Empathy: The Guidance System
The first key quality we found to be of critical importance to sales success is empathy. Empathy is the ability to read others. It’s knowing what drives them. It’s being able to intuit their strengths, limitations, potential, and motivations. Empathy is the ability to pick up the subtle clues and cues provided by others in order to accurately assess what they are thinking and feeling.
Thus, in order to sell effectively, you must understand how a prospect or client is feeling while still maintaining your own sense of identity, your own purpose, and your own objectives. A salesperson simply cannot sell without this invaluable and irreplaceable ability.
Individuals who are genuinely empathic have very high levels of flexibility, openness, and sensitivity. They have natural warmth, which others immediately sense and respond to. When someone who is empathic asks how others are, they often receive a real, sometimes surprising answer. We sense that they care, and as a result, our relationships can become more open and meaningful.
Andrew Skipp, president and CEO of Hubbard-Hall, Inc., a leading chemical manufacturer, distributor, and service provider, told us how empathy has been at the heart of his company culture since its founding in 1849, and, therefore, empathy infuses how the company comes through for its customers.
“Everything we do is really about making our clients more successful. How can I help make the person I’m working with be more successful in his or her job? How can I provide a solution that will make his or her life better? It is really about developing those individual relationships in a way where you help them succeed. And that comes from trust.”
Empathy is the starting place for connecting with a client, as well as for being able to understand his or her unique problem and being able to see beyond the obvious. Inside of empathy is a genuine interest and a real curiosity.
“By way of example, one of our top salespeople had a client who was purchasing massive amounts of several different raw materials from us. Now some salespeople might just say, ‘That’s wonderful.’ Then do everything they could to make sure we were delivering our material on time. But this particular salesperson wanted to delve below the surface and deepen her relationship with our customer. So she asked why they were purchasing these particular materials. And she discovered that they were mixing them to create another product. But that process was complicated for them, involving exact amounts of specific quantities, and there was a lot of waste in the procedure, let alone time lost. After consulting with our chemists, our salesperson was able to come back to our customer with an idea of how we could blend these raw materials for them, creating their base mixture and delivering it as they needed it, eliminating any need for storage and waste. So we’ve been able to come through for our customer in a way that is a great win-win. We’re selling them tanker loads of the mixture they need, and they’ve increased their manufacturing capabilities while decreasing their production cycle.”
It all starts with empathy, with really listening and connecting on a deeper level.
Ed Kaplan, group vice president of Human Resources at K. Hovnanian Homes, a nationally recognized homebuilder for over a half century, told us about a critical selling path he teaches that has 22 steps.
And each of the steps starts with empathy.
“We are heavy into relationship selling. You know, you can go to a department store, pick up a purchase, go to the cash register, and check out. You don’t do that with homes. For our buyers, who are having a home built for them, the process can take up to nine months. The buyers need to get comfortable, looking at all the ins and outs and considering that home against a wide variety of similarly priced homes.”
So it all has to start with the relationship that the salesperson develops with the potential buyer.
“It’s all about creating that relationship, keeping the home buyers coming back on a regular basis, being keenly aware of their wants and needs, keeping them excited, and ultimately, introducing them to the right home for them. If they believe in you, you have an opportunity to make a sale. If they don’t, you won’t.”
Buying a home is the largest purchase most people will make. So the salesperson has to be able to connect with the potential buyers in a way that is real and genuine, getting to know who they are, what they’re about, their hopes and dreams. “If you are buying a home to be built for you, our salesperson will have an active relationship with you anywhere from six to nine months while your home is going up. There are various touch points. Most people come to visit their home as it’s being built on a regular basis. So the salesperson accompanies them, keeping them informed, addressing each and every concern, and maintaining their enthusiasm. That takes a real connection. Genuine empathy. And that has to continue through the end of the sale and beyond. That’s for two reasons. One is that our homes are under warranty. So the salesperson is still responsible for the sale for 5 or 10 years down the road. And second, every successful salesperson knows that even though there will be basically one payday per customer, the depth of the relationship will be reflected in the number of referrals that come afterward.”
The empathy is never designed to end. In relationship selling, empathy is at the heart of the relationship.
“I tell all our sales consultants that the ultimate goal is to be invited to the open house. When the people move in and celebrate their new home by having friends and family over, if you are invited to that open house, that means you did your job right.”
Empathy is the first ingredient of the sales equation.
While empathy is absolutely essential to sales success, empathy by itself is not enough. The best and most effective salespeople use their empathy as the guidance system for their sales process. But empathy is just one ingredient necessary for sales success.