The Business Case for Empathy and How Leaders Should Create It


By Jim Preston, Vice President of EMEA Sales at Showpad.

One thing this pandemic has shown and taught us is the need to find our human sides. This doesn’t only hold true for individuals but also for businesses, and in particular your sales department. In any communication or transaction with customers or prospects, they are now looking for real understanding and a considered approach. In other words, they’re looking for some empathy.

As the UK slowly crawls out of lockdown and reaches a ‘new normality’ this expectation will not simply disappear. In fact, the opposite is true. Facing economic downturn and high unemployment, understanding customers and prospects and speaking with them on their level will be increasingly important. It is the companies that truly listen and respond in kind that will bring in new business and retain loyal customers. The question is, how can you do this and what are the best ways to create a new culture of empathy amongst your sales, marketing and customer-facing employees?


The birth of “consultative selling”

No matter what your business, people buy from people. Customers want to buy from people they like and can trust – in a time of such uncertainty, this sense of reliability holds even greater sway. Customers want to see that their specific challenges and pain points are understood, reassuring them that you really are offering the best solution, for them, both now and in the future. 

It may be that you have a brilliant product or service, a snazzy sales presentation with powerful messaging you’ve created around it, but if you’re unable to also create a personal, meaningful connection with your customer, they won’t buy it. Nobel prize-winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, discovered that people prefer to do business with someone they trust or like – even if someone else can offer a better product for less.

Of course, in the current climate, this is an even bigger ask. It is much easier to build up rapport with someone face-to-face. Certainly, some companies have been getting this wrong, pushing them away rather than pulling them in. But with digital-only selling it is still possible to “meet” customers and prospects where they are, create that deep connection and solve their problems. And some companies are on their way to this: a recent poll by Showpad revealed that for almost half (44%) of sales and marketing professionals managing customer experiences remotely isn’t their biggest priority right now, implying that they are getting to grips with and adapting to this.


Adapting your selling model

While all businesses are trying to quickly overhaul and adapt processes to get back up and running, don’t jump straight into this new way of selling with all guns blazing. First, step back, take stock and review what you’re currently doing and what and how you’re reaching out and communicating with customers and prospects.

This means looking at what your sales and marketing teams are doing but should go much further. Afterall, this is not only about bringing in new customers but also retaining them, keeping them coming back for more and here the likes of your support team plays a crucial role – they also need to be on board with the right messages and outreach.

So, what are you saying? Are your messages answering your customers’ needs or just what you think they need? Your content should also be easy to access, digestible and most importantly, offering the right consultation, advice and industry insights – or, when the time is right, the sales opportunity.

There are also perceptions that empathy equates to being “nice”, going along with whatever your customer or client wants. But true empathy is also knowing when to challenge – and how! Consultative selling means that you need to dig deep into why your customer needs something. Is it really the best fit for their needs? It’s also about recognising when it may be best to put up your hands and walk away – a sale needs to work for the seller as much as the buyer, after all.


Bringing it together 

If you are truly going to walk in your prospect’s shoes, marketing and sales must talk to one another, sharing their insights and customer knowledge. More than just avoiding awkward crossover, this will help to gain that full picture of a customer and what they are looking for, pooling all the available insight and understanding.

As a result, this ensures customers and prospects are approached with the right information and the details they actually need. With a more holistic understanding, it will also help reveal external or hidden factors happening behind the scenes that may be having a big influence on their purchasing decision – you never know, you may be dealing with someone whose own job is currently at risk, or dealing with a high-stress situation.

The simplest way to help facilitate greater communication and knowledge-sharing is through using technology. Through sales enablement technology, you can ensure both sales and marketing are working on the same platform, have access to one another’s content and can see what is and isn’t responding to customer needs. Automating this content management and tracking all client conversations also enables your salespeople to focus on building up those relationships, rather than wading through admin.


Creating a new company and selling culture

However, this new approach to selling will only be successful if you can create a real cultural and behavioural change. The best way to help induce this is to lead from the top. 

Your sales leaders need to be trained and equipped with the tools to demonstrate those skills of empathy and emotional intelligence to their team and to share the knowledge they’ve learned. Living by doing can be most effective and sales leaders should also be encouraged to show this same understanding and empathy to their own team. 

Sales leaders also need to set the standard and outline the reasons why their team needs to make this change to consultative selling – for many, this will be a completely new and different approach and they won’t get on board unless they believe in it too. Talk in terms that the team will be able to understand and appreciate, showing how it will specifically benefit and help them as individuals – so for example, they will be able to sell better and as a result sell more, helping them to reach their targets and make their commission. 

Both your sales leaders and management team also need to keep reinforcing this new approach and why there is this need for empathy. It should become not just part and parcel of company messaging but also employee comms and review conversations.  For example, this could be added as an official objective for measuring your sales team’s performance.

Selling with empathy isn’t a one-off need for right now but will play a formative role in sales moving forward. The likes of cold calls and hard sells are long over and when many organisations are already struggling, they have no choice but to adapt and change how they interact with customers and prospects accordingly. It sounds ‘touchy-feely’ but if a meaningful, trusting connection can get you to a sale, increase your upselling, cross-selling and customer longevity, then that’s a goal worth striving for. Empathy can be the differentiating factor that will persuade customers to buy from you and keep them coming back for more.