$89,000 is a lot of money, but that is what it cost for me to learn the importance of empathy.
Empathy is a rare skill but is vital in the sales process. That is why it is one of the four wheels of success. Empathy is the ability to understand the emotions and feelings of another truly. This does not mean you pity them. It does not say you can help them resolve the person's issue because you had something similar happen in your life. It is being able to relate to the person and share the burden that comes from the emotions the person is experiencing.
I spent a vast majority of my sales career in the furniture and mattress industry. The sales aspect was exciting and challenging. I built relationships with the customers because 1.) I valued the interpersonal connection and 2.) I liked making lots of money. However, these relationships were only focused on getting the customer from point A to point B.
I suffered from a variety of spine issues and had surgery earlier in the year. I was twenty-two when I had my second surgery and had the lower three levels of my spine fused. The bill for the surgery was $89,000...thank goodness I had insurance. Leading up to the surgery, I was very nervous that after recovery I would be limited in my sales ability. The following six weeks after the operation were the longest of my life. So much pain. I could not do anything on my own for the first two weeks. I had to learn how to let others help me. My appreciation for others and the simple things grew so much. I will never take for granted the ability to put on my socks again. Though difficult, this experience opened my eyes to how many people suffer through back pain.
My focus switched when I returned to work. I was not focused on how much I could sell the customer, but instead, I focused on what did my customer need? One of the first customers I helped was Susan. She was looking for a comfortable chair. In the past, I would have taken her straight to our most beautiful and most expensive chair and tried to sell her on all the benefits of the chair. Instead, I began to ask her questions about herself. I wanted to know more about Susan and what she enjoyed. We had a pleasant conversation which led to us talking about what she valued in a chair and how she would use it. It turned out in the upcoming week she was going in for very serious spine surgery. The same spine surgery I was recovering I recently had.
Susan was terrified. She had never had a surgery before and did not know what to expect. She knew she needed a chair but was so overwhelmed with the anxiety and fear of the operation that it all just seemed too much for her to handle. No one understood her situation more than me. Together we talked through her fears, and we're able to help Susan feel safe and confident. She felt comfortable and wanted to buy a chair. She told me she trusted me and would buy any chair I picked no matter the cost. (Trust is everything in sales, and we will discuss it's importance as one of the wheels of success at a different time.) The most expensive chair would not help her and would not support her necessary for a healthy recovery. I instead showed her a chair that would give her all support and comfort she would need at half the price. Susan wasn't just a customer to me; she became my friend. We stayed in contact, and I ended up helping her with many different projects over the next couple of years. Because of her experience, many of her family and friends came and purchased from me.
Empathy helped me take my sales career to the next level. I found joy in my job. My customers had a better experience. I doubled the amount of business from before my surgery. Now, I am not saying that you have to have a life-altering experience or spend thousands of dollars to learn about empathy. Take a couple of minutes a day and reflect on yourself. Think about experiences that have shaped your life for the good or the bad. Take time to point out the people that helped you learn during those experiences. When it comes to working with customers, think back on your skills. Find common ground and unity with the customer. Take time to understand their needs and do your part of fulfilling them. As you build your ability to empathize with others, you will find that your sales will increase and you will have more and more customers return for your business.
What are your experiences with empathy? Let's connect and talk about it!