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A New Look At That Old Sales Capability: Empathy

We’ve always listed empathy as a required trait for salespeople.  In a Sales 101 application, empathy is the salesperson’s ability to understand the customer’s situation from the customer’s perspective.  Nothing new here.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her wonderful book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, provides us with another, very powerful reason why empathy is critical for effective selling, but this time it’s not Sales 101 stuff.  This application of empathy applies to advanced selling, and I got the chills when I first read this description of how Lincoln applied his empathetic capabilities to competitive strategy:

Though Lincoln’s empathy was at the root of his melancholy, it would prove an enormous asset to his political career. “His crowning gift of political diagnosis,” suggested Nicolay, “was due to his sympathy…which gave him the power to forecast with uncanny accuracy what his opponents were likely to do.” She described how, after listening to his colleagues talk at a Whig Party caucus, Lincoln would cast off his shawl, rise from his chair, and say: “From your talk, I gather the Democrats will do so and so…I should do so and so to checkmate them.” He proceeded to outline all “the moves for days ahead; making them all so plain that his listeners wondered why they had not seen it that way themselves.” Such capacity to intuit the inward feelings and intentions of others would be manifest throughout his career.

The best salespeople use empathy in this way to win deals.  Do yours?  Why not?  What are you going to do about it?

© Norberto Lauria – Fotolia.com

4 Responses

  1. Dave, I always like to hear what Lincoln thought. He is and has always been one of my heroes. I agree that empathy sells.

  2. This is a powerful capability. Thanks for pointing out the importance. The more experienced sales people seem to demonstrate empathy more, I’ve noticed. Maybe you become less selfish and more genuinely interested in your client’s success after more experience. Great topic!

  3. Absolutely agree with Dave that Empathy is an advanced sales skill. If you’re sat in a meeting wondering if you have asked enough questions there probably isn’t time to consider your ’empathy’ with your prospect.

    We run very successful Empathy Selling training programmes to help develop emotional intelligence in sales people. Have a look at the website if interested!

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