Emotional Intelligence in Sales, Empathy and the Actor’s Magic “If”


Meryl Streep

“I’m curious about other people. That’s the essence of my acting. I’m interested in what it would be like to be you.” ~ Meryl Streep

How did Meryl Streep play real people like Florence Foster Jenkins and Margaret Thatcher with such depth and authenticity? How did Daniel Day Lewis give the definitive portrayal of Abraham Lincoln? What does either have to do with emotional intelligence in sales?!

While neither star had experience ruling a country, or singing opera, but they delivered authentic and award-winning performances requiring remarkable insight and empathy for their characters.

One of the key qualities of emotional intelligence in sales is empathy, or the ability to identify with and understand what it’s like to walk in your customer’s shoes. Authentic empathy goes beyond simply recognizing what your customers emotional state is, to actually sharing in those feelings.

Who has time for Empathy?!

As a busy salesperson it can feel like more than enough to simply identify a customer’s emotions.  But salespeople who make empathy strictly an intellectual exercise are often caught by surprise when those customers make choices that don’t make sense based on just the facts and superficial emotions.  Emotions and feelings play a much bigger role in decisions than we often give them credit for.  To establish a meaningful connection and rapport with your customer, ask insightful questions and address his or her needs, you need more than a superficial understanding of your customer’s state.  You need the emotional intelligence quality of authentic empathy.

Luckily, it won’t require a 4-year psychology degree to attain it!  Like many human behaviors that we intuitively do but often struggle to replicate on-demand, actors have a shortcut called The “Magic IF” technique

The “Magic If” and Empathy

The “Magic IF” technique allows actors, like Daniel Day Lewis and Meryl Streep, to relate to the often very different lives of their characters by asking the question: If everything around me were true, how would I behave?  Using this same technique, you can develop greater emotional intelligence in sales and discover how you— and in turn our prospect—might think, feel, and act within their particular circumstances.

Applying The Magic IF for Greater Empathy and Emotional Intelligence in Sales:

  1. Define Your Buyer’s Circumstances.
    Learn as much as you can about your customer’s circumstances as possible. Imagine you are researching them for a role. If you had to “play” them for a day, would you know what to do?  Social media has made it easy to start painting a picture of your prospect so start there.  Here are some basics to uncover: How long have they been at their job? What are their responsibilities?  How does that align with their posts and comments? Look for recurring or common themes and read between the lines for tone and perspective.
  2. Identify the Feelings
    It’s highly unlikely that you will share the same circumstances or experiences as your customer. But it IS highly likely that you will share some of the same FEELINGS they have.  You’ve been frustrated, disappointed, and afraid. What was important to you when you felt that way? What wasn’t?
  3. Apply the “Magic IF”
    What if I could fly? What if I were a princess?  Most of us remember playing this game as children.  Now I invite you to rediscover it by using your imagination to step into the shoes of your customer.  Ask yourself hypothetical questions that would put you in your customer’s shoes:  “What IF I were working for a company that was in the middle of downsizing and I had 3 kids to support?”  “What IF I had multiple vendors trying to squeeze money out of my shrinking budget every day?”  “How might I feel?”  and “What would be wonderful to hear from a salesperson today?”
  4. Ask Empathetic Questions
    Now, based on what you’ve discovered through “The Magic If,” you are better prepared to ask questions that express empathy and address your customer’s needs like, “What does this down-sizing mean for you and how can I help?” or “I know you’re stretched to the limit this time of year, instead of talking about what we can do, would it make sense to help you evaluate and prioritize some of the changes you’re considering to your existing plan?

Ultimately, the more we feel, as opposed to know what it’s like to walk in our customer’s shoes, the more we are able to be fully present for our customer, express authentic empathy, and work together towards a solution.

 

Photo by Neon Tommy [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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