researcher. They do not have the authority to give us the order, but they can strike us off the short list. If you are selling a Software as a Service solution, or SaaS, the average buyer is not contacting sellers until they are 57% through the sales process. That is set to rise to 80% by 2020. (See Sales Pipeline Guide). That is important to acknowledge because you do not have much time. Focus on understanding and appreciating the researcher’s perspective. The researcher is important. Get to know their situation and perspective by stepping into their shoes.

The other person you are talking to is a Gatekeeper. What you are selling requires this person to give their approval. The Gatekeeper could also be controlling access to those people who do have the authority to say “Yes!”. Again, step into their shoes to better understand their situation and perspective.

Connecting to other people in the decision process ensures your perspective becomes broader. This is another important milestone. During all this time we have not jumped to give any of these contacts our proposal or tried to close the deal. It is far too early. We are now focused on the user influencer. They hold a lot of authority because it is their team who are going to use what you are going to propose. Make sure you step into their shoes and understand their perspective. Their decision usually carries more weight than the previous two contact roles discussed. A “No!” can kill your forecasted sale.

We next turn our attention to the financial influencer. This person handles the budget and has the authority to say “Yes!”.  They often carry the greatest weight within the decision-making process. During this whole process, you have been discovering new insights allowing you to broaden your perspective. In this simple example, you have been connecting to those people who are either influence or make the decision to buy. I have not discussed the role of the champion. We discuss the importance of building champions in other Knowledge Articles, Sales Blogs and Guides.

Sales prospecting tools help you navigate through this process. The conversational solution sales scorecard supports and guides you through the decision-making process. During this process, some very human magic will occur. This magic is what sets you apart from robots. It will allow you to coexist and prosper in a more automated world. Like an alchemist mixing different metals to create gold. We have mixed your empathy, which we will call bronze with your broadening perspective, which we will call silver.

Those who follow through on their cognitive emotions may strike it lucky. Most of the time they will make poor decisions. What they are doing is rubbing the bronze thinking it is gold and making decisions. Acting on empathy alone is like holding ‘Fools Gold’. You think it is gold, but it is not. By mixing empathy with your perspective, you have created compassion, which is the magic. It is also a valued sales skill and considered a human virtue.

While you are building relationships with all the contacts in the decision-making process, you also need to be sympathising with their situation. This allows you to hold back acting on your cognitive empathy until you have understood their business situation and have the full picture. All this time you will be expanding your perspective for when you do act.

You have been focussing on discovering all the facts to get you into the strongest position possible to get a “Yes!”. Because you have taken the time to understand each contacts’ situation and perspective, you can show compassion and sympathise with them. Doing so reduces pressure for you to act based on their situation and perspective. They will recognise you are being authentic and respect your compassion. Your empathy and perspective are guiding you. It is moving you towards how to serve the influencers’ and decision makers’ priority goals best. You have not moved off course with idle chit chat or making a hasty decision. These decisions often turn out to be the wrong and worst decisions.

To wrap it up, when you think of empathy again, become an alchemist and create compassion. This very human magic helps you broaden your perspective, guiding you to better serve your sales leads helping them to achieve their priority goals and outcome objectives. These insights and compassion are worth its weight in gold to you!

Develop your sales leads by leading with compassion, not empathy. Doing so you will strengthen your sales pipeline. Your sales forecast will be more accurate and you will build more trusted relationships. It could even help you close deals quicker than you have been doing up to now.

If you have enjoyed this explanation on how to best use empathy, follow what we are doing on LinkedIn and regularly visiting our Knowledge Hub. We will be addressing other valuable insights on how to improve and sharpen your human selling skills.

Download our Guides.  The Sales Pipeline Guide for Sales Teams & Business Owners. Within this guide, you can also download another guide – Using Sales Prospecting Tools to Improve Sales Pipeline Reviews.

About the Author

Treve Wearne is the founder of Nazca Services Limited. Treve supports businesses and sales teams positioning themselves and increasing sales revenues. Improving sales forecasts, talent development and retention in the most challenging business environments.