The Master Marketer BLOG

Selling With Empathy

Posted by Jeffrey Schmidt on Mon, Jul 22, 2019 @ 7 PM

Empathy: noun

the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Empathy is our base state. Human empathic abilities are always switched on; they are automatic and happen whether we like it or not.

Neuroscientists tell us we have “mirror neurons” that allow us to feel what others are experiencing. After the Monday night football game where Joe Theisman had a compound fracture of his tibia on national television, it was widely reported that people turned away from watching the replays. It was simply too painful to watch.

It took 20 years before Theisman could see the replay himself.

Empathy is part of the standard package of being human. As pack animals we have this attribute built-in. It is a part of what psychologists call our social engagement system. The empathic aspect of this relational system operates instantaneously, effortlessly and continually. You don’t have to tune it up; all you need is to tune in.

Allowing yourself to be more aware of this part of yourself will help you in all aspects of your relational life, including selling.


Empathy in Selling

Empathy is an intuitive form of knowing; it is the underpinning all human connection is built on. It’s a key element to our ability to be social. It is a foundational element of selling.

Great sales people pay careful attention to the people they are with and they’re good at making people feel heard. Listening without judgment is a key element in selling (more on that later).

Sales people are good both at tracking what is going on others and inside themselves. Here is an example: after a lengthy discussion a sales person gets a funny feeling and says to his prospective client: “I noticed your eyebrow kinda twitched a little when I was talking about timing, I got the feeling you might have reservations, is that feeling accurate or am I off a little?”

Since your client has empathetic abilities too they will be able to tell if you are saying this as a maneuver or if you are being real. This sort of interchange can make or break a sale because it is a moment of truth and trust. When done with care and feeling for yourself and your potential client it is hard to go wrong.

Talking truth in a kind way is what good sales people do. It is how we overcome hurdles such as how people generally think and feel about sales people.


The Dark Side of Selling

Keep in mind that before you ever pick up the phone, go out on a call, or meet with a client they are going to be suspicious of you simply because you are a sales person.

In our society the word selling has negative connotations for good reason. One of my early sales trainers told me about the ABCs of selling: Always Be Closing. This is a manipulative form of selling that warrants a bad reputation.

Generations of salespeople have been taught that closing matters most; the relational aspect of selling is an afterthought. This creates pushy, manipulative and uncaring salespeople.

Do a Google search for “most despised professions.” You will see a number of lists containing professions of questionable repute. A quick aggregate of these lists yields a top-three hall of shame: politicians, salespeople (especially telemarketers) and lawyers. The rank order changes from one list to another, but you get the point, this is not a list of people who are liked and trusted.

Knowing this helps you realize:

  • Your clients and prospects will be suspicious of you simply because you are a sales person — you have an agenda. 
  • With mirror neurons people can get a pretty accurate read on your intentions: are you there to make a buck or to truly help? 
  • A valuable good first impression can easily be squandered by slipping back into “sales mode” during your sales process. 

Developing Trust

Imagine a situation where your personal character is in question simply because you walked in the door! Salespeople don’t have to imagine this scenario; it’s a daily reality and it gets in the way of communication. This is not only true for salespeople; it is the true for media, businesses, and government. Here are a few statistics. 

  • According to Roundup Media only 18% of buyers respect and trust salespeople.
  • Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer reported the largest-ever drop in trust of media, businesses, and government. In 2016 45% of respondents reported trust in these institutions. That number dropped to just 33% in 2017.
  • As many as 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising, as few as 1% claim that an advertisement has actually influenced them.
  • Trinity Mirror says 58% of adults need real world proof for them to believe marketing messages.
  • Gallup Poll: 6% of Americans trust big corporations “a great deal,” and 12% trust them “quite a lot.” That means 82% of us don’t trust big business much.
  • According to AdWeek only 7% of consumers view online ads in a positive light. More than 53% use some kind of ad blocker.

The way out of this maelstrom of bad news is having a positive empathetic connection with a person. It is the most powerful ways to create a bond of trust between two people. This bond will help you overcome the built-in negative bias discussed above.

Selling with empathy sounds soft and mushy but it creates the strongest type of bond between buyer and seller: trust. Trust is the ground you need to walk on if you want a lasting relationship with your client. Trust is needed for the conversation to deepen to the point where you get the information you need to find out if you and your prospect are a good fit. 

When you sit with a person in a nonjudgmental way and share their feelings and try to understand who they are as a person, the result is often magical. If your intentions are to help, not cash-in, their mirror neurons will pick that up.

It happens fast, in an instant you will be sized up. A misstep in the early going of a sales call could be fatal. My Blog: Where Buying Decisions Are Made talks about the importance of making a good first impression, and provides a list of how to prepare for each sales encounter.

If you should have an early miscue on a sales-call your response to the mistake is critical. Why? Because your prospect will get to see how you deal with a difficult situation.

This has the potential to shorten your “sales courting period” and bring you to a level where honest and open communication happens. Since this is the goal anyway, you can turn things around by showing your prospect what you are made of in a crunch. This has the potential to make a powerful empathic impact.


You Need Information

At this point trying to sell is a mistake. If you go to fast toward closing a deal you will be perceived as a pushy and insensitive salesperson. Defensive shields will increase, and the tone of the conversation will change — not for the better.

You need information, the kind of data that can only be obtained by a conversation built on trust and mutual respect. How you get there is going to be guided by a connection built on empathy. If you see your client is visibly upset ask why. If he just lost his dog the conversation will naturally turn another direction.

For information on the three different levels of trust in the sales process take a look at my Blog Selling: The three Levels of Trust.


Honesty in the Sales Process

One of the best way to illicit trust and show empathy is to acknowledge, at an appropriate moment, that you might not be the right person to serve whomever you are sitting across from. This level of honesty is disarming — if it is genuine. Sincerity will lower the defensive shields we all have toward salespeople.

Since empathy happens whether you like it or not, and we all have functional mirror neurons (except for some autistic people), the best and perhaps only way to develop trust in another person is to be trustworthy. You need to be honestly concerned with the welfare of your client.



Think about it: do you like being pushed, maneuvered or persuaded? I have not met anybody who says yes to that question, but we all like being with other people who can empathize with us. We want to be around them. This is a great first step in a sales process.

Empathy — feeling what others feel — is built into our DNA, however I don’t advocate selling with empathy only. For information on a more well-rounded approach to selling take a look at my Blog Sales: Balancing Empathy with Assertiveness.

Posted by Jeffrey Schmidt

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