Closing Time

The Science of Sales: How to Exercise Empathy in B2B Sales

What is clinical empathy, and how can it help sales professionals increase win rates, improve pipeline efficiency, and remove friction in the buying process? Clinical empathy refers to the ability to feel (and understand) the buyer’s experience. Just as it’s used by doctors to relate and build trust with patients, it can be used similarly in B2B sales.

In this episode of Closing Time, Todd Caponi will explore the science of empathy in sales and share how B2B sellers can apply these learnings to improve their sales processes, outcomes, and the entire buying experience. It’s clinical empathy for the buying brain!

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Clinical Empathy in B2B Sales

Clinical empathy is a crucial skill that medical doctors learn to diagnose and help patients. At its core, clinical empathy involves experiencing the highs and lows of the people they treat and seeing the world through their eyes. 

It separates someone who is simply spouting off directions and someone who is truly a partner to those individuals.

Similarly, B2B sellers can apply clinical empathy while interacting with their prospects and customers to help improve the overall buying experience for customers.

Sympathy vs. Empathy in Sales

In B2B sales, sympathy and empathy are two approaches that sales professionals can use to connect with their clients.

Sympathy refers to acknowledging and expressing understanding of a client’s difficult situation or challenge. It involves showing concern and compassion for their struggles without necessarily understanding or sharing their feelings. For example, a sales professional might express sympathy for a client who is struggling to meet a tight deadline.

Empathy, on the other hand, involves understanding and sharing a client’s feelings and perspective. It requires the sales professional to put themselves in the client’s shoes and see the situation from their point of view. For example, a sales professional might empathize with a client who is feeling overwhelmed by a complex decision-making process and offer guidance and support.

While sympathy can be useful in building rapport and showing that the sales professional cares about the client’s well-being, empathy is often more effective in B2B sales because it helps the sales professional understand the client’s needs and challenges more deeply. This allows them to offer tailored solutions that meet clients’ specific needs and preferences.

Applying Empathy in B2B Scenarios

Using empathy in a B2B consensus sale can not only help you cut through the noise and build trust but also help to gain consensus with the buying group.

According to data from Forrester, there are 27 total tough points in the typical B2B buying journey, with Gartner data revealing an average of seven to ten people in the buying committee, and only 17% of a buyer’s time is spent talking to potential sellers.

As human beings, we don’t buy when we’re convinced; we buy when we can predict – when we’re able to make an accurate prediction of if the reward is worth spending time and resources on the purchase.

B2B sellers can help their buyers predict by doing the homework for them – admitting their product’s faults, empathizing with their customer’s needs, and not always presenting their solutions as perfect.

Consensus Selling in a Remote World

Consensus selling can be difficult, and remote consensus selling is even harder. But I would argue that remote consensus BUYING is indefinitely more challenging since buyers cannot interact and build consensus or support with their buying committee remotely as easily as they could in the office break room or over a cup of coffee.

However, remote consensus selling presents tremendous opportunity for B2B salespeople to differentiate themselves. How? By embracing your product’s flaws and being transparent with buyers about what you give up (features, price, functionality), to be great at your core.

Your product may be priced higher than your competitors, so you call that out to your buyer early in the sales cycle. It’s not losing fast; it’s winning fast. You’re doing the homework for the buyer so they can come to a conclusion faster.

You’re qualifying in better, but you’re also qualifying out better.


Outcomes from Using Clinical Empathy

Being radically open, honest, and transparent feels different to your buyers because many companies are not selling that way.

When you embrace clinical empathy, it not only improves a seller’s win rates but it speeds up the buying process (benefiting both the buyer and the seller), increases pipeline efficiency (by qualifying in better), and creates stronger relationships with customers (increasing the chances of referrals, better word-of-mouth, and the potential for upsell/cross opportunities in the future).


Do you really understand and empathize with the buyer’s experience? And how getting it right can really change your outcomes? That’s what we’re exploring in today’s Closing Time. Hello everyone and welcome to Closing Time the show for go-to-market leaders. My name is Chip House, I’m CMO at Insightly CRM, and today I am joined by Todd Caponi. Todd is the author of the awesome book, “The Transparency Sale” as well as consultant and speaker in the field of sales. Welcome, Todd. Thanks for having me. So, Todd, you really know that I’m kind of a geek at heart. And I heard about your approach to empathy in selling and the concept of clinical empathy. Can you tell me more about what that’s about? Well, yeah. I mean, if you scroll through LinkedIn today, like everybody’s talking about, oh, it’s so important to be empathetic, right? But then underneath it, they describe what is really sympathy. Now, empathy, like you said,. I mean, it’s being able to see the world through the eyes of those that you’re interacting with. And when you think about like medical doctors, when they go to school and they go get their medical degree, a big chunk of what they learn is, you know, like the neck bones connected to the head or whatever, you know, whatever. They like, all that stuff. But they also learn the most important skill, which is clinical levels of empathy. Right. Being able to experience the highs and lows of the people that they’re trying to diagnose and help out, because that is the key between just being somebody who’s spouting off directions and being somebody who’s truly a partner to those individuals. And I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned through the lens of clinical levels of empathy in the selling world. Got it. So clinical kind of brings in the whole concept of the difference between sympathy and empathy, right? It’s being able to understand it from the buyer’s shoes or in the case of your medical, I guess the buyer’s the buyer’s bedside or something, right? Yeah, exactly. Like, what I mean by sympathy is: we saw so much of it during COVID times, right? It was just like every email started with what sales reps thought was empathy. But it was, you know, Chip, I hope you’re doing well in these trying times, right? That’s not empathy. That’s sympathy. Empathy is, you know, imagine that you and a buddy are going to go on an airplane trip and the airplane is going to be packed. And you both got a lot of work to do. And you realize the seat assignments before you go. You’ve got a nice like window seat aisle. But the individual that you’re flying with that also has work to do, they’re going to be back row, middle. What would empathy be? Well, empathy would be to actually go experience what that’s like. You know, like maybe go pull your car out across the street. So you’re just getting enough Wi-Fi and go sit in the back seat with your laptop for a little bit and see how that goes. Like, that’s empathy. Right. And I don’t think salespeople really embrace that enough. And if you don’t mind, I’ll kind of take you to what that means in a B2B world. And we can talk a little bit more about how you do it. But, you know, you and I, when you talked about we’ve got time together, right? You’re CMO, the whole marketing world, you know, one of the things that we used to do that everybody listening likely has an opportunity to do is this: let’s say you’re selling to marketers, right? Your sales team is selling to marketers. You probably have somebody doing marketing in your organization. Why wouldn’t you go ask them to come to your sales meetings every so often? Hey, bring your laptop, tell us what you’re working on, what you’re measured by, what conferences you’re thinking about, what you read, show us your inbox, what stands out, right?. You’re selling to finance, you probably have accountants that work in your organization. Selling to product? There’s probably product people, right? The people that you’re selling to, something similar is likely in your organization. They’re simple ideas and simple empathetic type of opportunities to learn that are within an arms reach of you. And I just think it’s a missed opportunity for so many sales organizations. Yeah, I think that’s totally right. I mean, it’s sort of a consensus sale, right? In a B2B scenario because you have multiple different people that you’re trying to influence. And I know that you’ve got tons of experience in B2B selling yourself and leading. B2B sales teams and things like that. You know, both Gartner and Forrester have talked about even how this has changed and gotten even more sort of pointed during the pandemic. Right. I think Forrester has said it’s moved to 27 total touches, and Gartner says there’s seven people in the organization responsible for the buying process. Right? So I mean, how do you apply empathy across an org in a B2B world? Well, let’s start, that really brings up an awesome point. Let’s start with a key thing that I want everybody to remember. And this is maybe a quote you might want to write down, but we as human beings, we don’t buy when we’re convinced we buy when we can predict.. Like we might buy when we’re convinced, but we’re probably not going to be happy about it. But we as buyers, all of you, everybody listening to this, you buy when you’re able to make an accurate prediction of, hey, is the juice going to be worth the squeeze here? Is what I’m giving up in terms of my time, my resources, my dollars going to be worth the reward and worth me spending that time on this versus something else that might give me a reward? And so that’s part of the reason why, you know, as you know, I wrote the book, The Transparency Sale, but it really comes from this idea that for all of you listening and watching, you probably read reviews before you buy something you’ve never bought before. But more importantly, you probably read the negative reviews first. As it turns out, a product that has an average review score between a 4.2 and a 4.5 sells at a higher conversion rate than a product with any other average review score, meaning a 4.2 sells better than a product that’s got nothing but perfect 5.0 scores. Now, to bring that back to what you asked,. Chip. Yeah, there’s a lot of data that says, hey, things have gotten more complicated, the process takes longer, there’s more touches. Gartner’s got another study that says that in a consensus sale, only 39% of the time consensus buyers are spending on that evaluation is spent talking to you, talking to your competitor, or talking to their internal buying group. That means 61% of the time is spent doing other stuff. And that other stuff is back channeling you. Right, reading reviews, calling analysts, reading analysts reports, or talking to peers. I mean, peers have never been more accessible. In my opinion, though, if we experience true clinical empathy, the 61% is not a foregone conclusion. I believe that we drive buyers to do more homework because we’re not helping them predict, we’re trying to convince. We’re only sharing 5.0 score type data and they’ve got to figure out why you’re a 4.2, because subconsciously we know that nothing and nobody is perfect. And again, if we’re presenting our solutions as perfect, we’re driving the buyer to do those extra touches, to do that more homework, to involve more people because they’re struggling to predict. And we can help with that. Yeah, that’s, that’s perfect. It’s probably even more heightened now. Again, post-pandemic in a virtual world where everybody is remote and everybody has Google, right? I mean, everybody has Google. Everybody knows how to do their research. So, 61% of that time, they’re out there on the review sites reading about you, right? And so your marketing footprint, your content has to be authentic. Your sales approach has to be authentic. And so, you know, digging into it a bit, you know, what have you noticed, Todd, how that changes in a virtual selling world? Right. So when you’re selling over, say, zoom, right? How can you truly put yourself in the buyer’s shoes and how can you have them feel like you are? Yeah, I think there’s a tremendous opportunity to differentiate in the way that you sell. We’re always looking for differentiation and we go: it’s our product, it’s our pricing, It’s our approach, right? I think there’s an opportunity for salespeople to create that differentiation.. And to your point, everybody that’s selling in a consensus type of environment today, right? Consensus selling is hard. Yes, it’s always been hard. However, you probably have a whole team behind you that’s been hired to help you sell, right? Marketers that are helping you with the content. You’ve got processes, enablement, operations, the whole organization. You know, the reason companies fail ultimately is due to lack of sales. So our whole organization is there to support sales, right? Consensus selling. Yeah, it’s hard – selling to multiple buyers in an organization. But I would argue consensus buying is and has always been harder if you’re selling a more complex solution or something that requires more touches, your buyers have probably never bought anything like that before. Or if they have, maybe it’s once a year, twice a year? I mean, their job is to execute. It’s not to buy. Your job is to sell. Right. And as a result, that’s harder. But to your point, remember, all your buyers are now remote. So consensus buying has always been harder, remote consensus buying – infinitely harder. Your buyers don’t have the opportunity to go build that consensus and support throughout the organization by just running into people in the parking lot or grabbing coffee in the break room. It just doesn’t happen as much and when we can see that and we have that lens, that’s clinical empathy – to understand that. How do we help? Well, I believe that salespeople helping to do the homework for the buyer is a clear opportunity to differentiate in the way you sell. And what that means is: we got to stop presenting our solutions as though they’re perfect because again, we’re driving the buyer to do more homework. We’re making it harder on them already. Why can’t we embrace it? This is a term from supermodel Tyra Banks, but she calls it being flawsome. Right. Which is to embrace your flaws, but know that you’re still awesome. Why can’t we do that with our solutions?. To embrace what we give up, to be great at our core? None of you does all things for all people. Let’s go in and be able to lead with: hey, listen, we’re not the greatest at this, if that’s going to be important, let’s talk about that now. Now, our competitor does this better than us. We give that up to be great at this. Hey, our pricing, we’re kind of at the higher end if that’s going to be heartburn, let’s talk about that now. Embrace the things that you know that buyer might struggle with. Lose fast, but what you end up doing is you win faster because you’re doing the homework for them. Your win rates go up. Big part of that is because you’re qualifying in better, but you’re also qualifying out better. Oh, and the other benefit to make it really hard on your competitors, too. So that’s clinical empathy. Do the homework for the buyer it’s a huge opportunity for you to differentiate, make it easy because remember, remote consensus buying has never been harder. Yeah, because, you know, these days most companies are not selling that way, right? So when you are sort of radically open and honest and transparent, it feels different. And so I would think it would affect your ability to close and the outcomes for selling. But I mean, what if what kind of metrics or improvements have you seen, Todd? Well, we’ve seen, so there’s one story that I often tell and it has to do with that, like how we give up things to be great at our core. Right. There was two main stats that came out of that. So the first deal that I tried it with,. I walked into a buzzsaw, right? It was a big apparel manufacturer in New York, Calvin Klein, for anybody scoring at home,. I walked in not knowing that I was going to have to give a presentation. This room filled with their head of e-commerce and a bunch of people, I thought we were just having coffee. They’re asking me to present. Head of e-commerce starts the conversation by looking at me with like this death stare. Like listen, we’re looking at you.. We’re looking at your competitor. How are you better? Like, I could feel all the eyes of the room go on me, right? And I was like: you know what? I’m going to try this because I know how we all consume, so why not? And so how I answered was: hey listen, would you mind if I started with how they’re better than us? And I know that sounds crazy, but they just released an add on to their core technology that not only do we not have, it’s not even on our roadmap. Right. And if that’s going to be important, consideration hopefully we can save each other some time here. You’ve got a whole team in here. You’re about to write an RFP, like nobody wants to write one. No one wants to fill one out.. No one wants to read them. And then if it turns out that that’s going to be important, like you’re gonna have us fly to New York and the whole rigamarole, right? Maybe we can get down to an answer more quickly. And they’re like, what are you talking about? And so I explain what that add on is. Now, to fast forward to the end of the story, the whole vibe of the room changed, right? Instead of it being vendor – client, it became a group of people trying to reach a mutual decision to help a customer achieve an outcome as quickly as possible, whether it’s with us or with somebody else. They ended up not doing the RFP, not doing the full evaluation. They called me ten days later to tell me that they threw all of that out and decided to go with us. Now, the alternative would have been they have laid out a process that was going to take four months. We took four months down to ten days, and we kept doing it. And Power Reviews became Chicago’s fastest growing tech company in Chicago from 2014 to 2017 according to Deloitte. That’s a key one, right, number one. And then the quick second is: we found that our pipeline efficiency went way up. Like we just historically talk about, you always got to have 4x your quota in pipeline, right? Well that means that we’re only going to close 25% and that it’s filled with crap. Wow. Could we actually qualify in and out faster so we get that down to 2x? So our time, which is our most precious inventory is spent on those opportunities that we should win. And we found that our win rates went way up, pipeline efficiency went way up, but most importantly, remember back to that, 61%, we shrunk that. It’s not a foregone conclusion when you embrace transparency and embrace clinical empathy. Todd, thank you so much for that story and thank you for joining us today. Thanks for having me and giving me a platform for my rants. Of course, Todd, anytime you want to rant, you’re welcome back. And thanks to all of you for joining us today on this episode of Closing Time, the show for go-to-marketing leaders. make sure you subscribe and tick the bell so you don’t miss any epsiodes. And we’ll see you next time.

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