Sympathy — Is it a Sign of Weakness in Sales?

(An exerpt from the book Da Vinci Sales – The 7 Keys to Selling Like Leonardo)

relations-max-0715Sales is a dog eat dog world. In sales you don’t have time to care and you can’t be weak…or can you? Should you?  Does sympathy pay off in sales? If so, which should you be, sympathetic or empathetic?

While many say it is more important to be able to empathize with people than to sympathize. There is such beauty in sympathy. When you are sympathetic you are willing to try to see through someone else’s eyes even when you have not experienced the same experience they are currently in.  In the case of sympathy, you are trying your best to understand and connect as closely as you possibly can even if the situation does not concern you personally.

The need to be able to be sympathetic in your daily life is somewhat self-evident. When you are driving home from work and someone cuts you off a little sympathy can change your whole reaction. You have a couple of options:

  • Option 1:  You can remind that person that you have just as much right to the road that they do and they have no right to endanger your life by cutting you off in traffic. You are even within your social rights to use an expletive or gesture.
  • Option 2:  This option not only requires the use of sympathy, but also the use of a paradigm shift. This paradigm shift allows your sympathetic approach to change the way you think and believe about the situation and in turn the way you react. In using this paradigm shift and sympathetic approach you can decide that this person may have just come off or of a double shift that they were working to earn extra money for their family after recently losing their spouse a few days ago. You decide that you too would be a bit distracted if you lost your closest loved one a few days before this incident. You also decide to believe that they are in need of extra money to raise the four children this person is now left to raise alone. You further develop your paradigm and sympathy scenario to see that one of these children has special needs. Your cut off offender is in a bit of a hurry to get home and relieve the nurse that cares for this child while they are away and this nurse charges extra if they show up late. You are now able to let that cut off go and better yet, you hope that the person who cut you off gets home quickly, safely and has better days to come. This is because you have this ability to create a scenario and in turn sympathize and change your paradigm.

There is beauty in sympathy, even if you have to create the need for it so that it can change your paradigm. The concept in option 2 is paraphrased from Zig Ziggler – I expanded on it a little to help make my point and I can’t give a direct quote or reference the exact source, because I am getting old and don’t remember where I heard or read it.

Is this important is technology sales? Is there beauty in sympathy in sales? That seems like a no brainer. Of course it is important in technology sales and when it is used there is beauty in the sympathetic sales process. But, all too often we talk about ‘side of the table’ and the ‘games we are playing’ in negotiations and even in needs analysis. A passionate sales person who is convicted in what they sell (because they believe in the products and solutions they offer) does not have to view the world of sales as sides and games. For people of conviction and passion the sales world is full of opportunities to solve problems and this can best be done when seeing the world through the customer’s eyes. If a sales person can use sympathy to see the things they have never experienced and do their best to understand how these things make their customer feel even when there is no personal impact to the sales person, they gain insight and the ability to see the whole problem (including explicit needs and implied needs – read SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham for some great information on explicit and implied needs). Another beautiful side effect of this approach is that the sales person can use their ability to create scenarios and a situation to sympathize with even the most difficult customers. This can help a sales person change their paradigm and connect with people who often don’t get connected with. Sometimes customers can be difficult because they have a lot of tragic things going on elsewhere in their lives, why not just create that scenario for all of the difficult customers and have a new paradigm for them all. Who knows, this approach may actually build a relationship that goes far beyond the sales cycle and gets into a partnership and trusted advisor status for decades to come.

Here are some useful hints on how to focus your observations about your customers and business partners to become more sympathetic to their situation. Using the Acronym RIVER, you can determine some of the key elements to focus your efforts toward in order for you to be better in tune with your customers. The RIVER acronym and concept comes from the book Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service from Performance Research Associates.  RIVER = Roles, Interests, Values, Expectations and Requirements. Each of the terms in RIVER is self-explanatory and by using these categories you can make sure that you look at many angles of the person, business or group of people to help gain more perspective to be more sympathetic.  By adding some key questions and key points and taking time to get these questions and points answered and understood you can better put yourself in a place where you can be truly sympathetic:

  • R – Roles = What are this person’s roles in the organization, home, church and other areas of life? Are they a leader, follower or somewhere in between? Can you help them with their roles and can you play a role in their life beyond the typical business role. In business development I find this an easy place for me to be actively engaged because I can use my role as an educator to help develop other people’s roles at work and in life in general.
  •  I – Interests = Understanding what this person is interested in will help you frame your discussions around their interests. You will engage them on new levels if your analogies and references have to do with things that they are interested in.
  • V – Values = If you can understand someone’s value system and RESPECT it (not necessarily agree with it) then you will be well on your way to earning the mutual respect. That respect becomes trust.
  • E – Expectations = Knowing what people need and want from you up front will go a long way.  This will keep “the dance” short and the work productive.
  • R – Requirements = The bottom line, can you provide this person what they need.  If we refer another book that I love (the Complex Sell by Rick Paige) there is a key reference to the Shark Chart of Pain where the requirements (Pains) are identified in a hierarchy of Strategic, Political, Financial, Cultural Organizational and Technical. Can you meet these requirements and can you hit them high in the hierarchy?

I have the luxury of traveling around a lot and doing a lot of teaching. One thing that I have learned during all of this traveling and training is that I know that I am at my best when teaching when I am in tune with my students and when I am truly sympathetic. I train my best when I view my own training from the student’s perspective. I believe that sales is exactly the same. We sell well when we connect and understand (sympathize) with our customers. We sell better and solve problems better when we truly look at these problems from our customer’s perspective and then apply our available resources to solve those problems with the customer. We do better yet when we engage the customer and use a lot of their resources along with ours. That is what I will talk about next week is engaging the customer at a level where they become part of the solution you provide. You almost get to sell them back their own expertise when you project manage their team properly and sell the stakeholder engagement aspect and entire process. So stay tuned…

Max has worked in the AV industry for over 17 years in various management and technical roles. Over the last 28 years Max has acquired an extensive background in supporting AV and IT  systems, computer networks, telecom, and VTC systems. Max developed one of the industry’s first networked AV solutions and that product is now deployed in a single network with over 15,000 network attached AV devices. Max has made considerable contributions to the InfoComm Education area in AV/IT and CTS preparations. He was awarded the 2010 Educator of the Year for InfoComm and has prepared over 1000 candidates for their CTS exam. The views in this article are strictly the views of Max and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer or business partners.