Why Salespeople Fail at Empathy

Sales organizations understand the power of empathy and more sales managers are teaching this powerful EQ skill. They are well-intentioned, but often miss the mark. In an effort to help salespeople make an emotional connection with prospects, they teach validation/paraphrasing skills, not empathy skills.

Note: Validation/paraphrasing isn’t empathy; it’s active listening. 

For example, a prospect says, “We are really frustrated with slow response time from our current vendor.” The salesperson hears the opportunity for empathy and says, “That must be frustrating. So, if I’m hearing you correctly, you’re tired of your current supplier not returning calls and emails quickly enough.” It’s a nice try, but this salesperson missed the opportunity to emotionally connect with the prospect.  Empathy is the ability to demonstrate that you know what your prospect is thinking or feeling.

And, if you really understood the prospect’s frustration, you would do a better job of describing the thoughts and emotions around it!

Step out of your sales shoes and into the shoes of your prospect. Slow down and think, really think, about what’s going through his head. Is he frustrated with the slow response time because it feels like he was a victim of bait-and-switch selling? (The prospect signed the contract and the salesperson moved on, failing to deliver on any of her wonderful promises.) Or is the prospect frustrated about slow response time because he’s forced to spend too much time seeking answers, which takes him away from growing his business.

Once you’ve tuned into the prospect’s thoughts and emotions, simply state them. “Mr. Prospect, if I were sitting in your seat, I’d be feeling like the subject of a bait and switch. You received a lot of promises with few deliverables. And you are probably wondering if my company is going to any different.”  That’s empathy.

When a prospect shares a problem, don’t try to sell or solve the problem.  First, demonstrate that you “get” your prospect’s world. Apply empathy and step into your prospect’s brain, heart and shoes. Talk like a real person.  The result will be real conversations and real sales results.

Good Selling!

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Colleen Stanley

Colleen Stanley is the founder and president of SalesLeadership, Inc. She is a monthly columnist for Business Journals across the country, author of ‘Growing Great Sales Teams’ and co-author of ‘Motivational Selling.’ Her new book, 'Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success,' published by Amacom, a division of the American Management Association, is available in bookstores now. Colleen is the creator of Ei Selling®, a unique and powerful sales program that integrates emotional intelligence skills with consultative selling skills. Prior to starting SalesLeadership, Colleen was vice president of sales and marketing for Varsity Spirit Corporation. During her 10 years at Varsity, sales increased from 8M to 90M. Varsity was named by Forbes Magazine as one of the 200 fastest growing companies in the United States. When Colleen is not traveling or training, she loves to hike, read and hang with her husband Jim, and friends.

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