How Empathy Will Grow Your Sales and Marketing Pipeline

Are you using empathy in your marketing?


Because marketing isn’t something you do to people; it’s something you do with people.

You might be wondering: why am I saying this?

The problem with modern sales and marketing

A problem with I see with marketing (and sales) is this: we get clinical and treat our customers as objects to convert rather than people who need help.

Our thinking can get off track in thinking about, “How do I get what I want?” (revenue, leads, opportunities, etc.)

For example, I met with a fantastic group of sales and marketing influencers at CEB, now Gartner to discuss trends and current projects.

We started by talking about what trend is most affecting the work we’re doing?

For me, it’s the need for customer empathy to humanize my marketing.

Why? Because as marketers we have more marketing channels, more content, and more technology than ever before. But, it’s become harder to connect and build trust with customers.

Let me explain.

Why we need to build customer empathy

Today’s crazy-busy customers are wary of sales pitches, cold emails, and hype-filled messages. The result? They tune them out.

So in our rush to obtain leads, drive opportunities and move the sales needle, it’s easy to forget that we need to address the emotional needs (fears, hopes, wants, and aspirations) of our customers.

Additionally, the neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio discovered, “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.”

In fact, Damasio made this groundbreaking discoverywhen emotions are impaired, so is decision-making.

What does this mean?

We need to go beyond rational-logic based sales and marketing to understand how our customers feel. It’s about their experience.

The gap between us and customers

So we want to market and sell OUR solutions.

Our customers aren’t saying, “We need solutions.” Instead, they’re saying, “We need to solve a problem.” So what would happen if you focused on helping them do just that?

I’ve learned you can’t answer “how can I help” unless you know precisely what your customers want.

According to the CMO Council, “Only 20% of marketers can predict the next best action for their customers.”

Additionally, Forrester Consulting discovered, “65 percent of marketers struggle to employ emotional marketing as they turn to automation to improve customer engagement.”

To understand you need empathy which according to Miriam-Webster, “is the ability to share someone else’s feeling.” We need to walk in their shoes to see things from their perspective.

What is empathy-based marketing?

Empathetic Marketing is about codifying our intuition to walk in our customer’s shoes to understand their experience (i.e. how they’re thinking and feeling about their business). By doing this, we can better help them get what they want (and increase conversion).

To do this, you need to move away from business-centric to customer-centric thinking. And you need speak to your customer’s motivations and from their perspective.

So where do you begin?

Empathy-based marketing is based on the following ideas:

  • The best marketing and selling feels like helping (because it is)
  • Empathize with your customer’s feelings and their problems by going into their world to understand
  • Think like your clients when they set out to solve a buying problem and discover each step they may take to help them on the journey.
  • Look for ways you can help your customers make their lives better
  • Provide your customers what they want by understanding what motivates them.
  • You help your clients identify and solve problems
  • Give customers useful content, hero stories,  and expertise that helps them gain clarity
  • Empower your employees especially those who directly touch customers like sales develop reps with the resources, training, and tools to help them

Examples of empathetic B2B companies

For example, Slack (currently the fastest growing start-up in history) practices empathy in their marketing and empathy is part of their core values.

In this interview, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield stated, “It’s very difficult to design something for someone if you have no empathy.”

Additionally, IBM is gearing up to become the world’s largest design company. As part of their boot camps, employees are learning how to apply empathy to connect better with colleagues and clients. They’re learning how to tap into their customers’ and colleagues’ feelings and need to come up with better solutions.

“The need for empathy towards the buyer is huge. It’s a differentiator…” -Doug Brown, former CMO, IBM Systems

Over the past year, I’ve studied the most successful customer-centric and empathetic companies and marketers to discover what’s helping them connect with customers.

Here are seven ways you can apply empathy to your marketing and sales.

1. Put your customers first

Instead of trying to sound appealing to people, be interested in them. Understand your customer’s motivation (what they want) and make sure it’s something you can deliver.

So much of what we see today are product-centric claims aimed at impressing the prospect. The root word of emotion and motivate is the same.

Buyers base most of their actions on feelings and then backfill with logic. That’s why it’s so important to get beyond the product to and speak to the results and the feelings the buyer seeks.

Read more about customer empathy and how to solve buying problems

2. Get into the world of your customer and listen and observe to understand 

Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand – they listen with the intent to reply.

Listen with the third ear which means you want to understand the implied assumptions and motivations behind what a person is saying. That’s empathetic listening. And’s it’s deeper level than active listening.

Empathetic understanding is not the product of survey data. Too many marketers rely on survey data or focus groups to tell them how customer’s think and feel, but that’s not enough.

You need to get out of the building and observe the world of your customer. It’s shocking how little of this happens.

Some of the ways marketers can build customer empathy:

  • Get out in the field with your sales team and meet customers face to face
  • Pick up the phone or listen to calls your inside sales or sales development reps have with customers (it will be eye-opening)
  • Survey customers on your email list to validate what you’ve learned intuitively from listening/observing
  • Use empathy maps

It is critical to know what customers want and what motivates them to think about the client’s experience. Once you do this, you can use your applied empathy to consciously and intuitively understand and see the world from their perspective.

It helps you intuitively interpret the context and understand the pressures the facing your customer.

The key to understanding another person is empathetic listening – trying to understand everything (including the nonverbal signals) the other person is communicating.

What’s emotions are motivating them? You listen for feeling, for meaning, for behavior and other signals.

3. Stop pushing, start conversing

Focus on developing conversations, not campaigns.

Don’t err on the side of pushing your agenda rather than extending an invitation to talk to converse. To the customer, it feels like “somebody wants something from me” rather than “maybe they can help me get what I want.” Do this invite, listen, converse and recommend/help.

You need to demonstrate that you’re interested in their world as a fellow human and their motivations. Use empathy maps and personas to understand your customer and how to better connect with them in conversations. For more on this read Copyblogger: Empathy Maps: A Complete Guide to Crawling Inside Your Customer’s Head.

I also have a free empathy map resource you can download here.

4. The best marketing and selling feels like helping (because it is)

Our marketing and lead nurturing are anchored on this idea. As customers, we can feel when someone’s trying to push us to do something.

We know when we’re being treated as objects to convert. Also, we also recognize when someone sincerely cares. They’re not trying to push their agenda, and they’re genuinely trying to help us.

Ask this as your approach your marketing:

Is it how we’d like to be treated?

Is this how we’d like a friend or loved one to be treated?

For more, read 4 Steps to walking the buying path with your customers

5. Give useful content they want (and want to share with others)

This content organically emerges from the first four points of placing the customer first, understanding them, conversing with them and helping them. But so much of today’s content does not do that.

Much of the content I see lacks that empathetic context and content without empathy is just noise. And it’s become very noisy in the B2B sales and marketing.

It seems we’ve become publishing machines, creating content for content’s sake. A friend of mine said the enemy of content marketing is content marketing.

Our customers don’t need more content. They need useful customer-centric content that helps them and their colleagues to choose a different path along their journey. You’re helping people change.

This is why you want customer advocates.

Also, I rarely hear customers use the word content. They call our content based on its utility and how they feel about it; terrific ebook, helpful blog post, useful white paper, amazing article, excellent video, etc. See what I mean?

6. Remember that proximity is influence

Empower those closest to your customer (your sales team, sales development reps, inside sales, and customer service people) to be able to achieve the points above. We formulate our opinions about companies based on our interactions with their people.

How Drift makes this real

I recently wrote about Dave Gerhardt at Drift in this post. Gerhardt shared about how his CEO, called him one day and told him “I think we should get rid of our forms.”

Gerhardt realized that marketing was becoming more about getting people to convert, i.e., fill out forms or jump through the next hoop.

Not only that but according to Gerhardt we were  “treating people like leads and email addresses instead of treating people like people.”

When you give people what they value or find useful without expecting anything in return, you build a connection and eventually trust. It’s an open secret. Try it. Think about your marketing purpose.

For more on this read 4 Ways, You Can Humanize Marketing and Build Relationships

7. Apply empathy personally and be an example

Be the change you want to see. Show others by practicing empathy yourself. This idea requires a different thinking to drive a different way of doing.

Who needs empathy? Yes, your customers, but also your team, and your co-workers inside your company.

I learned that it’s futile to try to make changes outside before we first make changes inside. To make a difference outside our walls, we need to focus inside first. That starts with us.

Why? Scientists have proven that emotions are contagious and can be caught just like a cold. I’ve seen companies that are a mess inside try to make a difference outside. And if it works, it’s only temporary.

I wanted to share a practical empathy example with email because all of us are sending emails right now.

Here’s a case from an A/B test conducted by MarketingExperiments. It’s an email sent to potential customers who began a form completion but did not complete it. Note the difference in tone: control versus treatment.

, How Empathy Will Grow Your Sales and Marketing Pipeline

The email on the left was “sales speak.” The tone of the email on the right was changed to be more empathetic and yielded a conversion rate of 7% versus 1.5% for the control email.

What’s the bottom line? By just addressing the customer’s anxiety (with empathy) in the tone of the email, they saw a 349% increase in total lead inquiries.

For more, check out 7 Tips to Boost Lead Nurturing Email Results Immediately

You may also like this interview I did with Michael Brenner the CEO of MarketingInsiderGroup.com on Empathetic Marketing: How To Connect With Your Customers.

Closing Thoughts

I know this may seem touchy-feely, but it’s not. It has an economic benefit.

If we can emotionally connect give customers what they want, we can create a lasting competitive advantage that will reap more revenue and profits.

I fundamentally believe that empathy is the most powerful force in B2B marketing – Alan Cohen, Chief Commercial Officer, Illumio

IDEO’s Empathy on Edge puts it this way, “When organizations allow a deep emotional understanding of people’s needs to inspire them—and transform their work, their teams and even their organization at large—they unlock the creative capacity for innovation.”

It starts with your empathy to get out of the mindset being company-centric (how do I get what I want) to become customer-led (how do I help them get what they want).

In summary, the best marketing and selling feels like helping (because it is).

It’s your turn

I’d love to hear what you think. Do you have a story to share? Let me know.

Will you join my session at Dreamforce 2016?  It would be great to meet up. Check out How Empathy Will Improve Your Marketing & Sales Pipeline

You may also like

How customer-hero stories help you connect better
Why purpose matters to marketing: growth, revenue, and profit
Podcast: Why Empathetic Marketing Can Give Your Customers An Amazing ExperiencePodcast: 5 Ways to Immediately Boost Account Based Marketing (ABM)
How to Put the Customer First in Lead Generation


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