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Salespeople Need To Better Understand The Buyer Because:

To Sell More - Empathize More!

Salespeople who understand the buyer more, sell more. That is clear to see from our benchmarking data, as well as our direct experience. But an intellectual understanding of the buying decision is no longer enough. Salespeople who translate buyer understanding into buyer empathy enjoy the greatest sales success. As this whitepaper shows; It is not just how much you know, but how much you care that sells.

translate buyer understanding into buyer empathy

Buyers: To Know Em Is To Love Em

Buyers to know 'em is to love 'em, or more to the point; to know them is to sell to them. That is to say a better understanding of how buying decisions are made, as well as of those who make them can significantly boost closing success. However, simply knowing the buyer is not enough. The challenge for sellers is not just to know more about the buyer's; role, background, or their place in the organizational hierarchy. To be really effective seller must go one step further. An intellectual understanding of the buying decision is not enough. To fully appreciate the buyer's motivations, challenges and concerns requires that the seller steps into the buyer's shoes. In modern selling it is not just how much you know, but how much you care that matters.

Empathy Sells
Sellers don't just need to develop their level of buyer understanding, but their level of buyer empathy too. Only then can the seller appreciate the full complexity of modern buying and by extension the real opportunities and challenges they face in getting the sale. Now, you may be thinking we have gone soft. You may be thinking that buyer empathy is pie in the sky a kind of sales Pollyanna. Rest assured however - we haven't gone soft. Buyer empathy is something that can have a real impact on sales success. In short empathy sells!

Sellers must fully appreciate the complexity of modern buying

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The Empathic Edge

Empathy is an advanced level of buyer knowledge and understanding. It helps sellers to sell more, but that is not all. Salespeople who can understand and relate to what the buyer is thinking and indeed feeling have several advantages: They enjoy preferential status among buyers. Sellers who take the time to understand what the buyer wants and show they care about it, are naturally favoured among buyers. The result is deeper relationships, with buyers being more likely to open up and to engage. It is also key to developing a champion within the buying organization. They can gauge the buyer's reaction to their pitch, or proposal even when the buyer says little. That allows them to intelligently adjust their approach as required. They can instinctively spot early warning signals and sense where the buyer is facing internal resistance. That is because they have a real appreciation of the buyer's challenges in navigating their internal buying requirements and getting the purchase sanctioned. They can more effectively alleviate the buyer's concerns, address their challenges, and allay their fears. They can help the buyer to achieve his/her goals so as to achieve their own. They face fewer shocks and surprises. A full understanding and appreciation of the complexity of the buying decision enables the seller to correctly identify and directly address obstacles to getting the sale. It is typically associated with better forecast accuracy, improved pre-qualification and all round better opportunity management. It generally means improved account management and development as well.

It is the antidote to seller anxiety and frustration

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They experience less stress. A greater appreciation and understanding of the buyer makes selling easier. It is the antidote to increased seller anxiety and frustration. For example: In the event of a stalled buying decision, the seller can see behind buyer intransigence to the real impediments to a decision being made. Rather than getting irritable with the vacillating buyer, the seller can appreciate the risk sensitivity of the buyer and directly address those risks. These are just some of the many ways by which a switch from enmity to empathy can make sellers more effective.

The Widening Gap Between Buyers and Sellers

As a seller developing empathy with the buyer can be a challenge. The rise of the competitive tender (and more bureaucratise buying in general) has driven a wedge between buyers and sellers. It effectively means that both sides are increasingly involved in a them and us stand-off. The fact that more buying decisions are being made behind closed doors, means that salespeople are more likely to be perplexed, even frustrated by the behaviour of the professional buyer. Viewing procurement as an impediment to the sale, salespeople often struggle to understand what motivates buyers, particularly the bureaucratic ones. However, those salespeople who develop their level of understanding and indeed empathy with the modern are certain to enjoy greater success.

Emotional intelligence is essential to the salesperson

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Steps To Developing Buyer Empathy

Being able to understand and identify with the buyer - what he or she is thinking and feeling is a form of emotional intelligence that is essential to the salesperson doing his or her job effectively. Of course, some salespeople are naturally better at empathising with buyers (and people generally for that matter). Yet empathy is something that, as salespeople, we all can and should develop. There are 5 ways in which sellers can develop their level of buyer empathy and boost sales success: 1. Learn About Buying 2. Pay Attention To What The Buyer Is Thinking & Feeling 3. Demonstrate A Genuine Desire To Help 4. Step Into The Buyer's Shoes 5. Blur The Line Between Buyer & Seller. Let's examine each of these in turn.

1. Learn About Buying

Seek first to understand, then to be understood is one of Covey's Seven Secrets Of Highly Effective Managers. It certainly applies to selling. To understand and empathize with the buyer, sellers must know the framework within which the buyer is operating. That includes; steps of the buying decision, the information requirements, the people involved, the sign-off level, and so on. Most sellers know a lot more about selling, than they do about buying. They will readily admit to gaps in their knowledge of the steps in the buying decision, or the buying criteria in respect of key opportunities being pursued.

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Sellers should spend more time getting to understand buying. In particular, the key dimensions of buying rules and risks that causes much seller frustration. They shouldn't just read sales books, but books on buying too.

2. Pay Attention To What The Buyer Is Thinking & Feeling.

The seller needs to know what the buyer is thinking and feeling. More important still they need to show that they care about what the buyer thinks and feels. Buyers don't wear their emotions on their sleeves; indeed they may even deny that there is any emotional element to their decisions. After all they are rational economic buyers! The first step for the buyer is to pay more attention to the buyer, more specifically to pay attention to their words, thoughts and actions. That is something that our slide decks, sales process and sales proposal won't do for us however. There is typically little in the way of emotional intelligence in the fact-finds used by sellers in their engagements with buyers, or the CRM systems used to record prospect information. These tend to focus on the detail (e.g. company information, pre-qualification criterion, needs analysis, etc.), rather than the context (e.g. the motivations, aspirations, aversions, etc.) of the buyer.

Sellers should spend more time getting to understand buying.

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That means they don't prompt the seller to answer more searching questions such as: What is the buyer really thinking? How does the buyer really feel about this? How will this make the buyer look to others? What pressures/challenges does the buyer face? What political/cultural issues confront the buyer? What concerns does the buyer have? What might the buyer be reluctant to say? What hopes/aspirations does the buyer have and how does the purchase impact on them? How does the buyer imagine the future of his team/department/business? Buyers can be slow to open up to sellers and confess what they are thinking. The seller must create an atmosphere of trust where the buyer is willing to say what he/she is really thinking.

3. Demonstrate A Genuine Desire To Help

Buyers need to feel that sellers understand and care about what is important to them. This is not to be taken for granted however; as buyers believe that most salespeople are only interested in the sale. The salesperson must demonstrate their concern for the buyer and express it in a genuine desire to help. The degree to which the salesperson cares is something that the buyer is likely to judge from even the initial encounter. It is an assessment that is often subconscious, but nonetheless can determine the future tone of any relationship. Now, there are many techniques to fast-track rapport building and to fane empathy, but unless you are a good actor, we don't recommend them. Buyers quickly see through false sincerity. Being yourself and being genuinely interested is all that is required.

Buyers believe that most salespeople are only interested in the sale.

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Many traditional sales techniques are an impediment to a greater closeness between buyer and seller. For example, nothing sends a clearer signal to the buyer that you are just interested in getting the sale than clumsy or premature attempts at closing. For this reason showing you care requires: Slowing down to the pace of the buyer Less talking and more listening More active engagement with the buyer The joint exploration of needs and solutions A focus on buying process, rather than sales process Being prepared to accept that your solution may not suit everybody.

Ask yourself: How would I feel, think of act if I was the buyer?

4. Step Into The Buyers Shoes

Buyers are not robots. Key to success in selling is the ability of the sales person and by extension his or her proposition to resonate with the buyer on an emotional level that is the level of the buyer's; hopes, fears and so on. But, how can you know what the buyer is thinking and feeling? Sellers who are keen to empathize with buyers ask the question how would I feel, think, or act if I was the buyer in this situation? They ask a similar question of colleagues who share the same job responsibilities, or functional background of the buyer.

5. Blur The Line Between Buyer & Seller

Sellers must talk about the buyer's opportunities and challenges as if they were their own. They must choose their language carefully, avoiding language that reinforces a them and us, or you and I, division. The seller must demonstrate that they own the buyers problem, that their success and that of the buyer are intertwined.

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Focusing on developing a shared vision of the future of what success will look like is key to intertwining buyer and seller. This is effectively what needs analysis and solution definition is about. However, take a look at a typical sales proposal and you will likely find that it falls considerably short of delivering a shared vision of future success.

Your Sales Gauge: Your Level Of Buyer Empathy

Take the Buyer Empathy Test below. Use it to gauge how attuned you are to the buyer and the impact that address this issue could have on your sales success.
Tick If Yes

'I understand what it must be like to be a professional buyer, including the responsibilities, challenges and targets.'

Tick If Yes

'I understand the requirements of getting the purchase sanctioned and the internal demands that it places on the buyer.'

Tick If Yes

'I don't get frustrated by the buyer's rules and procedures viewing them as a necessary element of modern buying.'

Tick If Yes

'I understand the mantra for today's buyers is more for less and that pushing supplier costs down is one of the buyer's main responsibilities.'

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Tick If Yes

'I can appreciate that buyers are slow to accept what salespeople have to say. They are right to be cautious and even cynical about vendor promises.'

Tick If Yes

I understand that the buyer often faces hidden complexities in making the decision (e.g. conflicting priorities, competing projects and internal politics).'

Tick If Yes

I am highly perceptive and can tell what the buyer is thinking, even if he/she does not say much.

Tick If Yes

I think about how the purchase decision will impact on the buyer and his, or her success.

Tick If Yes

Buyers regularly open up and share their motivations and fears with me. They trust me.

Tick If Yes

Buyers clearly see me as having their best interests at heart. They know that I care about what is important to them.

What Should You Do Next?

Use the checklist above to decide what you want to do next. In particular, see how many items were you able to tick 'Yes'.

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If you ticked most, or all of them then you have the buyer's empathy under control. So, you might like to navigate to some other aspect of the Opportunities Stage, or elsewhere in the sales process.

If not, this area could be limiting your sales success. You can start addressing it by tackling those items in the checklist that you could not tick. For each make a note of specific actions you can take you will find space to write earlier in this paper.

The Science Behind This Paper

These insights and tools are based on extensive research under 3 headings: 1. Buyer Research our ground-breaking research into how modern buying decisions are made and the implications for sellers. 2. Best Practice Research Over 1 million pages of best practice sales case studies, books and research. 3. Common Practice Research Our peer comparison benchmark of 1,000s of your competitors and peers.

The Sales Engine and SellerNav are trademarks of The ASG Group. The entire contents of this document are copyright of The ASG Group and cannot be reproduced in any format without written permission. Would you like help in tackling your sales challenges? Contact us at:

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