The comprehensive study of B-to-B sales reps detailed in The Challenger Sale drew a clear conclusion. Sales people who debate with thier prospective clients, confront them an assert seeing a different world view are overwhlemingly likely to out-perform their peers. Comparing 5 sales profiles, 40% of top performers use a Challenger approach as opposed to leaning on skills like hard work, solving problems, building relationships or instinct to drive success.
With such strong science in support of the challenger approach what still holds you back from executing the actions needed to be a Challenger Sales Rep? The explanation can be found in your mindset as a consultative sales rep, specifically in how you perceive empathy.
Empathy, is your ability to put youself in the emotional state of your potential client. To care about their perspective. To want to know how they see the world. To understand how they think, feel and what they care about. Choosing a career in sales and being hired into the role of sales consultant likely means you have empathy in spades. This is clearily an asset. It will help you to unlock your client’s reasoning for the value in your product or service.
Positive verses Negative Empathy
But empathy, when negatively impacting your mindset, can hold you back from executing on a Challenger Sales Rep approach and hurt overall performance. Let’s look at 2 examples where negatvie empathy can sabotage you – prospecting and objection handling.
When you prospect and approach opening new conversations with a mindset of negative empathy you’re thinking, ‘’I wouldn’t want a stranger calling me unexpectedly, interrupting me so maybe I should start with a soft e-mail (passive) rather than a phone call (active) to try getting their attention.’’ E-mailing can work, but calling works better. 100 active phone calls will yield better results than 100 passive e-mails. Negative empathy starts deminishing the perceived value of what you offer even before you really get going.
Negative empathy can also poison how you handle objections, one of the essential skills of a Challenger Sales Rep. Take for example, your prosepctive client wanting to wait to make a decision, though all relevant information has been presented. Wanting to just ”think about it” more. Negative empathy will lead to the narrative of ‘’I will make this person uncomfortable if I debate them on the merits of waiting verses moving now and I care how comfortable they are so I shouldn’t do that.’’ It’s this form of empathy that often drives the behavior of the Relationship Builder which the Challenger Sale study detirmed the dominant style of just 7% of top performers.
One way to overcome negative empathy is to simply care less about what the person you are calling thinks about you. Channel your inner-Michael Corleone and tell yourself ‘’It’s nothing personal. Just business.’’ I’ve seen sales a number of sales reps do this effectively and up a thick skin call after call. But I do not recommend this path. Intermittently shutting off your empathy can hurt your mastery of this important skill and if done poorly can damage status as a trusted advisor.
The more effective way I recommend to execute a Challenger Sales Rep approach is to change your mindset from negative to positive empathy ’ Positive empathy, creates in your mind’s eye the perspective ‘’I have found someone who could benefit from having a conversation with me about a problem in or opportunity or their business. I would want someone to get my attention with this information and help me see it and justnot just end up in my junk email folder.’’ This is the approach a good personal trainer has when he calls you at 5:30 in the morning to get you out of bed and into the gym whe you just want to sleep in. Positive discomfort.
Tap into your positive empathy by going back to why you exist as a business and why you work there. You help solve specific problems and achieve sepcific goals. People who have these problems and goals should know about the solution. You are doing the right thing by interrupting them and disagreeing and not leaving themm alone. Sometimes the best love is tough love. A Challenger Sales Rep live and breathes this philospohy.
Positive Empathy Connecting (checklist)
- Remember you are trying to help. There is a potential problem and taking a few minutes to explore whether it’s real is the right thing to do.
- Focus on your voice tone. You are calling a stranger who possibly knows nothing about you and will start evaluating you immediately. How you say things is far more impactful than what you say, so be up-beat, enthusiastic confidant, hold a smooth, steady pace (not too fast or slow) and keep out the nervous chatter.
- Be transparent. It’s natural for the client to immediate wonder, ‘’Why is this person calling me?’’ Don’t hesitate to answer this clearly and concisely. ‘’Hi Maria. My name is Matt Doyon. The reason I am calling you today is…’’
- Be generous. It’s better to give than to receive when connecting. Too many consultants rush to ‘’I wanted to learn more about you,’’ believing that this is customer-focused. This language is great once we have earned the client’s attention and interest. Until then what we want is irrelevant. Try, ‘’After doing some research, I noticed there may be an issue with… May I explain?’’
- Be respectful of time. Interrupting to draw attention to a problem is ok. Badgering someone not interested in a conversation is not. Moreover, it is not a valuable use of your time. If someone tells you they are not open to talking, indicate that you will forward some information and politely end the call.
Positive Empathy When Handling Objections (checklist)
- Remember that handling objections needs to be a live conversation. If prospective client offers an objection in writing, you only goal is to get a phone call to discuss it right away.
- Remember that empathizing does not mean agreeing. Have a prepared Objection Handling Process Guide, ready. Positive empathy is key here. If you do not understand the other person’s argument, you don’t truly understand your own. We must understand completely and communicate to the client that we get how they formed their opinion in order to invite them to consider an alternative view.
- Understand the difference between an objection and a condition. You can influence the outcome of an objection like, ‘’your price is too high.’’ You cannot influence the outcome of a condition like, ‘’My water just broke and I’m going into labor.”
- Remember that you are there to help. Your recommendation is still the best decision for their business, in spite of the objection. Use the information collected throughout the sales process to explain why. When presenting any your alternative view remember to connect it back to their reasons for buying with, ”You told me earlier…”