Empathy – Attribute of the Sales Elite

We at Sales Icon Coaching advocate that one of the most powerful selling techniques at your disposal is Pain & Pleasure Selling. We delve into this in great depth in the book Sales Icon: Selling in the Shadows but for an introduction to the topic please do review the article below:


Now a key skill that any sales person requires, especially those whom want to exercise Pain & Pleasure selling is empathy. If you lack a level of empathy then chances are you’re going to struggle in sales.

Empathy is an individuals’ capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, or simply put the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Questioning is the key to empathy. Steven  Covey, one of my heroes whom wrote the book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ developed a great concept on the topic.

“If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Steven Covey

Habit Five – Seek first to understand, then to be understood

To develop any level of empathy at all, we first must question, then listen, then reflect. Without this we simply cannot relate!

Be clear on the distinction between empathy and sympathy as they’re not the same. Someone whom merely sympathises is listening and reacting with emotion. Someone whom displays true empathy is directly relating to that person and their unique situation.

Relating to anyone is underpinned by empathy, living and breathing their situation or circumstance even if it is but for a moment.

The way that I provide the most compelling solution to my customers is all through empathy, I put myself in their shoes and ask the question “what would I do?”

This often leads me down paths that I wouldn’t normally comprehend, sometimes positioning practices or solutions which don’t make me money in the short term. But in the long term they do, as through thinking like this I am able to do what’s right for the customer, leading to long term sales relationships.

Essentially though, in order to empathise accurately and effectively in sales we must first understand the full picture. We cannot empathise without asking questions, listening and reflecting on what the person has to say. As Steven Covey positions, seek first to understand!

As I mentioned initially we at Sales Icon Coaching champion using Pain and Pleasure selling as a way to effectively empathise with buyers. We should do nothing more and nothing less than asking questions that relate to the pain they’re in and the implications, and then the pleasure state they would like to attain.

So if you want to be successful in sales, practice your empathy. It doesn’t have to start in a sales situation either. Empathise with a colleague, your spouse or family member. Live and breathe their situation whether that be sorrow or joy. Soon enough they will call you a great listener and confide in you for much more than they do now. That’s when you know you’ve improved your skills in empathy. Try it with every human interaction you have, there’s no drawback at all. It will make you a better friend, partner or family member as well as a better sales person. 

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