“I’ve just had an accident, and…,” the client nonchalantly starts to explain to his insurance company. Suddenly, he is interrupted with a sincere and heartfelt, “Are you OK?” by the representative who answered the call. The client’s eyes light up; a smile cracks his hitherto sullen face; his face brightens and suddenly there’s warmth in his voice. It is amazing what showing empathy in selling can do

You see, the client was even reluctant to call the insurance company in the first place. After all, he believed, as we most do, ‘They’ll just make me jump through hoops; they don’t care about me. They only care about not paying claims.’ This is why practicing empathy when selling is important.

How do you practice empathy in sales?

Selling is an art; selling is human interaction. And the most fundamental need of any human being is the desire to be appreciated. Empathy, rides on this principle. Empathy is showing understanding and genuine concern for another person. It’s being ethical and presents a quality sale. When, in a panic, you call Safaricom because you sent money to the wrong number, they first acknowledge this is the case, empathize (“Sorry about that”), and proceed to attempt and solve the problem. Even if it’s not, you feel heard. Keep in mind it’s not their fault at all, but squarely yours, yet they don’t voice this. (At least not in my experience. How do you think a bank would respond, by the way?)

Anyway, to show empathy in selling means just that for the buyer. Actively listening to what the customer is saying and what he is not. In the opening example shared, the representative responded to what was not being said, and turned what would have been a deal breaker, into a clincher. Empathy, is not agreement nor is it accepting blame (unless you are the cause of the problem, of course). For all the empathy both representatives in the examples shared showed, none say, nor imply, “We will pay.”

Better still they did not respond thus: “Woishee! I’m so sorry; how much is it we pay.”  That would not be empathy it would be sympathy and sympathy in selling presents debilitating challenges; like promising what you cannot deliver because you are overcome with emotion, or are unable to say no.  Or being unable to disqualify sales leads because you, reason, “He’ll feel bad if I let him go.”

empathy when selling

Benefits of showing empathy when selling

Showing empathy when selling creates connection with the buyer. And any seasoned salesperson will tell you that without an emotional connection, the sale will struggle. You see, buyers first buy you before they do what you are selling. If they don’t, they won’t. (Unless you are Kenya Power of course). Showing empathy makes the buyer feel understood, even if, as in the opening case, he hasn’t even shared his problem yet.  And when a buyer feels understood they are freer with sharing insights and information; they trust you more. And trust is a potent emotion. Trust accelerates customer engagements and therefore enables you to pin point the root cause of the problem and address it. In fact, even if you end up being wrong, the buyer is more likely to forgive you which makes the sales recovery easier. 

Why salespeople struggle to show empathy

Despite the obvious benefits empathy brings to selling, few sales people show compassion when selling.  Among the reasons this is so, is because it requires that you put the buyer ahead of you without losing control of the sale. Another reason is that it calls for listening and patience. These are decisions that take conscious effort. Unfortunately, your average sales person is ego driven and so puts himself first; if they were a doctor they would diagnose with no prognosis. Keen only on closing, they assume they know the buyer’s problem and so do not ask insightful questions to fully comprehend what the buyer is really saying. Self-righteousness is another reason why (and this is most likely to happen to those selling luxury goods). “Why should I feel sorry for him? It’s good his car got damaged. How do you spend 16M on a 5th car, instead of giving money to help those that don’t have food?” 

The importance of customer’s perception of salesperson empathy in selling is key. Yes, it’s the customer who decides whether they felt your empathy or not. Not you.


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