7 Steps for Selling with Empathy

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You can have a breakthrough product, powerful messaging, and a polished presentation, but if you can’t connect with your buyer in a meaningful way, you’ll have a hard time making the sale.

Why? An often overlooked, but critical, aspect of a seller’s success is the ability to make an emotional, personal connection with the buyer. Conveying likability, building trust, and demonstrating understanding of a buyer’s needs and pain points builds a strong relationship that helps validate a purchase decision. This approach, based on cultivating empathy and bringing more humanity into sales, is called “consultative selling,” and its time has come.

A Smarter Sales Approach

In the wake of COVID-19, the way sales teams connect with buyers has fundamentally shifted. In-person sales pitches, sharing printed sales materials (not to mention a handshake to seal the deal)—these practices have vanished. In their place are virtual meetings; longer, slower sales cycles; and fewer sales opportunities while businesses struggle to reopen and assess the way forward. It’s that last fact that underscores the value of consultative selling. In challenging times like these, it’s more important than ever to meet buyers wherever they are, consider their concerns, make real connections, and offer solutions.

If you step back from this moment, you realize that those approaches make good sense all the time—not just now during worldwide upheaval. Not only is it a more supportive approach for the buyer, consultative selling actually helps salespeople feel more fulfilled at work and can help them be more successful, too.

Research proves it. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, found that people would rather conduct business with someone they trust and like versus someone they don’t, and here’s the kicker—this holds true even if the latter person offers a lower-priced, better product.

Empathy vs. Emotional Intelligence

So how can sales leaders help their teams adopt a truly human approach to selling?

It starts with helping salespeople cultivate empathy and emotional intelligence. Just like any skill, some people come by them naturally; others need to develop them.

First, it helps to understand the difference:

  • Empathy: the ability to understand and be sensitive to another person’s feelings and experiences.
  • Emotional intelligence: the ability to identify and manage emotions in yourself and others.

7 Steps to Successful Consultative Selling

Sales leaders can take these steps to cultivate a consultative selling culture using empathy and emotional intelligence:

1. Set the standard. The shift to consultative selling will be new for many. Educating your team on the “why,” mapping the way forward for training and coaching to this new approach, and demonstrating your commitment to it will help solidify the new standard for your team.

2. Start at the top. Leaders in the sales organization must lead by example for the new standard to stick. Equip them with the training they need to develop and refine their own empathy and emotional intelligence skills. Then help them share that knowledge with their teams through training. Strengthening empathy and emotional intelligence skills takes work and reinforcement, which is why it’s important to have ongoing coaching to support the approach. Versatile training and coaching software will help streamline this crucial step.

3. Revamp your messaging and content. When in-person sales meetings aren’t an option, your messaging and sales content need to work harder. It’s a good time to review your sales content with a critical eye. Does it address buyers’ needs and concerns? Is it easy to read? And is it readily accessible and ungated? Also, consider toning down the selling and blatant promotion in your materials and instead take a helping, consultative approach, including valuable industry insight and information backed by reliable sources.

4. Make the time. Shifting selling approaches takes extra time initially. Be sure to allow for that and look for ways to free up your team so they can build their new skills. Sales enablement technology can help by automating time-consuming tasks like content management and tracking client interactions

5. Create affinity. Some people are naturally more empathetic than others, but everyone could use practice understanding another person’s worldview. One way to do that is to challenge salespeople to “walk in their buyer’s shoes”—imagining challenges their buyers face or sharing an actual anecdote from a prospect. Have each salesperson share their story so the team can learn from each other.

6. Put it on repeat. Building emotional intelligence takes time and repetition. This is not a “one and done” conversation. Have your trainers, coaches, and leaders make it a priority to weave messages of empathy, emotional intelligence, and the value of consultative selling into everything they do—every asset, every conversation.

7. Add accountability. Once you’ve trained and coached your team on consultative selling, make sure they’re putting their new skills to use in the field. Consider using meeting intelligence technology to record seller’s calls and see how sellers are putting this to work.

While this pandemic has brought out a shift to digital and virtual activity, the fact still remains: Human connection is a critical part of the buying process. As we head into the “new normal,” it’s the sales organizations that can truly embrace consultative selling that will succeed in creating more intelligent, meaningful connections with their buyers.

Louis Jonckheere is cofounder and president of Showpad. Jonckheere started at Showpad in May of 2011 and currently resides in Chicago near the company's North American headquarters.

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