Have You Made the Empathic Shift?


Sometimes it’s tough to get out of your own head. And that makes it hard to have an effective sales conversation. You can get mired in familiar messages and discussion points, endlessly making a case on the ground you find most solid. In fact, it’s natural to spend most of your time talking about how you solve problems, and why your solution is better than the alternatives.

This is your world. It’s where you are most comfortable. You know you and what you are capable of. But do you know your prospective buyer? Really?

For many or perhaps most sellers, focusing intently on the buyer’s world is an unnatural act. It requires you to get into their head. It requires you to enter their world and immerse yourself in it. This isn’t easy. Getting there may even require some extreme effort.

I once spoke with the chief learning officer of a large candy manufacturer who was sitting across the aisle from me. He told me about a recent exercise at his company designed to build executive leadership skills. As part of the exercise, senior leaders were flown to Athens, Greece at a time of great turbulence. At the time, there were riots in the streets with a looming threat of political upheaval.

In this highly disorienting, unpredictable, and stressful environment, this group of executives was challenged to engage people on the streets and solicit their concerns. Far away from the rarified comfort of their corporate offices, they were experiencing just how people behaved as they descended Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – angered by their uncertainty, fearing for their own security and survival.

The idea was to force this executive group into an unfamiliar, uncomfortable situation and open their eyes to new points of view. It was an admittedly radical exercise to shake this group up and encourage its members to see the world differently. They were challenged to see the world through the eyes of another.

This is something we refer to as the Empathic Shift.

It’s a move you must make in order to be a truly great leader or sales professional. It’s about getting deep into the world of your buyers so you can communicate with them on their terms and in their language.  As Stephen Covey once put it, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

So how can you help your own people – most especially your marketing and salespeople – make the Empathic Shift? Here are a few ideas:

  • Get your brain trust together and brainstorm. This will involve active discussion and exploration. Drawing on your collective knowledge and experiences, you’ll ask: What pressures are weighing on your buyers? What aspirations do they have? What’s stopping them from achieving their objectives? Your people can share stories from the field. To make this exercise meaningful, however, you want to be specific about the buyer you are discussing. Depending on your immediate objective, you may have specific profiles to explore.
  •  Leverage third-party market research. Independent authorities can provide an invaluable perspective on how your prospects are behaving, what concerns them, and what they aspire to accomplish. Look for trends. But try to make the insights that emerge from this research as vivid, clarifying, and actionable as possible. That’s why behavioral research is often more revealing than attitudinal research. It shows you what people are actually doing, not just what they say they’ll do.  And while some consultants refer to this as persona research, it’s often even more powerful when you go deep – capturing the experiences, challenges, and objectives of a single targeted decision maker or decision influencer.
  • Draw on the experiences of clients or prospective clients. Engage them in interviews. Develop rich and insightful case studies. Encourage them to visit your site and visit their sites in return. Invite them to speak at events, particularly events that you might host. You may want to capture a day in their lives, perhaps a year in their lives. You want to know how they experience the challenges they are facing and the very real concerns they must address.

Ultimately, you can capture your findings and share what you learn throughout the organization. Your findings can be packaged as presentations, videos, or research papers. You can leverage it to produce new marketing campaigns and sales enablement assets, tools, and resources.

By entering your buyer’s world and making the Empathic Shift, your people get a sense of context – real-world context – that supports the development of relevant messages and makes compelling sales conversations possible. And that’s how you set the stage for unstoppable growth.

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