Empathy is one of the most powerful tools we have for connecting with other people. Still, this essential skill is often overlooked and underestimated by businesses and their salespeople. The truth is that selling with empathy is essential both for connecting with customers on a meaningful level and understanding your own emotions.
When you can truly understand the needs and challenges of all your customers, you’ll be able to create experiences and products that exceed their expectations. Here’s how to understand empathy and harness it as a powerful sales tool that leaves everyone feeling fulfilled.
Selling with empathy requires a nuanced understanding of what empathy looks and feels like. Unlike sympathy, which can cultivate feelings of sorrow and pity, empathy requires a sense of shared equality. Sympathy tends to create an uneven power dynamic that drives people apart, while empathy unites people through shared experiences.
According to entrepreneur Joey Pomerenke, empathy is defined as, “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions; and the ability to share someone else’s feelings.”
So what does this look like in the context of business? Consider guidelines from professor, lecturer, and author Brené Brown, who specializes in vulnerability and its relationship with empathy. She outlines the four following principles of empathy:
Empathy is important as a small business owner because it helps you truly understand what the customer desires. When you really feel what they are feeling — and communicate that connection to them — you’re showing them that you care. What’s equally as important is that empathy enables you to resonate with a certain challenge and its associated emotion — and, ideally, an appropriate solution.
In turn, you can more accurately solve the customer’s problem in a way that feels personalized to them. This makes the customer feel seen and heard while also ensuring that your energy and resources are accurately directed towards efficient problem solving.
The first step in selling with empathy is cultivating emotional intelligence. Through emotional intelligence skills, business owners can “recognize, understand and manage their feelings and emotions, as well as those of others,” says Jeff Moss at Forbes.
Emotional intelligence requires first that a person develops self-awareness. When you’re aware of your moods, strengths, weaknesses, and emotions, you can take a step back and respond with clarity and reason, rather than with emotion. Then, you can begin to tune into the feelings and needs of others from a grounded place, rather than an emotionally-charged one.
To cultivate emotional intelligence in the context of selling, ask yourself these questions:
Emotional intelligence](https://www.salesforce.com/quotable/articles/high-eq-sales-cultures/) also includes a person’s capacity to separate who they are from what they do. This distinction is important because it enables a person to not take failures or setbacks personally. Rather, they’ll assign any struggles to their role, rather than their personality or skills. As a result, emotional intelligence equips leaders to keep moving through challenges and finding solutions to essential business problems.
Salespeople often rush to push products and features, hoping to make a sale as quickly as possible. Selling with empathy requires a different approach. In order to truly understand what customers need — and build trust in the process — salespeople must slow down and listen. Deep customer trust and satisfaction aren’t built in a day, and listening to your customers is the most important way to demonstrate your product’s value.
So how can you show that you’re paying attention? Practicing deep listening by asking meaningful, open-ended questions. These inquiries should get to the heart and soul of your customers’ needs, challenges, and goals.
Anyone who sells products or services at your company should consider asking customers the following open-ended question formats:
Asking such open-ended questions and truly listening to the answer is the best way to forge trusted bonds with your customers, especially when people are struggling or experiencing a crisis.
Plus, recent data shows that 86 percent of customers are willing to pay slightly more for a product or service in order to support small businesses. The most important factor driving this trend is a consistently strong customer experience. This suggests that your customers are already leaning in your favor — all you have to do is show up, listen, and win them over with trust.
Once you’ve cultivated a strong understanding of empathy and have forged trusted bonds with customers, it’s time to sell with purpose. This is your opportunity to drive loyalty, build value, and demonstrate the fact that your company is absolutely indispensable in times of need.
Here’s a look at the core traits and skills that empathetic, emotionally-intelligent small businesses must learn to master:
Whether you’re selling online products or in-person services, empathy is essential for creating lasting, meaningful connections. Small businesses that harness the power of empathy and emotional intelligence will forge trusted and lasting bonds with customers.
Michelle Polizzi is a freelance writer and editor with over 5 years of experience. When she isn't busy writing or researching, you can find her doing yoga, enjoying the outdoors, or exploring a new corner of the world.