What is Customer Empathy? Is it Really a Sales Skill?

Who likes talking about empathy? It’s a bit of a squishy subject but absolutely necessary if you want to be a top performer in sales. So, what is customer empathy? What does it look like for sales professionals?

NOTE: This article is written specifically for salespeople and framed in that discussion. However, there is a strong application to everyday relationships, and one should read with the idea of applying this principle in any situation. Got kids? Pay special attention!

This last week I watched a video shop from an outstanding salesperson in Charlotte, NC. She has a smooth and caring style that is most becoming to prospects. It seems she is the type of person with whom you would be comfortable sharing your fears and concerns.

She does not exude high energy; it’s far from a Richard Simmons approach to a conversation. But there is a positive energy that draws people in. There was also something else. Watching the shop, I had difficulty focusing precisely on what made her so compelling. It wasn’t just her ability to connect or her warm personality, though these traits were abundant. It was more profound than that.

The light bulb went on in watching the shop for the third time. It was her unique style of listening. I have to be careful about not labeling this merely as “good listening skills”; that would not do her justice. Hers was a more profound skill. She didn’t just listen – she finished listening. She took in what the customer had to say and allowed the customer to express it fully.

Immediately I found myself applying that lesson to my own life, both as a trainer and a sales professional and as a father, husband, friend, etc. Here’s my problem: while you’re finishing up with what you’re saying to me, I’m formulating what I will say or ask next. I listen, but I do not always finish listening. Can you relate?

I think of how Stephen Covey describes this in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He says these profound words (mainly applicable to salespeople): “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to respond.” Guilty, as charged.

Does this speak to you in any way? Do you struggle not with listening but with finishing your listening? I wonder how many gems there are that we are missing. I wonder what our customers are trying to tell us, even between the lines, that will help define the sales process for this particular prospect.

If you struggle with this, please consider taking one conversation in the next hour and focus on listening fully and completely. Letting the customer (or friend, child, or spouse) finish what they are saying so you can really take it in before you move on to your next point.

If you want to change someone’s world, finish listening!


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About the Author: Jeff Shore

Jeff Shore is the Founder and President of Shore Consulting, Inc. a company specializing in field-tested and proven consumer psychology-based sales training programs.

Jeff is a top-selling author, host of the popular sales podcast, The Buyer’s Mind, and an award-winning keynote speaker. He holds the prestigious Certified Speaking Professional designation from the National Speakers Association and is a member of the NSA’s exclusive Million Dollar Speaker’s Group.

With over 30 years of real-world, frontline experience, Jeff’s advanced sales strategies spring from extensive research into the psychology of buying and selling. He teaches salespeople how to climb inside the mind of their customers to sell the way their buyers want to buy. Using these modern, game-changing techniques, Jeff Shore’s clients generated over $30 billion in sales last year.