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On this Sales Gravy Podcast episode Jeb Blount (Sales EQ) and Diane Helbig (Succeed Without Selling) discuss intentional empathy discuss and it is a meta-skill in complex sales.

Empathy is the key to stepping into your buyer’s shoes, understanding their situation, and building relationships.

Yet, the best salespeople are naturally less empathetic and more self-centered. Therefore, to be more effective at closing complex sales, they must focus on and leverage intentional empathy.


Becoming Other-Focused

Jeb: The statistics and scientific data tell us that salespeople who are more self-centered over time, have a tendency to do better than people who are more empathetic. Now there’s a reason for that.

That exists in sales, and even as a business owner, you need to be a little bit self-centered because you have to put all your effort into your business. How do we, as naturally self-centered people, shift into becoming other-focused?

Really Get To Know Your Prospect

Diane: If you believe that being interested in other people is how you’re going to get to a goal, and that goal is to have really great business with people and companies you really like and can really help, you naturally want to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Long-term, that’s going to be what’s best for your business and best for you.

So then if you say, “The only way I’m going to know whether this is a relationship I should enter into is by learning about them. So I just have to make that happen.” Your focus has to be on discovery, investigation, archeology, whatever you want to call it, so that I can learn as much about them— not just about the problem they’re having that I could solve— but about them, how they work, their philosophies, their values, etc.

Those things are all part of being in a business relationship. The more I know, the more I’m going to be able to identify how I can help them. And then I can shine because I’m going to be able to point it out to them. I’m really able to say, “This is what I heard, this is how we can help.”

It’s hard to have objections when I really heard what you said and I’m matching everything that you told me. Then we’re both walking down the same road. I think it comes down to really understanding what you want and the way to get there is by knowing as much as you possibly can about your prospect.

The Best Objection In Sales

Jeb: Yesterday, I was doing a training with a group of veteran salespeople and we were talking about objections. And one of the things I said to them is, “The best objection that you get is the one that never shows up.” And it doesn’t show up because you did all the work up front and you got to know them.

As you got to know them, either the objections got on the table or the objections just went away and it’s often when you go, “Hello, wanna buy?” you know, that’s when the objections go up. So I think what you said about making sure that you’re doing all of that homework is really important.

You’re doing sales archeology and understanding them and as you pull all of that information in, you’re matching your recommendations to what they see as both their success criteria and their evaluation criteria for doing business with you. And when you match it up, there’s no objection. It just makes sense to do business together for both of you.

Build Trust And Show Up As A Professional

Diane: If it doesn’t match up, it doesn’t match up. So you say, “Listen, I’m not the best resource for you. Let me point you towards somebody who is.” And there’s no weird conversation, but this is also why the salesperson has to ask a lot of questions and questions that are uncomfortable like the budget question or the decision-making question.

There are ways of asking those questions so that you just continue to build trust and show up as a professional. You show up as someone who really knows what they’re doing and really understands that you need that information in order to be able to accurately propose a solution with that person or not.

The Shift From Outcome-Focused to Other-Focused Selling

Jeb: I made a statement earlier that salespeople who overperform have a tendency to be lower on the empathy scale, so they’re more self-centered. And what you’re saying is that we need to be more other-focused. When I say self-centered, I mean outcome-focused.

So when I’m in a meeting, I’m always thinking about the outcome. What’s the next step? What am I getting to? What am I closing for? And that’s one of the reasons why people who are more self-centered and less other-focused have a tendency to do better over time.

They’re much more likely to advance the sale through the process. People who are high empathy and really other-focused when it comes down to asking for the next step, they’re thinking, “Oh my God, I don’t want to be too pushy.” So they end up with a lot of “call me maybe’s” and you know, “I’ll get with you next week,” and things like that.

A Customer For Now or A Customer For Life?

One of the problems is that people who are more self-centric or lower on the empathy scale, work great in transactional sales.

So if I need to sell you something and it’s a one-call close, probably the best attribute you can have is no empathy, close the deal. But when you’re talking about building long-term relationships, when you’re talking about complex sales and spending a lot of money, and serving your customers over time, you can’t live in that world.

All you’re focused on is getting as much out of your customer in the shortest amount of time, with the least amount of emotional investment, and it just doesn’t work. So you have to start getting intentional about being-other focused. In other words, before you walk into a conversation with a customer, you have to tell your brain to stop, listen, pay attention, get out of your own head.

Remember The Benefits

The way that I do that is I remind myself of the benefits. As you said, if I really listen, if I’m really doing that sales archeology, it helps me focus on what I really want.

Do I want to close the sale really quickly and burn the customer relationship? Or do I want a customer for life? Do I want to turn a small sale into something big? I made a sale in 2012, then that company spent more than $3 million with my company. It was a tiny sale back then. Focusing on that long-term relationship has paid off over and over for us.

About the author

Jeb Blount

Jeb Blount

Jeb Blount is one of the most sought-after and transformative speakers in the world…

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