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How empathy is killing your sales career

Merit Gest //March 31, 2010//

How empathy is killing your sales career

Merit Gest //March 31, 2010//

The hardest part about selling in a down economy is not the extra layers of decision makers or the tighter budgets to deal with — it’s customer empathy.

When we are making cutbacks in our personal lives it’s easy to understand that our customers and prospects are doing the same thing for themselves and for their businesses. Perhaps more than ever we are hearing “You know we’ve had to cut back in that area” or “There’s no money in the budget.” Or perhaps we are hearing those things about as often as we have in the past, but now we are hearing them through more empathetic ears, and it is making more sense to us these days.

Over the past 18 months, I have noticed more and more of my clients asking for coaching on negotiating and getting budgets allocated for their projects. They want sound bites and tactics to become more effective in upholding their margin and getting their full fee. Of course I have some great tactics to share, but that’s where most sales trainers & coaches have to stop because after that, their tool box is empty. The real issue is not what you are saying, but how you are hearing what is being said.

Let me say that again so you can hear it the way it will make a difference for you:
The real issue is not what you are saying to uphold your margin, but rather how you hear what the prospect is saying to you about wanting a lower rate.

Take the case of Rebecca, a smart and successful salesperson. She and her husband both worked and made a decent living, but when he got laid off it was up to her to feed the family. In the beginning it was not a problem and they both thought it would only be a short time that they would rely on her income, but as the months wore on Rebecca got more and more anxious. They canceled their family vacation, she stopped getting her hair highlighted and they rarely went out to dinner.

Without the additional stresses on the home front, Rebecca was very productive and the person most likely to be paid the highest margin for the consulting work she sold for her company. When the game changed and she HAD to sell, while at the same time she was making cut backs in her own spending habits, her margins started shrinking.

There are two things Rebecca needed to be aware of before any training would make a difference. First, she had increasing levels of customer empathy. She put herself in her prospect’s shoes and because she was limiting her own expenses, it made sense to her that her prospects were doing the same.

I explained to Rebecca that if someone was drowning in a pool and everyone jumped in to help, there would be nobody standing next to the pool dialing 911. She decided that she could listen to her prospects vent but it would only reinforce her conviction that now was when they needed her most.

Second, Rebecca had to address her inability to effectively handle stress. When a person is stressed they cannot access all of the information they have which could help them get out of the stressful situation. This is why sales training does not work unless you are clear about what rattles you and how you typically handle those types of situations. She learned to breathe and pause before answering questions or blurting out solutions. This extra moment, and the oxygen along with it, helped her to think of additional responses like the ones we practiced in training.

Selling in a tough economy does not have to be tough and it is certainly not impossible. It just means you have to be aware of what is stopping you because it goes beyond sales tactics and one liners.