Not long after we founded Delaine Consulting, I made a sales call on the CEO of a mid-sized company based just outside of Montreal. To get to the meeting, I flew into Dorval airport and then took a 45-minute cab ride to the prospective client’s office. When I say a cab ride, it was actually one of the most terrifying journeys of my life. Montreal drivers have something of a, shall we say, reckless reputation, but this cab driver was something else! Speeding, changing lanes at whim, it was as if he didn’t care if we got there safely or not – he just wanted to get there as quickly as possible. I braced myself in the seat, and hung on for dear life. I was traumatized by the time we arrived.
After the CEO and I introduced ourselves and were settled in his office, he asked me how the journey was. I started to regale him with the story of my cab ride. After a few minutes, I noticed that his eyes had started to glaze over and he was shifting in his chair. He may have been genuinely interested in my journey when he asked the question, but 10 minutes into the story, his interest was definitely on the wane! Realizing this, and hoping I hadn’t blown the opportunity, I transitioned quickly into my prepared opening statement in order to focus us on business. His attention back on me, the call went well from there, and he became a client.
I’ll never know if I would have blown the sale if I had continued blathering, but I do know this incident taught me a couple of valuable lessons. I already knew the importance of empathy in selling, and how really understanding the customer and their needs helps me provide truly appropriate solutions. What I learned that day though, was that when I am talking, I’m not listening. Zig Ziglar once said that selling is not telling, selling is asking the right questions. I’ll modify that by saying that selling is not telling, selling is asking the right questions, and then listening to the answers. And since listening is one of the cornerstones of empathy, if you’re not listening with all your mental acuity, you cannot effectively be building empathy, and that is going to hurt your selling success.
The other lesson I learned that day was to forget about myself completely, and focus my attention entirely on the customer. It is quite natural, of course, to provide an answer when someone asks you a question. And we do like talking about ourselves – it is our favourite subject. However, in a sales situation, when we focus on ourselves and not on the prospect, we run a real risk of leaving the prospect feeling like we really don’t have their best interests at heart. After all, the purpose of qualifying in sales is to gain as much of an understanding of them and their situation as possible. In other words, the customer should be the focus of the dialogue, not the salesperson.
When you focus on the customer, it allows you to build a complete understanding of their situation. You will empathize so deeply with their concerns and problems that you will be able to provide solutions that far outweigh the competition in terms of their value. It may not win you every sale (I don’t know anything that works 100% of the time), but forgetting about yourself completely will certainly make it harder for customers to buy from your competition, and easier to buy from you.
Look for more ways that you can use empathy to help you sell on purpose instead of by accident in future blogs.