Customer empathy is key to sales success

Simon Kelly

One of our main speakers was Simon Kelly. Simon has been a sales leader at some of the biggest companies in the world, including Vodafone, Microsoft and most recently, LinkedIn. However, he saves the most praise for London Irish’s Under 8’s who he coached for some years.

‘They were fearless!’

Simon spoke about what he learned as a sales leader and he identified 4 keys to sales success. We’ll talk about the others in future articles, but for now, let’s start with Simon’s key no1, customer empathy.

What is customer empathy?

To illustrate what customer empathy is, Simon shared a story of what happened one day at Unilever.
It was a Friday, and the product design team were tasked with designing a product for pregnant women, but not getting very far. Then someone had the idea of getting everyone to wear realistic pregnancy stomachs. At first, everyone thought it was hilarious, but they didn’t think it was so funny when they discovered that the stomachs were locked on, and they’d have to spend the weekend wearing them.
These guys (and most of them were actually guys) discovered first-hand what it was like to be a pregnant woman for the weekend. It certainly affected their golf swing, and riding their bikes was harder than expected.
‘It was like a sack of potatoes!’
When they got back to work on Monday someone freed the designers from their oversize stomachs, but then sent them back to the whiteboard to have another go at designing a product for pregnant women. You can guarantee the outcome was much better.
Simon summed up what sales leaders can learn from this story.
‘In sales, you’re so obsessed with how wonderful you are, and your product is. If you haven’t stepped in the shoes of your customer, if you haven’t felt what it’s like to be pregnant, you won’t get anywhere.’

Why is customer empathy important?

If you can empathise with your customer, it means you can understand the problems they’re experiencing. It means you can emphasise the features of your product or service that will solve their problem, rather than waste time talking about stuff that will make no difference to them at all. It can also mean you can tailor your product to better suit their needs. All of this greatly improves the likelihood of a deal.
Secondly, people tend to like people who try to understand what they’re going through. Empathy puts people at their ease. All this is essential for building rapport, great relationships and establishing trust.
According to Simon, this is often overlooked.
‘Very few people have walked in the shoes of people who have real experiences.’

How to build customer empathy?

If customer empathy is so important and so useful for building sales, how can we become better at it?
When you’re with your clients or prospects, listen more than you speak, and let them see you’re listening. Always try to find common ground, shared experiences on which you can agree. You’ll get a greater understanding of what is driving them, as well as what makes them fearful. These are golden nuggets of information for the sales leader.
You can build your empathy muscle outside of sales too. Make the effort to meet more people, from different walks of life. Take an interest in new things. Get out of your comfort zone. The more experiences you gain, the easier you’ll find it to find common ground.
If you can make your clients see that you genuinely care about helping them, you’ll find selling comes naturally. You’ll also see an uplift in repeat business because your product was genuinely right for them, and they like dealing with you. To be a sales leader, make empathy a priority today.

The last word from Simon.

‘Empathy is an overused word, but it’s the one thing I learned through all my experience.’
Over to you now, what do you do to step into your customers’ shoes? Have you ever done anything out of the ordinary, like wearing a pregnancy stomach for the weekend? Let us know in the comments below.
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About the Author

James Ski works for Linkedin and advises companies on recruitment, employer branding and how to achieve scalable, predictable sales growth.
If you would like to be first to read his published posts focused on sales confidence sign up to his blog here
You can also follow him on Linkedin or on Twitter @jamesas
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