Empathy

Soft Power.


At the final Seller Forum of 2018, we’ll grapple with a fundamental truth about digital sales success:  As a sales leader you depend on many departments and people that you don’t control.  Whether they directly report to sales or not, the loosely confederated disciplines of account management, operations, creative services, marketing and research can seem – at best – like a thoughtful bureaucracy.  At worst, a self-defeating mob.

So how then do some sales teams enjoy the services of highly-motivated, high-functioning partner departments while others don’t?  Unified reporting structure? Better leadership in those departments? Superior recruiting and hiring practices? Maybe in part.  But the real difference is made through soft power.

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Soft power is a term usually associated with international diplomacy – what we do when we’re not sending in the military. It’s how we foster relationships and advance policy goals.  It’s no less real in the business world.  When the sales team is frustrated by the policies or practices of a group or department they rely on, rather than circle the wagons and indulge in blame and outrage, great leaders look inward and ask a crucial question:  What can we do to motivate them to work better with us?  It boils down to a handful of controllable qualities:

Empathy.  Sales people rarely say Tell me about your job.  Instead, we’re always the group that needs something right now… an exception, a better price, faster delivery.  The first manifestation of soft power is empathy.  Once someone feels heard and understood lots of good things can happen.

Early Access. The universal lament of partner departments is not knowing what’s coming until it’s too late.  Talking at all about what’s coming – or even what may be coming – will be a dramatic improvement.  When sellers complain about knowing nothing themselves about client needs till the last minute, this indicates a whole different problem.

Qualify the Work.  Bad sales teams blindly and indifferently hand over every RFP and request as soon as it comes in. Good sales teams make judgments about which part of the request is most urgent and important.  Great sales teams actually triage the requests.  Your AMs and ops people know the difference between an RFP that’s MVP or DOA.  Do you?

Collaboration.  Another thing that salespeople rarely say is So how would you recommend we get this done? Every interaction needn’t become a brainstorm but assigning even a little control – a voice – to those you depend on is good business.  To feel truly involved is to feel truly invested.  And invested people act like owners.

In the long run, soft power works.  And it’s completely controllable.  If you’re not leveraging it, ask yourself…why not?

 If you’re a qualified sales leader and would like to attend the Seller Forum on Wednesday October 17th in New York, request your invitation now.  Seating will be limited.


Who Said It Was About You?


Who Said It Was About YouIf I asked most Drift readers what they do for a living, they’d offer up a job title like chief revenue officer, account executive or regional director.  If pushed for a more concrete job description, eventually most would say they sell advertising, technology or services to marketers and agencies.

But I don’t think that’s what you do at all.  At best, selling describes an outcome, a result of other actions you take every day…at least, if you’re doing it well.  It’s taken me a long time and a lot of observation and introspection to get there, but I think I’ve nailed what great sellers do:  they engineer experiences.  The mediocre ones?  They’re the ones who get all caught up in the performance they’re giving, the lines they recite, and the slides they flip through.

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A sales call isn’t a golf shot or a piano sonata.  But so many of us prepare and act as if it is.  We drill ourselves on our lines, memorize key points, practice the voice-over for the 37 slides we’ll show, test the demo to make sure it purrs like a kitten.  We believe that if we only perform well enough and hit all of our high notes, the power of our words will impress and persuade.

Only it doesn’t work that way.

Now, reframe the sales call as a shared experience.  You and the customer are both living in that moment together, and now it’s your job to engineer that experience… you’re no longer the funniest guy at the party, but rather the host who’s creating an awesome environment for his guests.  What will you do differently?

You’ll attend.   As in, the root verb in attention.  Ironically, attending is also the same as being present.  Get it?

You’ll know something about your guests.  There are no strangers.  You can always know enough to make the other person feel interesting.

You’ll draw people out and make connections.  Use what you know to bring the other person into the experience.  This is the opposite of bludgeoning them with your own story.

You’ll have a plan and watch the clock.  Great hosts pay attention to time and pace.  They know when things are starting to drag, when people start to disconnect.

You’ll rewrite the plan when you need to.  If things are petering out and nobody’s connecting, change the plan.  It’s your plan; you get to do that.

Sales is not performance art.  It’s about creating a fertile space where trust, emotion and opportunity can grow.  Too many of us become tone deaf from listening to the sound of our own performances.  Let it go.  Be interested.  Engineer a great shared experience and watch how everything changes.

Including you.

We’re engineering a great shared experience late next month at The Upstream Seller Forum in New York.  If you run national media sales and want to attend or designate someone who can represent you, just let us know.  Dinner on Monday night October 27th at Del Posto followed by the Forum on Tuesday October 28th at the Hearst Tower. Call Tamara Clarke at 802.985.2500 or Tamara@upstreamgroup.com.


Can’t Feel It? Can’t Sell It.


Can't Feel ItOriginally posted in June 2010, some thoughts on the power of empathy in our sales relationships.

During the strategic media sales workshops I often conduct, we always start with a core foundational principle:  Aristotle’s model of persuasion.  To completely over-simplify the idea, Ari believed that three qualities had to be present — and flow in a specific sequence — in order for one human being to persuade another of anything important.  They are Ethos (the sense of empathy and understanding), Pathos (the sense of shared struggle or collaborative journey) and Logos (supporting logic or facts).  Get them out of sequence — say, start with the numbers or logic — and you fail to persuade.  Good stuff, yeah?

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic Advertising Systems, an advertising technology company focused on delivering innovative software that streamlines and automates media workflow for marketers, their advertising agencies, and publishers.

Today I want to spend a minute on the first quality of persuasion:  empathy.  It’s occurred to me as we’ve explored this concept over years of workshops that many sales people see it as a tactic.  How can I demonstrate just enough empathy to get them on my side?  To get them to open up to being persuaded? When I sensed question in the air during a recent group session, the answer just seemed jump out all by itself:

Don’t struggle to demonstrate empathy:  Actually empathize.  The easiest way to look like you care is to actually care.

How many of us when we go into a sales situation can honestly say we’re really out to improve the customer’s business?  That we’re out to do right by them?  How often do we set out to truly make a difference?  By my count, only the really great ones do this.   And many more of us need to.  So the  sales message of today’s Drift post is a pretty simple one:

Stop worrying about making the plan.  Obsess instead about making a difference.   Because if you make a difference, you’ll not only make the plan… you’ll be the plan.


The Child Inside Your Customer.


200570697-001The next time you’re preparing for a meeting with a prospective customer (polishing the slides, queuing up the sizzle reel, practicing the demo and making sure all the “partner logos” are up to date) force yourself to stop and switch customers.  Instead of the 36-year-old product manager or the 40-year-old group planning director, I want you to pretend you’re meeting with a five-year-old.

This is not to say that customers are childish or somehow incapable of digesting important, detailed information.  No, this is actually not about them at all.  It’s about you and how you’re over preparing and ultimately overshooting your target.

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For those who have not yet had an up-close and personal relationship with a five-year-old (or whose memory of that relationship may now be clouded by intervening years) let me describe:  this is the human being in its most essential, most honest incarnation.  There’s relatively little depth or contemplation, and even less empathy.  As she should, she cares about her own needs, her own self-preservation.  Before you arrive, she’s probably not thinking much about you at all, and a few minutes after you’re gone she’ll have mentally and emotionally moved on.  Now I want you to consider your next sales call as if you’ll be meeting with this five-year-old.  How would you prepare differently?  Which assumptions would you leave behind?  How much faster would you get to the point?

Inside every human – every one of your customers – there’s a five-year-old, complete with all the fidgetiness, self-involvement and impatience.  Preparing to speak to that primal creature means getting to the important stuff really fast…connecting emotionally….being clear.  As an assist, here are three questions that most five-year-olds like to ask, reinterpreted to help you prepare for better customer calls:

“What did you bring me?”  They’re not thinking about helping you out or what kind of day you’re having.  “What’s in it for me?” is the order of the day.  So… bring them something.  No, not a sweatshirt or US Open tickets.  Right away, first thing, hand them an agenda or a set of insights that specifically about them.  Talk about anything else first – your company history, other successful customer relationship – and you’re just spouting “boring grown-up stuff I don’t care about.”

“Where are we going?” Five-year-olds – and customers – want to know what’s next so they can get excited about it.  So describe the future:  What’s it going to be like when you’re working together?  How will things be better?  Bring the “shared destination” to life.

“When are we going to get there?”  Customers and five-year-olds are both impatient beings. Imagining them asking you this question every 3-5 minutes (as children do) will keep you honest, brief and relevant every step of the way.  It’s easy to assume you have more time and attention than you really do.  Sticking with that assumption too long will be fatal to your sales efforts.


Once More, With Feeling.


Once More With FeelingIn discussions with several sellers over the past weeks, I’ve ended up talking with them about the very real strategic value of empathy — of crossing the line and working in the customer’s best interests.  Seemed like the time to re-post these words from June 2010.

During the strategic media sales workshops I often conduct, we always start with a core foundational principle:  Aristotle’s model of persuasion.  To completely over-simplify the idea, Ari believed that three qualities had to be present — and flow in a specific sequence — in order for one human being to persuade another of anything important.  They are Ethos (the sense of empathy and understanding), Pathos (the sense of shared struggle or collaborative journey) and Logos (supporting logic or facts).  Get them out of sequence — say, start with the numbers or logic — and you fail to persuade.  Good stuff, yeah?

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Today I want to spend a minute on the first quality of persuasion:  empathy.  It’s occurred to me as we’ve explored this concept over years of workshops that many sales people see it as a tactic.  How can I demonstrate just enough empathy to get them on my side?  To get them to open up to being persuaded? When I sensed question in the air during a recent group session, the answer just seemed jump out all by itself:

Don’t struggle to demonstrate empathy:  Actually empathize.  The easiest way to look like you care is to actually care.

How many of us when we go into a sales situation can honestly say we’re really out to improve the customer’s business?  That we’re out to do right by them?  How often do we set out to truly make a difference?  By my count, only the really great ones do this.   And many more of us need to.  So the  sales message of today’s Drift post is a pretty simple one:

Stop worrying about making the plan.  Obsess instead about making a difference.   Because if you make a difference, you’ll not only make the plan… you’ll be the plan.