Welcome to "The Pipeline" — a new weekly column from HubSpot, featuring actionable advice and insight from real sales leaders.
The best salespeople make sales personal. They put thought and careful consideration into the deals they make, and they work — first and foremost — to solve for their prospects.
Salespeople need to know how to be empathic and thoughtful while still making sales — and sometimes, that process is easier said than done. To offer some perspective on empathy in sales and how to fold it into your interactions with prospects, we asked some sales leaders for their advice and insight.
Let's see what they had to say.
1. Always be empathetic.
Empathy and thoughtfulness already need to be ingrained in your sales efforts. As HubSpot Sales Manager Alex Riffle puts it, "I always try to lead with empathy and think about how our tools could solve challenges prospects or customers are likely facing. The approach doesn't change — even as the challenges we're solving for do."
Selling effectively tends to mean positioning yourself as a reliable resource for your prospect and framing your solution as the most effective remedy for their pain points. You can't do either of those if you're only selectively empathetic — so remain in tune with your prospect's needs, feelings, and interests at every stage of the sales process.
2. Lead with genuine curiosity, concern, and interest in helping your prospect.
Carl Ferreira, Refine Labs' Director of Sales, expressed a similar sentiment. He advises reps to lead with the prospect in mind. He says salespeople should ask, "Who are [my prospects]? How are they doing? What challenges are they facing?"
He also stressed that keeping your prospect's interests top-of-mind benefits everyone involved in a sale. He says, "Leading with genuine curiosity, concern, and a real interest in helping your prospect to do their work better will help you stand out in the 'sea of same.' Empathy is not an emotion to fake while having an agenda to cram a solution down their throat."
3. Ask prospects, "How are you doing?"
Remaining empathetic in sales means keeping a pulse on how your prospects are feeling — both about the sale and in general. Understanding both sides will inform key elements of your messaging, the degree of pressure you can apply in the conversation, and what aspects of the sale they're most willing to discuss.
Jordan Benjamin, Principal Partner Sales Manager at HubSpot, offered this advice, "My go-to question is 'How are you doing?' I try to use a tone that shows I really care and am curious to hear.
"It may take up one minute of the conversation — it might take up 15. But that's where I want to start. I want to hear where my prospects are coming from to see if they want to open up or just get down to business."
4. Focus on relationship-building.
Empathy in sales is not just a means to an end. Don't reserve it exclusively for deals you're trying to close immediately. Selling empathically is about building relationships, caring about the customers and prospects you serve, and doing what you can to put them first.
Daniel Wolter, HubSpot Sales Manager, had this to say. "Sales is all about empathy and understanding individual business cases, but it's also about giving some good advice and alternatives — like changing payment terms, working with trials, or setting the contract start date a month ahead or two."
He says, "We talk with a lot of businesses day in and day out. That allows us to spread information that could be beneficial for individual prospects. These relationships that we build during the sales process are the key to winning the deal. If not now or next month, prospects will remember this and will get back to us as soon as they can."
5. Remain present and understand your prospect's current situation.
Brandon Kirsch, HubSpot Founding ServiceHub PreSales Specialist, stressed the importance of remaining mindful of where your prospect is right now — taking the time to focus on the present, not just where they've been or where they might be headed.
He says, "I try to enjoy the conversation and focus on [my prospect's] reality. I've found that being present and understanding their current situation has led to more focused conversations that might not translate into MRR right away — but they've absolutely saved me time and allowed me to make the right play call to keep things moving one way or another."
6. Follow the LAER technique.
HubSpot Channel Account Manager, Sharen Murnaghan adds, "Great salespeople really give a damn about their prospects, customers, company, and reputation. And they're keen not to damage any. For this reason, structured techniques like LAER can be helpful.
"Following the steps of 'listening, acknowledging, exploring, and responding' allows salespeople to stay in control of the process, keep their prospect or customer engaged, and build relationships based on understanding and trust. The sale may or may not happen — that's beyond the sales reps' control — but the reputation of empathy will stay strong in the long term "
7. Understand how to pace your sales efforts.
A key component of leading with empathy in sales is knowing when to hit the gas and knowing when to pump the brakes. Understanding when to stop contacting a prospect or customer for a certain amount of time is one of the more concrete ways to demonstrate your empathy as a salesperson.
As HubSpot Principal Account Executive, Kevin Ngyuen, puts it, "The reality is your product could solve all of a prospect's immediate problems and deliver a 300% ROI, but if they're feeling overwhelmed and confused by the situation, you've got a problem.
"This is where sales is both a science and an art. You're dealing with humans. And I hate to say it, but humans have emotions. If it 'doesn't feel right' then they'll never buy — so you've got to appeal both logically and emotionally."
The question becomes, "How can you make your interactions with a prospect 'feel right'?" Well, being mindful of how you pace your sales efforts is central to that process. Ngyuen suggests sales reps "slow down the deal at the beginning to accelerate the deal at the end"
Building solid relationships with prospects and customers lays the foundation for productive sales efforts. Consistently showing genuine empathy can facilitate that process. Salespeople need to listen to potential customers and consider their perspectives.
In doing so, they can get a feel for how to best approach them with compassion and better understand when they should give them some space — and all of that amounts to more fluid, thoughtful, successful sales efforts.