Unprecedented times are upon all of us. Anyone who has been through substantial changes, personal, or professional, likely has never seen anything like what is happening today with COVID. This pandemic impacts the entire WORLD. Because of this, choosing empathy when dealing with others is critical regardless if it’s your family, team, boss, current customers, or prospects.
Humans are hardwired to empathize because they closely associate people who are dear to them - friends, spouses, lovers - with themselves, a study by Oxford Academic suggests. Not only that, but an essential part of empathy is the ability to trust and be trusted. When your friends or other people feel that you care, you have earned their trust. If they trust you, they will take more risks with you and be more open. This also applies to customers and prospects.
“People buy from people they like” – you’ve likely heard this before. Likability is an excellent characteristic to have, but the truth is that people buy from people they trust. According to Harvard Business Review, only 18% of the salespeople buyers met over the past year would be classified as trusted advisers whom they respect. That was before this crisis. Now more than ever, you need to sell with empathy and be more empathic leaders. The more people who trust you, the more influence you will have.
As a sales leader, you should be demonstrating how to sell and lead with empathy. Empathic leadership is the ability to understand and convey the needs of others. It’s one of the most difficult traits for managers and leaders to master. If you show too much emotion as a leader, you may be perceived as chaotic and unreliable. If you don’t share enough, you may be perceived as icy and robotic. You need to find the appropriate balance, especially during high-stress situations like a global pandemic. This situation requires a considerable amount of emotional intelligence. If you want to read more about that, check out our blog, “6 Proven Traits To Help Sales Leaders In Times Of Crisis.”
One of the suggested ways to find a perfect balance is what Liz Fosslien — the co-author of No Hard Feelings — calls “selective vulnerability.” This is described as a leader who’s able to acknowledge they have emotions, but also provides a clear path forward. “Leading with empathy is also about prioritizing stability and reducing anxiety, and that means not standing in front of your employees and having a panic attack,” Fosslien said. There are ways to become a more empathetic leader. By modeling empathy, you can help your team be more empathic as well.
There are many ways to build empathy with your team, customers and organization. Listed are three ways to get you started:
Successful salespeople are strong at the discovery stage. Help your team activate those skills when they are talking with customers and prospects. Have them find out what is happening in the lives of their customers. Make sure they have a plan and a good list of questions. Have them spend time connecting with customers as another human being whose life has been turned upside down by the virus. Be respectful. Identify what they genuinely need and brainstorm creative ways you can help them. If you can be a resource for them in this time of great need, they will remember that and are more likely to tell others.
It is common for salespeople to want to do all the talking. There are even AI coaching tools that will track just how much your salespeople are talking vs. how much their customer is talking. When you are talking, you aren’t learning. Train your team to listen to what your customers are saying, tone of voice, and non-verbal communication on video. Even if they are not telling you specifics, you can identify cues that will help you know where to dig in and ask more questions. This also applies to your communications with your team and your boss. Understanding the complete message people are telling you helps you see their perspective.
Sometimes as leaders, we assume that people know we care, which is not always the case. People usually show they care in ways that are meaningful to them, not necessarily how the recipient would find something meaningful. Think of creative ways to let others know that you appreciate the work they are doing and personalize it. That could be as simple as taking the time to write a handwritten note, or sharing a ‘shout out’ of praise in front of the team. When someone on your teams goes above and beyond expectations, you could have them present their success story to the team. Not only will it allow this salesperson to share, but it will also be a great learning for the rest of the team on things they can do.
This can also be accomplished by providing positive feedback. Giving feedback is a key leadership responsibility, and it is proven by behavioral science that giving positive to constructive feedback in a 5:1 ratio helps shape positive behaviors. If you want to learn more, check out our blog on, “Are You Giving Too Much Negative Feedback?”
Empathy is a choice and a skill that you can develop. Be intentional about how you come across to others. Choose your communication method carefully. We like to clarify with our clients, calls (video calls) are for communication; email is for information. The reader, not the sender determines tone over email. Know when it’s appropriate to get on a call and have a conversation.
During times of crisis, leaders need to do more ‘telling or directing’ based on the urgency of the situation. This doesn’t mean you don’t explain the ‘why’ behind what you need them to do. Giving context and helping your team know why decisions are made allows them to gain a better understanding and increases buy-in. They might not always agree, but they should still know why there is a change in direction, initiatives, activities, whatever may be the content of your communication.
Decide for yourself who you want to be, and what story will you tell after this crisis. Will you choose empathy and seek to understand what your customers, prospects, sales team, and boss are going through? Will you be creative and introduce them to people who will be able to help? Remember, the whole world is in this together. There are small things you can choose to make it better, to discover new ways to work together, to truly listen to others, to create authentic connections, and to show others you care.
Empathy is a powerful emotion. If mastered, you’ll be a better leader with strong trust between yourself and your team. You’ll be able to build genuine relationships with customers who, in turn, could lead to more business or other opportunities. If we are to keep our businesses relevant during this time of crisis, embracing empathy can be a powerful differentiator.