Is empathy necessary for sales success?

October 29, 2017

For salespeople, empathy matters now perhaps more than ever. No customer wants to feel like they are dealing with someone who has no interest in them. We are clearly in an era where to gain the attention and trust of buyers, we must exhibit that we care more about them and their interests, than our own. Value is something that must be delivered up front and without the guarantee of anything at all in return. I should probably point out here that value is determined by the prospect or customer. I could write another blog post just on the misalignment between perceived value of the seller versus that of the buyer. But I digress.


Have you ever had a conversation with someone and innocently mentioned something you were struggling with or challenged by, only to have that person respond with, that's nothing, you should see what I'm dealing with? If you have, you probably felt that the other person at best, wasn't really listening and at worst, didn't really care. That is an example of what it feels like communicating with someone who clearly lacks empathy.  Customers and prospects today, have no interest in dealing with salespeople looking to create a "me-first" business relationship.  


Why it really matters


There is no doubt in my mind that sales as an art form is changing. We are caught at a place where we are bombarded with new technology that seems to be threatening human involvement in sales altogether. I wrote a post earlier this year arguing this very point. At the same time, we still recognize that there are unique human skills that should never be engineered out of any human interaction. One of those skills is the ability to have a personal connection with another human. This skill itself seems to be diminishing as we spend more time on phones and engaging with other technology. While the "horse has left the barn" as we say in Texas, on technology, the ability to connect will always separate the successful sellers from the rest. The axiom at the heart of sales methodologies, like Sandler Selling is that, people buy from people that they know, like and trust. So empathy matters and will become even more of a competitive advantage as technology continues to expand. I do believe as I have heard some suggest, that for a salesperson, empathy could become something of a "super-power." Something to be harnessed and developed as a means of positively impacting customers and advancing careers.


How to know if you have it


It occurred to me that if in fact empathy will have a say in how well I do in my career, maybe there should be some test to determine if I could consider myself suitably empathetic. Well, as it turns out, there is something called an Empathy Quotient. (If interested you can take the test at This is a 60 item questionnaire developed by Simon Baron-Cohen (not Ali-G, but related). While it should be noted that EQ scores are often used by mental health professionals in assessing certain disorders like Autism, this test is noted to be suitable for the general population. I will admit that I was a little troubled that my score was above the threshold, but not by as much as I would have thought.


What to do if you are low in empathy


This is tricky because, obviously, I am not an expert in emotional intelligence or licensed to give psychological advice. But just take this as a friendly, common sense suggestion from a friend. If you took the test and it became obvious that you are lacking in empathy, just know that acknowledgement is the first step. From there, make progress a goal, start by asking  before telling,  seek to understand before being understood. From a practical standpoint, work to start sentences with you instead of I. Above all, understand that the more you give, the more you will get back. It is the law of reciprocity and it works! This is the best advice I can give and hopefully, it will serve you well and set you up for massive sales success.


Happy Selling!





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