There are many skills salespeople need to learn to be successful.  In teaching these skills to my sales leadership coaching clients, I have found that there are two words that many salespeople fail to understand: sympathy and empathy. Not knowing the difference, and not knowing which will help earn sales, can cause significant roadblocks to closing deals.

Many of my sales coaching clients and group trainees believe the words sympathy and empathy are synonyms. They are not. The difference is significant and can have a dramatic effect on sales performance.

Sympathy means that someone shares the feelings of another person or group of people.

Empathy means a person understands the feelings of another person, but remains objective.

What does this mean for salespeople? It means that if you share your prospects’ feelings you are in a weaker position, but if you are empathetic you can still help them.

Here’s an example: A salesperson named Mike from ABC Company is given a lead for George, the owner of XYZ Company. Mike meets with George to discuss the company’s needs. After several hours of fact-finding, they are able to mutually agree on how Mike’s firm can help XYZ.  But George only wants a small piece of ABC’s services. Mike knows that in order to really achieve the outcome XYZ wants, it will require a larger budget: $80K. George tells Mike, “I like what I hear but I’ve never bought this type of product before, and for us, that is a lot of money. Give me some references and time to think about it.”

If Mike is sympathetic he will say, “Of course, I would feel the same way if I were you. I will send you those references and call you next month.”  Experience tells me that Mike has probably lost this deal. George was close to signing, but now he will find many reasons to talk himself out of it.

If Mike is empathetic he will respond, “I understand, but let’s be honest, what will change between now and next month?  If my references confirm that this will work, can we move forward?”

Sympathy rarely has a place in the sales process; it should be reserved for dealing with things like a death or illness.

Remember, people like to buy, not to be sold. You can only do this if you master the skill of empathy. So next time you look at your prospect closing ratio and think it should be better, ask yourself if you have mastered the skill of empathy.

Do you now see the difference?

Howard Shore is a sales leadership coach and founder of Activate Group Inc, based in Miami, Florida. His firm works with companies to deliver transformational management and business coaching to executive leadership. To learn more about sales leadership coaching through AGI, please contact Howard at (305) 722-7213 or email him.

Business Coach, Business Coaching, Sales, Sales Force Development, Sales Training, Strategy

About Howard M. Shore

Howard M. Shore is a Certified Gazelles Coach, Certified Public Accountant Certified Executive Coach, Certified Behavioral Analyst, Certified Values Analyst, and Certified Attributes Index Analyst. He has earned Bachelor and MBA degrees from Florida International University, and completed advanced executive programs at Harvard Law School and the University of Chicago.