Sales Empathy and Emotional Intelligence in Selling

sales empathy and emotional intelligenceIt was time to visit a newer client of ours and this meeting would be at least two hours to go over our findings about their sales leadership, sales reps, sales process, and pipeline. Because we leave plenty of time as a buffer so that we are never late to clients, we ended up with thirty minutes to spare.

Not to worry as there conveniently is a green mermaid coffee chain location ten minutes from their offices.

The two of us got nice, hot beverages on this very cold day outside of Boston.

As we continue the drive to the client, a thought hits me like a brick. We can’t bring our coffees in with us.

Two of us meeting the two leaders of their $300 million company – before we’ve built a trusted relationship -- we need to think about what we say and what we do in our early meetings.  Can you imagine if you were having a meeting at your office and two people who were coming in to help you brought piping hot, "branded" coffees for themselves and not for you?

It's a little thing, but just thinking about how they would feel and reacting accordingly is empathy.

I’m not saying this to pat us on the backs, instead I like to give concrete examples when I see them or are involved in them, especially since I’m told that we have a lack of empathy in society today.

Perhaps you don’t drink coffee and it would be no big deal – but if you did, and if seeing a cup triggers your Pavlovian tendencies – it would be a negative in the beginning of a new business relationship.

Empathy is about putting yourself in the shoes of others and seeing things from their point of view.

As it turned out, one of the two leaders we met with that day had very guarded body language (arms crossed, close to the body) and said very little as we unveiled our findings. As we all started discussing what we were seeing, he began to come around and by the end of the meeting was friendly, appreciative, and they are moving forward with more of our work.

It made me think about how important early signals, words, and other communication are when building a new relationship with a buyer or client are.

Early Signals In a Relationship Are Important

When meetings are done exclusively by phone or video conference it is more difficult to read people. I can blank out my video or just talk by phone and you will have little idea where my attention is focused.

For you to empathize with me, you need to understand me. Ask good questions.

Ask Good Questions to Understand

Today I was surprised that a good, industry friend of mine hadn’t replied to two of my recent emails. I really needed to hear back from her regarding a proposal I had sent that was time sensitive.

You know how many sales reps simply hit “FWD” and send the same e-mail message over and over? First, please don’t do that – it is lazy. Second, it shows a lack of creativity and is ineffective.

The Email Forward Is Ineffective

I thought to myself that this person must be incredibly busy because she’s really good at replying to me same day. Now that I really need her input, she’s not getting back to me.

So I sent her a new email and said that I figure she must be in the middle of a big initiative or tight deadline because I hadn’t heard back from her. I mentioned the two things I needed from her as soon as possible and that I didn’t want to bug her.

Within 3 minutes I got a reply. She is a VP of Sales and told me that their sales kickoff was happening this week. I know how crazy SKOs can be, so I was pleased to get her quick reply.

Again, I had stopped in my tracks to not just think about myself and what I needed. This is a hard practice to get into, and I have learned through many errors over the years how to do it better. By crafting the email as I had, it caused her to want to immediately get back to me and confirm that I was correct in my assumption. She forwarded on what needed to be done, and all worked out.

Check the Health of Your Sales Teams

My colleague Colleen Stanley wrote a great post on Quotable about empathy with a video to watch.

I encourage you to see it, and to see what situations unfold around your buyers and customers where you can put yourself in their shoes. 

Lori Richardson  helps mid-sized companies grow revenues by solving key issues in their sales department - like recruiting, retention, diversity hiring, process, pipeline and leadership. She speaks at CEO groups on topics of sales growth. Clients include companies in the technology, telecom, manufacturing, distribution, and professional services industries. Subscribe to the award-winning blog, follow her on Twitter
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