Prospecting with Purpose and Empathy


Pandemic Prospection Series


I’m hearing two extremes right now.

One salesperson’s extreme approach leads calls with empathy while downplaying that business and sales still have to get done. The opposite extreme approach is so focused on business goals that the salesperson comes across as completely inauthentic and non-caring.

A cornerstone of our business has always been (and continues to be) the statement: Sales is a process…artfully done. The “artfully done” part is all about selling with empathy. Selling with empathy brings in the human side of selling and this is needed. Having a clear process brings purpose to our calls. We need to leverage both!

During this time, everyone is under immense pressure personally and professionally. You certainly don’t need an article to explain these varying degrees of pressure. With this pressure comes the responsibility to try and imagine what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes.

When you pick up the phone or join a Zoom call, you have no idea what the family or work dynamics are in the homes or offices of those you are connecting with virtually.

After speaking with a number of Sales Managers on this topic, one conversation in particular stayed with me. It was with Darla Bell, Total Access Sales Manager at Airgas (a long-time Methods in Motion client). Darla said: “It is my core belief that people really do need people and your listening ear could be that thing that helps get someone to the next day. Listen with love; make that cold call become a wellness check or sanity check, qualifying the prospect as we all share unwanted common ground these days….”

Darla’s “sanity check” calls have combined both process and art form and created a great balance of making purposeful and empathetic outbound calls. Building on that concept, here are three ways to mix both process and art form:

1. Process: Always ask for a Next Set Time – How’s Tuesday at 2:00?
Art Form/Empathy: Make the suggestion and listen. Really listen. There are times when it is not appropriate to push for and/or set a task to call back on a certain date.

Example: I had a “Next Set Time” with a prospect but an unexpected emergency surgery came up. The VP that emailed me was not personally affected; however, it was a family member of a key member of his leadership team. There are times it’s okay to lay low and follow up next week. “Take care of your employee’s family and let’s connect next week!”

2. Process: Call with a Reason/Make Purposeful Outbound Calls with Clear Objectives

Art Form: This part of the process is still 100% recommended, but in today’s selling environment, the meaty business-focused “reason for my call” is of secondary importance after first engaging with the person you are calling. People buy from people…always have…always will.

Example: If you have a prior relationship, always start by asking about their world. How has their family been affected by the pandemic—any job loss or health issues? How has their workforce/workplace been affected? Then, transition to the reason for your call. Your business reason for calling absolutely must be something that will be helpful to them.

Cold Calling: Still skip the “How are you?” It sounds insensitive…like you really don’t care. You’ll move to your reason for the call sooner but it’s all about their needs. In your opening, you must be able to address what you can do right now, in the midst of today’s environment, to truly help your customers. If you have a great helpful solution, pick up the phone and get the word out!

3. Process: Skillfully acknowledge knee jerk negative responses. Take down the guard, then repeat, reassure and resume. (Anyone who has gone through our trainings will recognize this formula for turning around objections.)

Art Form: We are not robots and don’t aspire to be. In taking down the guard, listen. REALLY listen. Insert empathy and mean it, while still taking the conversation to the next level. What feels like a ‘shut down’ doesn’t have to end the call.

Example (Backorder): Customer: “We are going on a holding pattern until we get our backorders from you guys. Why don’t you call me when those have been fulfilled and then we will talk about other products?”

Response: “I completely understand your frustration. As you know, this is not normal for us. We don’t like not being able to get product to you; however, we have some great alternatives that are extremely effective for what I know you need to accomplish. Just curious… (ask a relevant question)?”

Ultimately, we don’t have to choose between process and art form/empathy. We really can do both with a balanced approach. Earlier this year, the focus was all about saving and sustaining our businesses. Now we can truly begin to grow and focus on all three; save-sustain-and grow through purposeful calls clothed in empathy.

What does this mean for us? Create game plans. Set call objectives. Brainstorm your roadblocks. Come to all meetings, whether in person, virtual or by phone, so prepared that you can relax in the moment and fully listen to what your prospects and customers are saying.

That’s pandemic prospecting at its best!