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The Power of Empathy in Sales: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Having More Sales Authority

Authority and Empathy in Sales

“The successful agencies of the future will be those that integrate technological excellence with profoundly human qualities: combining efficacy with empathy… I suspect that we’ll need appetite and empathy more than ever.”
– Jim Carroll, former chairman Brown Brothers Harriman

Ninety-five percent of our purchase decisions take place in the subconscious, says Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman in his book How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market. Professor Zaltman adds that the biggest drivers in the subconscious mind are emotions. Emotions, then, are the driving force behind buying decisions. What happened to rational thinking, I wonder?

In this piece, I will talk about how you can leverage human emotions to increase sales. So instead of treating emotions as a challenge, I will teach you how you can use them to your advantage, especially during the early stages of your business when you don’t have much to market besides personal accolades.

I will specifically explore key emotional aspects for selling consulting and services. Emotion is especially relevant for these kinds of sales, since the offering, at its core, is a relationship. It’s particularly important to understand the emotional dynamic of sales when your consulting or services business is still in its early stages: at that point, you don’t have much to market besides personal accolades.

Put another way, I advocate for creating a better connection with leads. Connect with people effectively, and they’ll find themselves comfortable paying you to deliver a service for them. So how can you connect with people better and faster? Through two critical elements that I think most new founders struggle with, particularly if they don’t have an experienced salesperson on their team.

In the early days of my consulting venture, I was wrestling with closing modest $500 contracts. Every time I met a founder who was doing well, I’d ask them how I could close more deals. The more I asked, the more I realized my issues weren’t with strategies, tactics, my service, price, or anything of that sort.

Rather, over time, I realized two issues I was stumbling over when trying to sell:

  1. Not communicating authority: I would usually give off the impression that I have just memorized a script and didn’t know much. I was failing to establish myself as an authority.
  2. Not showing empathy: because I was so excited about my service, I would get into the nitty gritty of technicalities and forget what was relevant to the lead, which is essentially a lack of empathy.

I think these are mistakes many entrepreneurs make during the sales process, especially those without sales teams.

In reality, I cared a lot about my clients and probably was one of the best early marketing analytic geeks out there – but I was failing at communicating either expertise or my deep concern for potential clients.

Once I fixed these issues, I started closing long-term, five-figure retainers.

What is Authority in Sales?

Authority is about how you position yourself. How does the market perceive you? When leads speak to you, is the impression you leave them with something like, “He’s someone who possesses the knowledge, expertise, and skill set needed to get the job done and be a trusted advisor?” Or is it more like, “Yeah, I’m not too sure about him; he seems like an amateur.”

This is not at all to say that you should be arrogant or full of yourself. Humility is a virtue you should always embody. You do, however, want your lead to feel assured you’re up to the task when you’re trying to sell them something.

If you doubted the expertise of a surgeon or a pilot, would you allow the former to operate on you or the latter to fly a plane you’re taking? Similarly, although your service might be much lower stakes, people still want to make sure you can do the job. Properly projecting your authority removes any fear or doubt and makes your lead feel confident in you. As a result, they will be more likely to buy.

Develop Authority with Your Online Presence

To develop your authority, begin with your online presence. Your website and social profiles should yell, “I’m a professional and know what I’m talking about!” It should be clear, without a doubt, that you have experience not only doing the thing you say you can do, but getting the results that your prospects are looking for from that service. Hire a photographer to take some headshots. Then create a simple website and LinkedIn page.

If you need help writing and designing, hire the best copywriters and designers you can afford. This doesn’t mean you have to go into debt. If money is an issue, hire someone on a freelance marketplace like Fiverr or Upwork or search local colleges for students looking to build their portfolio (but pay them fairly). If you still can’t afford any of this, then put in the work to learn them and do it yourself. There’s no shortcut – the authority that comes with a professional image requires some level of investment.

Continue to build your authority online by creating valuable content. Write blog posts, create case studies, and make videos showcasing your knowledge – make your site or online profile a knowledge hub of value for your prospective clients.

Use Outreach to Expand Your Authority

Outside of your online platforms, jump into industry events, podcasts, and webinars. Venture out of your corner of the internet and let others know you have the skills and expertise to solve the audience’s problems.

In addition, build authority by asking for testimonials and reviews. Let your clients’ satisfaction shine through and do the authority building for you.

A recent survey showed that 80% of online shoppers are less likely to buy a product if it has no reviews, and this number increases to 92% for Gen-Z shoppers specifically. This applies no less to the context of services – testimonials matter a lot. Nine out of ten people trusted what a customer said about a business more than anything the business said about themselves, according to another study. People like to know what others think; it makes them feel validated.

How Displaying Authority in Sales Makes a Difference

Imagine Jose. He is looking for a tax professional. He contacts two. One accountant sends messy emails from a free email account with its branding in the footer. Another accountant shares FAQs on the latest tax laws from a branded email sent from a professional domain.

Who do you think Jose is inclined to trust with his hard-earned money?

Think about your own experiences purchasing goods and services. Chances are, when given a choice between 2 or more options, you chose the business or individual who demonstrated more authority in their sales process and built rapport and trust with you.

Empathy in Sales Professionals

Let’s now flip this two-sided coin to empathy – the second element that will help you connect very well with your leads.

Before I explain what practicing empathy is, I need to clarify what sales is about for me. I believe sales is about helping people bridge their pain points with solutions. When you, as a sales professional, address someone’s issues and speak to their pain, you are meeting a need they have. What better feeling is there than having an issue and meeting someone who knows all about it and can seamlessly help you overcome it?

Now that it’s clear how I see sales, let’s build the second element, empathy, on this understanding.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines empathy as “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.” Empathy is feeling your lead’s pain points and making them feel heard. It’s the ability to understand and share. To step out of your corner – your sales objectives, your need to hit revenue goals, your desire to be successful – and focus solely on what’s genuinely best for your potential customer.

This is not a tactic, hack, or lip service; it’s a belief you embody and how you carry out your relationships with customers.

Let’s consider car dealerships, who sometimes get a bad rap for a reason. A friend of mine once went with his sister-in-law to a dealership because she didn’t like dealing with salespeople. She was interested in the brand’s promotion. After picking a model, the salesperson told her the promotion was only available for the previous year’s model and not the one she had picked. She ended up walking away but later discovered the salesperson had lied. The promotion included both newer and older models. The salesperson was more interested in clearing his inventory than serving her needs.

You’ve probably had a similar experience with a business or salesperson trying to steer you into buying something you don’t want. Unpleasant, right? You’re not alone; 64% of American consumers feel like companies have lost the ability to empathize with their customers.

It’s no different in consulting. A lack of empathy in the sales process can prevent you from winning new business. But don’t think having empathy while selling professional services is about being too nice or a pushover; it’s not. It’s instead about listening to your prospects and clients and prioritizing their needs. This requires you to practice active listening – patiently listening and making sure you understand, feel, and respond to their pain points. And sometimes it requires you to make a stand for what’s in the prospect’s best interest.

Examples of Using Empathy in Sales

Let’s look at another example of empathy that plays out in sales. Alex, a financial advisor, has a lead who wants to invest in renewable energy. Although investing in renewable energy is a low-commission product for Alex compared to investments in oil and gas, Alex still advises his lead based on their need, not his own advantage. Otherwise, recommending an investment based on commission rate is a surefire way to destroy trust and ruin the relationship with investors.

An empathetic advisor would work to find the best financial products featuring only renewable energy companies that also maximize returns for their client. This advisor may make less with this one investment, but the goodwill and trust they create with the client would lead to an increase in referrals and sales performance.

Let’s look at how empathy works in B2B sales, regardless if the item sold is a product or service. Let’s say you run an IT consulting firm. Your lead is an insurance company in need of cybersecurity. Should you dazzle them with technical jargon and focus on what you think is important, or do you take the time to understand each stakeholder’s needs?

Asking open-ended questions and listening are key.

Yes, speak technically to the CIO, financially to the CFO, and business to the CEO, but explore each of their wants and needs. Then, you can propose a service solution that addresses each concern and wins their trust.

Regardless of what service you offer your client, learn to listen. Put yourself in your lead’s shoes, map their pain points to your solutions, show genuine interest, and watch prospects transform into long-term clients. Then you’ll truly understand the benefits of empathy in sales.

Key Takeaways

95% of sales takes place in the subconscious. The strongest drive in the subconscious is emotions. To capitalize on a lead’s emotions and increase sales, communicate with authority and empathy.

Authority means:

  • Own your knowledge, expertise, and skills in sales.
  • Stand out in a competitive market by effectively communicating your superior knowledge.
  • Develop your online presence with professional visuals and content that showcases your expertise.
  • Actively take part in industry events, podcasts, and webinars to show your expertise.
  • Use testimonials and reviews from satisfied clients to reinforce your authority.

Demonstrating Empathy is essential:

  • Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences.
  • It’s a mindset, not a tactic – focus on what’s genuinely best for your prospect.
  • Listen actively to your prospects and prioritize their needs over pushing your agenda.
  • Put yourself in your lead’s situation, address their pain points, and work to build lasting client relationships.

Action Items To Develop Empathy and Authority in Sales

  • Look at your current authority and online presence. Decide on 3 things you can do today to increase your authority.
  • Review your past few lost sales proposals. In what ways could you have had more empathy and put yourself more in the prospect’s shoes?
Feras Alhlou

Feras Alhlou

Feras has founded, grown, and sold businesses in Silicon Valley and abroad, scaling them from zero revenue to 7 and 8 figures. In 2019, he sold e-Nor, a digital marketing consulting company, to dentsu (a top-5 global media company). Feras has served as an advisor to 150+ other new startup businesses, and in his current venture, Start Up With Feras, he's on a mission to help entrepreneurs in the consulting and services space start and grow their businesses smarter and stronger.

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