What is the number one muscle that you need to build sales? This concept is something I share with my clients all the time, and I think that once you hear it, you’re going to say, “I can totally do that.” Today I’m going to share why I think empathy is fundamental in sales and 3 questions you can ask to incorporate it into your conversations with clients.

What is empathy?

If you’re a parent, you’re probably trying to teach your kids how to have empathy, and you know how incredibly hard it is to teach. Empathy isn’t just about sympathy or feeling bad for someone–it’s the highest form of emotional intelligence. Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and understanding things from their perspective. When you can do that, it only takes a second to really make a connection.

How does empathy connect with sales?

Sales is less about the price of your product or service and more about how a potential buyer will feel once they’ve purchased it. Empathy in sales is about digging below the surface into the real reasons that someone wants what you have to offer.

For example, hiring a health coach or meal planner brings health not just to lower blood pressure or lose weight. It’s more about the underlying motivations and reasons for making a change in their lives. Maybe someone wants to lose weight so that they can travel comfortably in an airplane to visit their sister who lives across the country. Or maybe they want to be able to race their kids to the park or up the stairs to go to bed. It’s not really about their blood pressure or cholesterol.

Or let’s say you sell artwork, and you have a photograph of an old barn on the side of a highway in Ohio. What emotion is that image going to bring up for a customer?

For some people, it might just be a photo of a barn on the side of the road. But someone else might be willing to pay $5,000 to hang it in their foyer because it reminds them of their childhood–running through an open field, feeling the sun’s warmth, smelling the soil and freshly-mowed grass, the porch swing, the promise of Grandma’s sweet tea, the fireside chats, the closeness of family. To that person, those memories are priceless. As the artist, it’s okay to dive into the questions about why someone would buy your art.

This is how empathy relates to sales. It’s not about tricking someone or pulling one over on them. It’s about genuinely connecting and giving people what they want on a deeper level.

At the beginning of my career in sales, I was responsible for acquiring new customers for companies like AT&T and Intuit by walking into small businesses with no appointment, developing a rapport with the usually stressed out business owner, and giving them a reason to listen.

I remember one sales call that highlights this idea of empathizing with your client. I walked into a gas station and car wash in Detroit, and there was a gentleman in the office, overworked and buried in piles of paperwork. His wife and their two toddler children were with him, and the kids were whining about being hungry. They looked like they had been there all day. This was before the days that every business accepted credit cards, and I was there on behalf of a credit card processing company to talk about why it would be beneficial for them to accept credit cards.

There were a lot of services the company could offer to this gentleman, and I was there to tell him about the benefits. But I had to find out the one thing that would make a difference to him. I was armed with all kinds of statistics, but the bottom line was that he was overworked, buried in piles of paper, and his wife and kids were tired and hungry.

One particular benefit that I thought this gentleman would be interested in was that the service automatically uploaded credit card transactions into Quickbooks at night. So I told him, “If you had a credit card terminal, all of those cash receipts that you’re surrounded by right now wouldn’t be there. People would be buying more with their credit cards, and you wouldn’t have to input it. Right now, you wouldn’t be under a pile of paperwork. You could take your family out to dinner.” His wife loved that idea! He was sold, and everyone walked away from that conversation happy.

How to flex your empathy muscle

Just like this company, you probably offer many services. I don’t know anyone that does only one thing. So how do you find the one thing that your client feels is the most valuable? It’s not often what you feel is the most valuable.

The next time you’re speaking to someone about what you do, think about it from their perspective. What is it about what you do that they would find most helpful? You’re not going to know the answer if you don’t know enough about them, so it’s okay to ask questions to find out more!

Here are 3 questions I like to ask people:

  • “Why did you come to this Facebook group/event/conference?” Maybe it’s to sell their services, make connections, get validation that their ideas aren’t crazy.
  • “What were you hoping to learn/gain/purchase?”
  • “How do you expect learning that or buying that will change your life for the better?” This is about getting down to the why that is under the surface.

Listening and asking why is the beginning of your sales story. It gives you the opportunity to genuinely connect and get to know a person in a way that you didn’t before. People don’t just need your marketing services or your health and meal planning ideas. They need what you’re offering for a bigger reason.

For example, clients hire me because they want to learn how to have kind and powerful sales conversations. But when I empathize with them, I find that what they truly want is for their life to look different than it does now. Learning the skill of sales empowers them to build a business so that they can do other things like spend quality time with their family.

Empathy helps you take your relationship beyond the transaction of selling a service or product to the transformation that you provide.

This transformation is what your client really wants to do with their time or money, and empathy helps you dig beneath the surface and uncover the deeper reasons. It’s vital to understand the transformation your client wants in their life and why it’s so important to them. Once you understand that, then you understand what they’re going for and how you can deliver that.

Can you flex your empathy muscles and get down to the real reason that someone might be your next client? Don’t just accept the first answer–dig below the surface and ask one more question. Then listen, and ask why.

If all the things I talked about today brought up more questions for you, I’ve created a framework that is a great place to start with sales conversations. Get access to my Sales GPS Framework and have a system you can use every time you get on the phone with a potential client : http://salesgps.gr8.com/