Creating More Customer Empathy With Sales Enablement

Customer Empathy

We identified the following key areas of customer empathy and focus by collecting inputs from our members (25 qualitative interviews of sales leaders and salespeople in our customer organizations).

Looking back on the last year, here are the most prominent “Empathy Areas” that sales enablement orchestrators identified.

An Empathy Area is a domain that they want to explore further, with the intention of closing the gap to help salespeople be more successful.

Empathy Area #1: What it Means to Sell to Customer Expectations

  • Customers are demanding more. Higher expectations for attaining business results are being placed on sales professionals by buyers who are expected to make the correct purchase decision. As a result, buyers are now demanding an understanding of their business, objective interpretation of their needs, and a more precise translation into implementation actions.
  • With increasing expectations, the knowledge, skills, and abilities required by sales professionals to succeed are changing. What this means: salespeople are under increased pressure to attain not only the goals of the selling organization but the goals of the buying organization as well.
  • Salespeople are learning that they must be willing to accept responsibility for ensuring the success of both the buyer and the seller, as defined by each group.
  • Emerging trends are leaning towards greater salesperson responsibility for reducing buyer logistics costs, higher standards of quality control, greater mass-customization potential, and increased demand for sellers to be problem-solvers, not just pushers of standard problem solutions.

Empathy Area #2: What it Means to “Sell Higher”

  • Salespeople are continuing to transition from a transactional salesperson to relationship selling or a true partnership. More organizations are pushing salespeople harder to become trusted advisors to their customers. As a result, they are focusing on developing deeper relationships within the company while developing a personal network inside the company as well as within their specific industry.
  • Salespeople are continuing to evolve their knowledge of the customer, especially their customer executives, the customer’s industry, and the even the customer’s customer. Salespeople will need to probe for problems, needs, and opportunities that are top-of-mind for the buyer.
  • As a result, sales managers are learning that customers view their own company as a commodity. Buying executives are often unable to make the connection between the problems they have, the outcomes they wish to attain, and the potential solution offered.

Customer Empathy Area #3: No Difference Between Teams and Company

  • Historically, the role of the sales manager has been to focus on monthly or quarterly results. The current environment forces many sales professionals into a commodity selling situation or setting that is more transactional, especially when the end of the month is near.
  • However, in today’s landscape, sales professionals must focus on representing the entire breadth and depth of their company to their customers. Customers who may not have the same time frame in mind or who may have strong negotiating skills. And very often don’t care who is “supposed” to do what in your company.
  • The salesperson must stay focused on delivering value to the customer and across the customer’s “agreement network” to not only align actions nd decisions but also align to mutually agreed goals and objectives. This approach requires taking the client’s best interest into account while providing a relevant solution to the business issues at hand.
  • Becoming more empathetic to customers could mean salespeople need to balance revenue implications with ethical and legal considerations while also figuring out how to manage both short-term and long-term goals. This will make forecasting even more difficult.
Customer Empathy in Sales
Business people talking in meeting

Empathy Area #4: What It Means to Listen

  • Salespeople also are expected to help solve business problems with their buyers. To do this, salespeople must have a strong understanding of the buyer’s business, industry, customers, and products.
  • While product knowledge is essential to the success of the salesperson, skills such as listening, analyzing, problem-solving, and questioning are invaluable. These skills help buyers navigate the complexity of the solution and the dearth of available information.
  • While communication skills are essential to success in any occupation, listening skills are vital as well. This skill can help sellers identify root problems and hidden obstacles that could affect the buyer’s business success. Listening also requires expertise in building rapport, patience, and timing to build the foundation for a trusting relationship. As a result, listening provides the foundation for learning about problems and supplying relevant solutions.

Customer Empathy Area #5: What it Means to Enable Sales

  • Traditionally, sales organizations have focused on the volume of individual activity as an indicator of productivity. As such, the sales professional’s compensation came when he met or exceeded his sales quotas.
  • More firms are examining the profitability of specific sales and the service to individual customers. For example, productivity can be measured as a function of profitability. In this measure, the overall deal is measured against the net profitability measure after factoring the cost of sales.
  • Additionally, the impact of activity can be scored and measured (as opposed to measuring frequency). These more sophisticated productivity measures are surfacing as organizations attempt to shift or replace direct selling with lower-cost sales channels. These include the use of telemarketing, direct mail, or email marketing, with little to no success.
  • More importantly, organizations are working hard to ensure their sales team stays focused on the most appropriate use of time. This condition is due to the increased complexity of the selling environment.


Due to internal challenges, sales managers are in a unique position to work together to achieve revenue growth goals, improve customer empathy, elevate competency, and engineer performance. The key question is, “what groups and what people do you need around the table?” To help, take these steps and pull the right people together:

ACTIVITY for 1/2 Day Working Session

  1. Send this article, and previous “Year in Review” articles out to the cross-functional team outside the sales organization as pre-reads. For example, send it to leaders in marketing, operations, delivery, technology, sales support, field marketing, training/readiness, and HR (sales recruiting).
  2. Set aside time (calendar invite) and ask each attendee to come prepared with 2-3 action items to help close the buyer/seller gap based on what they read.
  3. Have them prepare 1 slide each of what they will do to help to go into this year.
  4. Conduct the meeting and have real-world examples from the past six months to serve as case studies. Share the struggles you have had in the sales process. Have them each present their slides and their thoughts to help. Don’t lay blame along the way. Instead, focus on solutions based on what you saw. And don’t be afraid to ask people for specific help. Tailor the conversation to focus on the case studies, and be prepared to relate today’s sales opportunities.

CAPSTONE EXERCISE: Pick 2 existing opportunities currently in-flight. Have your sales team prepare an opportunity overview and present it to the attendees. Split the attendees into two groups to identify the support they can provide to salespeople in the pursuit of the current opportunity

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