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by John Raithel, President of Colorbar, Inc.

With the challenges of a slower growing economy, salespeople are under increased pressure to sell more work and at better margins. Increased sales performance pressures can and often do rush salespeople through the sales process and mistakes are made. In haste, they fail to fully plan for the sales call and how best to approach their prospect or customer visit. An area that is often overlooked by salespeople is; how will the purchaser perceive or feel about the sales visit? Feeling Empathy.

But is it even possible for salespeople to feel empathy for their customers when their own burden is so great? Yes, it is, and essential to sales success. But what does empathy mean? Webster’s definition is “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position”.

Sales trainers touch on the idea of empathy but somewhat miss the mark. Their message for sales success is to be a good listener, find client issues and offer solutions…consultative selling. I agree these skills are very important, but they are not at the core of long-term sales success. Empathy is.

To achieve lasting success, sales professionals must understand and feel what their client is experiencing. They must adapt quickly to their client’s changing frame of reference, and since no buyer or sales situation is ever the same, salespeople need to focus on the skill of feeling empathy.

Empathy comes naturally to some people, but for others it requires more attention and thought. This doesn’t mean that one person is more genuine or better than the other, as long as the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference is achieved.

While researching and preparing for a sales call, think about how your customer may view your findings. Make a list of questions to ask your client that will give you insight on how they feel and think and listening to their answers will give you a better understanding of their world. Also, keep in mind, people in the same organization don’t feel the same or have the same objectives and motivations, or even view problems the same. Your goal is to better understand how each person you are interacting with feels.

Here is just a small list of thoughts that may help you better understand your customer. There are many more that may fit better for you.

How is their day going? Not just your standard meet & greet question “how ya doing?” but are they focusing on your sales visit or is it elsewhere?

Are they feeling appreciated, burdened and overworked?

What is expected of them? Not just their job description, but from their company, themselves.

How are they evaluated? What are their goals? What do they have to deliver to get recognition, promotion or financial reward? What is their company culture? How do they view vendors? Does their personality and business style match their company’s culture and position? By not having empathy for your buyer, they won’t trust you to share their real problems. By not understanding what challenges your customers have, most likely your solutions will be wrong. You can’t just ask them what their problems are unless you first built a trusting relationship built on empathy. If you do, most likely the problem they have is…”the price is too high”.

So, understanding your buyer’s frame of reference is key to becoming a trusted advisor and achieving long-term success. Pre-sales call preparation is the key, even for existing customers. Changes happen quickly today so never assume. Researching companies and people is a lot easier today with social media websites, but don’t let that be your only source. These sites can provide a great deal of information. Company websites tell a lot about the organization by how it looks, etc. When researching buyers, stroll down on their LinkedIn page to see what organizations they follow or groups they belong. How many 1st connections do they have? Remember you’re trying to get a better sense of who they are as people and the culture they work in. Talk to people who may have experience with them. Has your company done business with them in the past, maybe with a different origination? Anything to help you prepare to see the world through your customer’s eyes.

Don’t try to solve problems unless you know for sure that’s what the buyer wants. People don’t always want you to solve their problems. Their employment may exist because of company’s problems and feel threaten when a vendor offers to fix them. You are there to sell, if fixing a problem helps in that goal, great, consulting is a solution.

Don’t assume your technology or efficiencies are important to buyers. Technologies, efficiencies and equipment may be important to some but not to others, even within the same organization. Remember each person in a purchasing role or a purchasing influencing position sees the vender/buyer relationship differently.

Also, don’t mistake how you feel about purchasing it is how others do as well. Not placing yourself in the shoes of your customer will cost you business. Buyers lean to their comfortable buying style, but can and do change according to their internal situations. What worked with them in the past, may not work now, so keep current with your buyers and their companies.

Being a sales professional is a great and rewarding career, but to have long-term success a commitment to constant improvement and empathy is needed. If the commitment to this is lost, soon, so will be the customers. With experience, training and continuing education, you will achieve great success, but always remember, as a strong building starts with a strong foundation, so too must a sales person start with empathy.

About the author: John Raithel, President of Colorbar, Inc. jraithel@colorbarinc.com

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