At least, that's what we're afraid of. It might be true that technology can be integrated into many steps of the sales process. But, thankfully, it can't do everything.
For now, there are a number of skills computers can't learn, and one of those is our human ability to create empathetic connections with prospects and customers.
This is a key ability for the modern seller. Develop empathy and you'll enjoy more effective sales conversations. More importantly, you'll build a skill set that’s in demand and hard to replace with technology.
What is Empathy?
Quite simply, empathy is the ability to understand the emotional state of another person and respond appropriately. It doesn't mean you have to feel the same thing (that's sympathy).
Empathy is your capacity to sense what’s going on in someone's else mind and guess at the best way to engage based on your understanding of that perspective.
How Empathy Drives Sales Conversations
At its heart, sales has always been about the interpersonal engagement between two people. We always hear about sales professionals being "people people." That's simply another way of saying they’re empathetic.
When we talk about emotional intelligence, one of the most important things we're referring to is the ability to recognize, understand, and respond to the emotional state of others in an appropriate way.
Think about your sales interactions. Key steps include building trust, uncovering needs, and creating confidence. If you can't do those well you're not going to find a lot of success.
All of them are driven by sales professionals' ability to create a bridge with their prospects. By picking up on the subtle and not-so-subtle clues that our conversational partners apply, salespeople with high emotional intelligence can create stronger connections and more easily influence others.
This is especially important as sales processes get more complex and involve more people. It's critical to be able to understand the motivations and thoughts of everyone involved in the process. In a world where information is a commodity, you need to be more than a source of facts and figures.
You need to possess the ability to engage on an emotional level and become a resource for potential customers. If you want to guide them through their buying journey, it's imperative you connect on the human level.
Tips for Developing Empathy
Luckily, your emotional intelligence isn't a fixed trait. Much of your empathy is developed as you mature, but it's a muscle that can be exercised and improved. There are actually pathways in our brains called mirror neurons. They have evolved to recognize and respond to the hundreds of small, usually unnoticed, signals people give off when they interact.
Taking it a step further, as we grow up, we develop what neuroscientists call the Theory of Mind. It describes our ability to put ourselves in the place of someone else and see things from their perspective. It also allows us to understand others might have thoughts, feelings, and motivations causing them to do what they do. And it's why you can pick up on the unspoken signals of your friend and ask, "What's wrong?" before they even have to tell you they just had a bad day at work.
Building your ability to pick up on these signals, and learning how to interpret them, can pay huge dividends. And it's not complicated. You don't have to take special classes or training seminars.
In fact, your daily sales activities provide constant opportunities to build your capacity. Here are five exercises you can use to cultivate your empathetic skills.
How to Develop Empathy
Pay massive attention to answers
See and hear who you’re talking to
Share small talk
Get curious about their worldview
Debrief after failed interactions
1. Pay massive attention to answers
It seems obvious, but the first step is to pay attention to the signals your prospects and customers are already sending to you. In sales conversations, it’s way too easy to get wrapped up in what you want to say.
When your mind is filled with your own agenda -- and the nervous energy of potential customers -- you aren't picking up any of the signals they’re sharing.
Before a sales conversation, engage with the other person. Write a note to remind yourself of what you want to cover, so you don't have to keep it in your head. When you ask questions, look at them and listen to their answers. And, for the love of all that is good, put away your phone.
2. See and hear who you're talking to
Digital communication has made it easy for us to connect. Email, social media posts, and texting are part of our daily engagement. But when we engage with people on those platforms, we lose two main vehicles for conveying information in a conversation: vocal tone and facial expressions.
Research shows that the power of face-to-face communication is in it being … face-to-face. When people are back-to-back in the same room, their ability to create a connection diminishes. That's how important it is to see and hear each other.
There's a place for digital communication, but challenge yourself to set up meetings by phone, video call, or in-person whenever possible. Face-to-face conversations allow for the fullest interaction, and the closer you can get to one, the more effective you’ll be.
You might have gotten lazy, or maybe you hide behind your texts and emails. Stop it.
3. Share small talk
Small talk often gets maligned as simply talking about the weather. But if you don't know someone well, talking about the weather can be a great place to start. In communication studies, there's something called "phatic communication" which is designed for a social function versus information function. In other words, it lubricates the conversation so it will go smoothly.
Too often, salespeople want to jump right in and get down to business. In doing so, you miss out on a critical step in building that initial empathetic bridge. You end up spending the rest of the conversation trying to catch up and create trust and connection on the fly, which can be challenging.
On your next sales calls, slow the tempo down in the beginning. Create rapport (e.g., the emotional connection), then move forward. Of course, you don't want to waste time, but two or three minutes of conversation at the beginning of a presentation or demo can go a long way.
4. Get curious about your prospect's worldview
Even though our minds are great at picking up subtle cues about our conversational partner’s emotional state, we can make it easier on ourselves.
Asking questions is the hallmark of any great salesperson. But you can take it a step further than simply sussing out their budget for the year or identifying other decision-makers who need to be involved.
Your sales presentation probably has questions baked in already to gather information. Beyond the facts the prospects share, pay attention to how they answer you. Are they confident, guarded, excited, upset, or defeated? You can figure out a lot of what's going on in the organization by the way the answer is framed.
Or, to be more direct, get in the habit of asking "How do you feel about that?" You could be referencing a challenge they’re having, an organizational roadblock, or even the solution you're presenting.
You're not looking for a quantitative answer. Instead, you want to gauge where they are emotionally, which will show you how to proceed.
5. Debrief after failed interactions
One of the best ways to learn empathy is to examine your empathetic failures. Those come in two forms. Sometimes, you lose a sale and have no idea why.
In that situation, you've failed to pick up on what’s motivating your prospect. In other situations, you ignore the clues and push your own agenda. For example, your prospect’s signals might have indicated they weren't ready to move forward, but you pushed them because you needed to hit quota and they ghosted you.
It's important to debrief after these interactions -- even if it's just you and a notepad. Can you accurately assess their emotional state? What was motivating them in the conversation?
Ask yourself if there were things your conversational partner shared you didn't engage with in the moment, but, in hindsight, were really important. Were there clues foreshadowing the eventual decision they made?
By replaying these conversations in your mind, you'll develop a finer instinct for developing empathy. You'll be clearer about tuning in to the conscious and unconscious signals your prospects and customers are sharing with you.
With that information, you'll be much more skillful at honing in on their true concerns and hopes. That’s a core part of emotional intelligence. Once you can understand those emotional motivations, you'll be able to sell more effectively and efficiently.
Originally published Nov 14, 2018 4:56:00 PM, updated November 14 2018