Tuesday 2¢ – Have a Little Empathy

In this week’s Tuesday 2 cents I take a look at a key attribute of successful sales people and figure that empathy is the goal for all B2B marketers. 

This week I am inspired by a book about sales from 2005 that I picked up second hand – I couldn’t resist the title; “Sales on a Beermat”. 

Sales is a skill I have long admired and respected, in one form or another I have supported sales for 25 years, met some great ones and some not so great, done a bit of sales myself and it’s a skill I feel I need to constantly work on as I am not a natural sales person. 

The book describes the traits of successful sales people, some of which are natural within this kind of person, some learned and many of which fit the stereotype; great at networking, a skin thicker than armour plated rhino hide (etc etc).

One trait that jumped out for me was empathy, not something normally associated with the regular image we have of sales people, but it differentiates successful sales folks from the slightly desperate, coin operated sharks, who will get the deal at all costs. A stereotype that is actually not destined for a long term, sustainable sales career, no one likes these people, people will only transact with them because they need the service. 

As the book makes clear, some traits can be learned and some are natural, it got me thinking:

How can we in marketing support sales in differentiating themselves, developing and showing empathy for the client?

As is often said, “people buy from people they like”, a phrase I believe to be true, but I think the word “like” in this phrase is shorthand for a broader relationship that needs to be built.

It’s characterised as an over emphasises on the personal feelings the client has for the sales rep (and probably the game of golf). The truth is the buyer liking the rep is only part of the relationship, of far more importance to them is the feeling of trust, they need to be reassured, as this decision presents a personal risk.

This is especially true in big ticket B2B sales, as wonderfully put in this post by J.Robert Slaughter on his blog.

“B2B buyers are … seeking “buyer’s insurance” for extremely complex and expensive purchases. Jobs and/or careers are often on the line. They buy from vendors that they trust and have confidence in”

J.Robert Slaughter

It is widely believed that a B2B buying decision is like an iceberg, 70% of the decision was done under the water, before the rep got the call to show how likeable they are. The trust and confidence in the brand, company and solution was already built, by every research activity, touchpoint and marketing message already consumed. 

The challenge for the sales rep is to get the client to take the next step, make the commitment and to do the final the riskiest part of this; for the client to take a leap of faith. 

Good sales people talk about “always be closing” – in that if you manage the sales process through a set of small closes it makes the final close and the deal itself easy – instead of a huge shocking process for all concerned.

In the same way, marketing needs to be supporting sales by preparing the client for this leap of faith, to make this jump as short as possible, so that when our likeable sales rep walks into a process that’s 70% into a decision, he’s not got a huge chasm to bridge. 

Yes, we need to be relevant to the pain the client has, but being the right solution is not going to help the client make the jump, if we have not built up trust.

As marketers, we need to be constantly building reassurance and earning trust, not just in what we say in our messaging, the relevance of our solution, the case studies we share or even the results we got at other clients but also how we positioned this with them. 

To do this we need to have empathy for the buyer, not just an empathy at the moment that they will need to take this final scary leap of faith, after all they now have the likeable sales representative holding their hand through this one, but an empathy for them as people as we market to them. 

How we market to them, the channels we choose, the language we use, the frequency – all of that – to do this with a clear image that there is a person behind the glass, a person that will at some point need to make a leap of faith in your product, service and brand.

This is B2P marketing – Business to People.