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The human side of sales: how to infuse every interaction with empathy

William Craig

October 05, 2020

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It’s safe to say we’ve all had to accept a new normal when it comes to the definition of “business as usual.” Whether it’s finding a balance between work and personal life, meeting over Zoom instead of in the conference room, or simply taking a moment to understand the pandemic environment, we’re all facing real and difficult challenges. But instead of viewing these challenges as divides, we have an opportunity to unite in this shared experience. 

Sales and cold-calling are difficult enough and present their own challenges under normal circumstances, and no amount of training can prepare you for how to pivot and adjust your methods during a pandemic. You’re no longer looking at a simple objection that can be saved with a slick response. These aren’t just people on a list for you to call; these are humans going through something no one alive has ever had to overcome. 

Human first; salesperson second

I believe the answer to how we flip the script lies within that last statement. The people we’re calling—our prospects and customers—are human, and we have to treat them as such. Under normal circumstances, a prospect would probably be sitting at their desk, working on a project, while you simply ask for a moment of their time to talk about something that could potentially help them. But now, they may have a dog barking in the background, or might be sharing a working space with their spouse, or any number of variables that you are not normally prepared to speak around when trying to get (and keep) their attention. And this is where you get to stop being a salesperson and start a real dialogue, human to human. 

As salespeople we have to meet our prospects where they are in the midst of a pandemic, a social justice movement, and a presidential election. And in order to do that, we must infuse every interaction with empathy; it’s never been more important to keep the human element top of mind throughout the sales process. So how can we do this on cold calls, where our ultimate goal is to make a sale? How can we deliver a sales pitch while still maintaining empathy for whatever our prospects are going through? How do we meet them where they are?

Making human connections in the sales pitch

I recently reached out to a prospect who was trying to help her two children with virtual school. Just after the initial hellos, she apologized and asked to step away for a moment to walk them through a segment. When she came back, she asked about the purpose of my call, and at that moment I decided I wouldn’t launch right into my pitch, and instead, I asked how the virtual learning was going. She shared her struggles with it, explaining that the most challenging part was that items were not easily accessible for her kids in elementary school. The program lacked organization when it came to finding assignments, and knowing which videos needed to be viewed in what order was a lot to process for her young children. 

We talked it through for a bit and then she realized we hadn’t yet discussed Conga at all, or even why I was calling. We switched gears and began to talk about contract management—how she currently handles contracts and how Conga’s solutions can help, emphasizing one of its key features: the easily searchable repository. Thanks to our earlier chat about her kids’ online classes, I was able to learn that accessibility and ease of use were important to her, something I may not have discovered otherwise.

The connections may not always be this easy to make in every cold call, but the point is, we talked as one human to another. We opened a genuine dialogue, and it allowed me to understand where she was in the moment, which equipped me to make points that resonated with her. 

I’ve often wondered how that call would have gone if, when she asked why I was calling, I went straight into salesperson mode, and I will never have that answer. Taking that moment and calling out the elephant in the room helps us understand that we are all struggling together, and it can make a world of a difference. 

William Craig

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