Empathetic Selling: How to Prospect During a Pandemic

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The importance of empathy, along with the way that people buy, sell, and work, has changed dramatically over the past couple of months. The days of shoulder-to-shoulder shopping and belly-to-belly deals are long gone, leaving sales organisations wondering — can you still build a pipeline and sell in a remote and economically uncertain world? 

The short answer is –– yes. 

Along with the global shift to sheltering in place comes the need for innovative technology. According to HubSpot, the average number of meetings booked with prospects by salespeople has actually increased from around 7% below pre-COVID averages to 10% above pre-COVID averages. 

While many businesses struggle to stay afloat, the businesses and sales teams that provide the technology required to adapt to work from home (WFH) life will need to adjust. They must tweak their messaging, prospecting approach, and sales collateral. That’s how to successfully meet the needs of new industries and personas that COVID-19 has introduced to the B2B SaaS market. 

Late March and the month of April were a time for empathy, not hard selling. Now that many have come to terms with adjusting through the implementation of new technology, sales professionals are feeling the pressure to go beyond empathy. They’re now looking to emphasise how their product/service will allow prospects to fast track their businesses to a new, more stable “normal” in order to hit their monthly quota. 

Despite both prospects and sales teams battling “quarantine fatigue”, it is important for sales leadership to communicate to their teams that if they engage with the world as it existed in early March, they’ll only frustrate their prospects who are still exercising steadfast caution. 

Before sales reps even have the chance to try out their new empathetic approach over the phone, it’s important for them to know to whom exactly they’re selling. While reconnecting with active prospects or pending prospects who’ve asked to be followed up with in the future might not be a sure sale, they are the perfect place to start. Their “follow-up with me later” from two quarters ago gives you the license to call them up now. 

For long-lost prospects or those who have ghosted you, try reaching out with a re-engagement email campaign, one they can respond to on their own time. The truly MIA prospects on this list aren’t likely to convert, but their circumstances might have changed between then and now and there’s certainly no harm in trying. Some of these “lost” prospects won’t be happy with their current agency—and some might have urgent needs to be filled by your business today.

If your sales team is struggling to get people to engage, they might not be going after the right people. Take this time to requalify every opportunity in your CRM. Businesses are looking for new solutions and the first place they’ll start is by revisiting products they considered in the past. Getting someone on the phone, while not easy, is doable for the best salespeople. The hard part is keeping them on the line even after both parties hang-up. 

Here are the six best ways to engage with your prospects empathetically in the bleakest of times, while still generating pipeline and crushing quotas: 


1.  Honesty > Formality

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Even the most qualified leads won’t be thrilled to receive a sales call amidst a global crisis. This first touch requires reps to use their emotional intelligence and active listening skills more than their selling skills. 

There’s an elephant in the room and good salespeople won’t be afraid to call it out. 

Why? If upon hearing “hello” you launch straight into your well-rehearsed pitch, you’ll lose the prospect’s attention to the next, more empathetic salesperson who gives them a ring and asks honest questions about the problems the prospect is facing and tailors their pitch accordingly.

This is a high-stakes time for many decision-makers, especially if they’re looking for a product to expedite and make the indefinite transition to WFH as seamless as possible. Being honest from the get-go about whether or not your product or service will benefit the state of their business is crucial, as if it doesn’t suit their needs you’re not only saddled with an unhappy customer but could risk the collapse of that customer’s business altogether. Setting an honest tone for the conversation will help you build trust with the prospect and invite them to spend more of the call asking the right questions themselves rather than having you guess what they’re looking for. 


2.  Personal > Value-Based Messaging


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Buyers are vulnerable right now, not only as it relates to business but in their personal lives as well. They’re operating in a highly reactive state, putting out little fires on all fronts with less time to spend carefully evaluating every possible solution to their problems. 

However you find your prospects or they find you, keep in mind that they don’t want to know how the sausage is made. They just know they’re hungry for help. This should give you the confidence and direction you need to curate the perfect pitch for them. 

During this time, it is just as important for salespeople to brush up on their soft skills as well as their sales skills. Conducting business remotely means the absence of body language, a critical component to putting a prospect at ease. Reps will have to lean into their emotional intelligence skills extra hard in order to create a personal, emotional connection with sales prospects. 

If you introduce the details of your value proposition first, you must be sure that those details are still relevant in today’s world. The bread-and-butter of your product may not be its most valuable asset at this time. At the heart, empathetic selling is the ability of the salesperson to put themselves in their prospect’s shoes. Try to see your product from their point of view and pull out the functionality that you think would be most useful to their personal situation. 

See also  The Best Unified Communications Features to Look for


3. Listening > Talking


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As cliche as it may be, listening more than one speaks is a sure-fire way to better understand the person with whom you’re interacting. It’s a win-win because you don’t need any special sales training to do it and no one can spotlight their own problems quite like your prospect. 

Don’t be afraid of awkward pauses either. They’re going to happen, and it’s better to just embrace them. Given that we’re all a little out of practice on the social interaction front, it might seem easier to stick to your tried and true transcript for a sales conversation. Taking the time to offer an empathetic ear, though, can go a long way in showing you truly care. 

Not only does listening to your prospect benefit them, but it also benefits you. Learning to collaborate with – versus pitching to – your prospect is a valuable sales technique, and this is the perfect time to practice it.COVID-19  is digging up a whole new host of problems for your prospects that you might not be prepared to answer. Listening to your prospect explain what their perfect solution looks like will allow you to think of where their dream product and your real offering overlap and capitalise on the similarities.


4.  Long-Game > Short-Game


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Don’t focus on just this moment. This is not a good moment for anyone. If your prospect isn’t ready to sign on the dotted line after one disco call, don’t sweat it. Focus on the fact that they even took the disco call.

Learning to differentiate between a prospect who isn’t going to buy because the solution isn’t right for them and a prospect who isn’t going to buy because it is not a good time for them is key. Now more than ever. 

Investing your time in creating empathetic relationships with prospects who simply can’t buy right now -even if they want to – will earn their respect, trust, and ultimately, the sale, once the time is right. 

We are all playing the long-game, and it is important for remote salespeople to remember that the lack of quick wins right now will turn into a boatload in six months time. Your sales leadership should also be understanding of the challenges reps around the world are facing, and hopefully, be lenient about your numbers

5. Reasonable Asks > Unreasonable Asks


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To echo tip number 4, this isn’t anyone’s optimal time to buy. So keep your asks to prospects reasonable. Business owners have a million things on their to-do list, so it probably doesn’t make sense to ask for them to circle back with their decision next week. 

Strive to strike a balance between firm and flexible, your sales performance is still on the line after all. And remember, this goes both ways. If you find that a single prospect has you working as much as you would for 5 prospects, have an honest conversation with them to get clear on their asks and temper their expectations. 

They might not be aware of the best way to get their questions answered, so it is up to you to guide them towards the most appropriate forum and effective process. 

6. Positivity > Commiseration

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We’re wrapping up our list of tips for empathetic selling exactly how you should wrap up your calls: on a positive note. 

This doesn’t mean you have to pretend that everything in the world is fine and dandy. You can acknowledge that this is a dark time for both you and your prospects, but always, always, always make an effort to remind them of the light at the end of the tunnel. If you can’t make the sale, you can at least make their day. 

While the future is uncertain, and salespeople are scouring the web for tips like the ones we’ve shared, remember that this time will pass. And no matter the outcome, the soft skills, and empathetic know-how reps will gain from continuing to prospect during this time will serve as life-long CV builders. Especially when it comes to the art of remaining positive during the toughest times. 

Though quotas might go unchecked for a few months, and the thrill of making a sale might become a foreign feeling, maintaining a positive attitude will not only inspire your prospects who are going through the same thing but your own team as well. 

Everyone and their brother are talking about the virus, spreading panic and fear. An inspiring sales call could be just the break your prospect needs, and maybe even what it takes to close the deal. 

So remember, rather than leading with an upsell, ask about where your prospects are struggling, listen actively, make friends with the long-game, set reasonable expectations, and try to end each call with a positive word. Translate what they’ve said into applicable use cases for your product or service. This might be a new sales process for some, but one that can be used long after COVID-19 has dissipated. Don’t be afraid to get out of the box during this time, turn to LinkedIn or start your own podcast that will generate some buzz around your personal brand as a sales professional and as an expert on your industry. Getting creative with how you engage and interact with prospects is what will save you from working 100 hours per week trying to hit your number, leading to inevitable burn-out. 


Author Bio : Emily Roberts is a Content Associate at PandaDoc. She’s proud to be a part of a company that prioritises people over profit during this time of crisis and believes that all eSignatures should be free.


Originally published Jun 08, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023

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