Developing Buyer Empathy

A Buyer’s View of the Universe
Developing Buyer Enablement
There are a lot of things that buyers think about. You, the seller, are barely on the radar of a buyer initially.

There are a lot of things that buyers think about. By and large, you, the seller, are not one of them (see Figure 4). Take a minute to think about what that means to you as a salesperson. To be successful, every time you make contact with a prospect, you need to be offering them something that helps them be successful in one or more of these spheres that concern them.

To me, this Gartner graphic is representative of “How Buyers See the Universe”: You, the seller, are barely on the radar of a buyer initially. You have to raise their awareness and their recognition that making a change to your solution can improve their universe.

As Gartner puts it, “Think of your audience as the center of a universe that you need to navigate. If you talk too much about yourself and your products, prospects will disengage almost immediately since that information is not relevant to them.”

The first step on the journey to buyer enablement is to keep the prospect’s universe in your head.

Remember Buyers Are People

This may sound simplistic, but too often we think of buyers as being limited to their role as prospects, leads, champions, or future customers instead of thinking about them as people—people like you and me. When we dehumanize buyers into just their roles, we won’t connect on that emotional level that buyers need from us in order to feel confident. 

Part of what tempts us to dehumanize buyers is that we’re intimidated by them. We know they hold the keys to something we want, and this influences our thinking. Instead of feeling intimidated, place the focus of your effort on reaching them on a personal level. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Even a small connection goes a long way, but it has to be real, not contrived.

Years ago, I heard Robert Harris, the founder of Chem-Dry, an international leader in carpet cleaning franchises, explain the principle that “people are just people” by sharing an extreme example of how he won over some key distributors from Japan. At the time, Chem-Dry was courting a large Japanese distributor and wanted to do a multimillion-dollar deal. To Chem-Dry it was a very big deal, but from the distributor’s perspective, Chem-Dry was still an unproven small company. The Japanese delegation had come to visit Harris in California, and after a couple of days of meetings, he took them to his personal mountain retreat. Harris was trying to get a verbal commitment from them, but they were balking and delaying.

Harris was an aviation enthusiast and a stunt pilot. He could see they were at an impasse, so he decided to take a break and invite them to ride with him in his private plane. He took them up, and partway through the ride, he did a full loop. His guests all gasped and then laughed. They were nervous but clearly delighted. Harris laughed with them. Laughing, he asked, “Do we have a deal?” No response. 

Taking the laughter as a sign that walls were starting to crumble, Harris decided to push the envelope. He put the plane through a barrel roll. Again, more gasping and laughing. Harris laughed again and asked, “So do we have a deal now?” They laughed back, but still no response. Harris pulled the plane straight up until it stalled, the engine going silent. The plane began to streak downward. Moments later, he roared the engine back to life. Laughs of relief and delight came again. “Do we have a deal yet?” Harris asked again. Finally the answer came back as the delegation leader, laughing, said, “Yes, yes, just take us back down to earth!”

Harris found a way to bring laughter, something that connects all of us, into the conversation, immediately bringing down the walls. Few of us could pull this kind of stunt (pun intended) to get a deal done, but Harris’s main point was this: Forget about who you are talking to, forget about how important the deal is to you, and remember that people are people. Don’t be intimidated. Treat them like human beings and make a real connection. Good things follow.

You Need To Actually Care

There is lots of advice out there about how to relate to people, how to ask open-ended questions, how to show people you are listening, and how to make people feel cared about. In my opinion, most of this advice is useless because it’s just a put-on and people seeright through it. There is no substitute for actually seeing other people as real people and caring about them. If you do, all else will come naturally.

For the full manual on buyer enablement, check out the book Selling is Hard. Buying is Harder by Garin Hess.

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