Empathy and storytelling – the silver bullet to sales success?

In search of the silver sales bullet

cover-achieveWith over 40% of B2B sales resources NOT making target each year, everyone is looking for the silver bullet:

What’s the killer closing technique?

Should I follow the Solution Selling methodology, or perhaps SPIN, maybe Challenger, what about good old Strategic Selling?  TAS could come in handy here!

I better align with the new buyer’s journey!

Better get better leads from those slackers in Marketing!

Another coffee and muffin meeting?  I build relationships!

Here’s my killer demo!

So Ms Prospect, what keeps you up late at night?

Go and get 3 quotes, then come back to me – I’ll give you the best deal!

Does the silver bullet really exist?

Fascinatingly there is a range of sales folk who adhere to each of the (somewhat tongue in cheek) techniques listed above.  And the amazing thing is that some are successful, and some aren’t.

What gives?

There seems to be a greater force at play here.

We’ve all been to Sales 101, and they told us to “build rapport” early in our sales meetings.  Unfortunately, this generally degenerates into talking about Australia’s World Cup cricket victory, the football, commenting on paintings on the wall etc etc.

“Rapport” can be defined as a “connection – a sympathetic relation”.

Sympathy is useful, but it doesn’t require a deep understanding of another person’s (prospect’s) position.

Empathy” on the other hand – as revealed in recent ground breaking research – literally “puts us in the shoes” of the other party (the prospect), and by “standing with them” encourages them not just to open up more, but to be more generous!

Why does empathy work?

It’s common sense that we should try to build empathy with customers.  But why does it work, and how exactly do we build it?

Recent scientific tests have revealed that – when we build empathy with a customer – this actually changes the customer’s brain function.  When we build empathy, the prospect has been shown to create a hormone called oxytocin.

No big deal?  The thing is – tests revealed that the more oxytocin an individual is producing, the more generous they become.  Given money to share with a stranger – the more oxytocin, the more they’d share!

The implications here for selling are obvious.  The more generous a prospect feels, the more likely they are to buy.

But at a deeper level – building empathy just seems to be the right thing to do.  If we truly understand where a customer is coming from, the more we “stand in their shoes” – the more likely it is that we can help them.

How do we build empathy?

For some people, building empathy just comes naturally.

For others, perhaps less experienced, or younger salespeople that might have to deal with CEO’s – it’s more of a challenge.

Again – the research is starting to emerge and it appears that “storytelling” is one key way to reach out to a prospect to build empathy.

I recently posted in a few LinkedIn groups around the topic of empathy and storytelling – and Michael Harris, CEO of Insight Demand said it well:

With a story, you can show empathy for the customer’s ego. Because a story is about someone else, it’s non-threatening.

A story also shows empathy for the customer, because you’re not pushing a conclusion on the customer. All you’re doing is presenting a scenario and allowing the customer to form their own conclusion. Without the pressure, the customer can relax and listen to your story, and if it’s insightful enough, the customer just may start to tell themselves a new story where new choices makes more sense.

Lastly, a story also shows empathy for the customer, because no one likes to be vulnerable first.

Now, it has to be not just any old rambling story – but a story that follows a certain structure, just like all good stories that have been told over the centuries.

Helping the less experienced players

Despite provocative and frankly self-serving articles – in no less than the Harvard Business Review – trumpeting the “death of solution selling”, the concept of uncovering a prospect’s pain point, and building a vision as to how we can fix that problem is an extremely important concept in modern sales.  Certainly much better than just banging on about how good our product/service is!

The problem for the inexperienced salesperson though is – when they ask their customer “what keeps you up at night?” – they have absolutely no idea what the answer is going to be!  This can create tensions for them, so they revert back to what they know ie talking about their company and their products/services – topics that are 100% guaranteed to bore the customer to death!

If the inexperienced at least go in with some stories to tell, they have some certainty about what the agenda will be.  If by telling the story that causes the customer to reveal a pain point, at least they can predict in advance what that pain point will be.  Less anxiety – more value add.

Is this manipulative?

Sure, you can make up a story that’s not true.  You can display vulnerability that’s false.  But these are ethics issues that we deal with in B2B sales all the time.

If you have a REAL story that’s relevant to a prospect – then share it!  And share it in the “right way” ie following a story structure that has proven over centuries to be effective.

After all – wouldn’t you rather engage and entertain then subject the customer to “death by PowerPoint”?

Join us for breakfast in Melbourne on 23rd July, to hear more about the theory, and how sales resources can be taught to tell stories, and build empathy.