The ability to see things from your customer's perspective is a huge advantage in B2B sales and marketing.
Buyers will always place more trust in a salesperson who treats them like a human being, not just a phone number on a lead list.
Brian Carroll is the founder of the B2B Lead Blog, author of the best-selling Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, and the Founder and CEO of Markempa, which helps organizations improve their demand generation and sales results through empathy.
We recently sat down with Brian to discuss what "empathy" means in a sales context, how to discover your buyers' real motivations, and the changes in tactics that sellers and marketers need to make to put their customers' needs in front of their own.
Scroll down for a text version of our interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.
NUTSHELL: “Empathy” is becoming a buzzword in the business world these days. We want our teams to be empathetic while dealing with customers and while collaborating with each other. We want our brands and our customer experience to convey empathy. What is empathy in a business context? How do you define it?
BRIAN CARROLL: Empathy means seeing things from the perspective of a customer or audience. It means trying to understand how your customer is feeling, what's happening in their world, and their experience. How are they feeling? How are they thinking? What are the concerns that they have? What are their challenges?
Our challenge today is that we have more ways of reaching customers, but actually connecting to what customers care about is the hard thing. That's why I see empathy as a superpower in marketing and sales.
NUTSHELL: You've worked in B2B marketing for almost 25 years now. At what point did you make this realization that empathy was a differentiator?
BRIAN CARROLL: Anyone who's done something for a while has these moments that put you on a new path. And I had what I would call my “Jerry Maguire” moment. If you remember, Jerry had this revelation in the movie. He wakes up in the morning, and it's 2 a.m. and he writes his mission statement, right? Funny enough, he actually is talking about some things that have to do with empathy in the movie, although he doesn't use that term.
My Jerry Maguire moment came in 2014, when I was running inside sales and marketing for a consulting firm that also did a lot of research, ironically, on how people make decisions and how they buy. And a friend sent me a CBS News video about a company that was endorsed by Mother Teresa, and its CEO had been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
You'll never guess what this company does—they're a collection agency. I don't know about you, but I made some bad decisions when I was in college, and I literally got called by collection agents, and I could never think of Mother Teresa endorsing the experience I had.
The CEO got inspiration from a group of employees who wanted to practice compassionate collections. And the employees said, "What if we helped customers deal with why they can't pay their bills?" People have lost their jobs, they have car problems, and this company literally started helping people deal with it. Like, helping them interviewing for jobs and writing a resume, finding car repair services that are affordable, renegotiating debts, that kind of thing.
So the news anchor is like, "You're practicing this kindness and compassion, giving away all these free services. What impact has this made?" And the CEO said, "We're 200% more profitable."
You know, I'd written a book, and my team was pretty good at lead generation, and when I was watching this, there was something inside me that was like, if a collection agency can treat their customers better, what would happen if we did it? I’ve always said that the best marketing and selling feels like helping, because it really is. But what I realized is that I was being a hypocrite, because what I was paying my team to do was convert people.
So I showed my team this video, and I was like, "You guys, I want us to focus on better helping our customers." First, it was crickets, like, "Okay, what are we supposed to do then?" And someone raised his hand and said, "If we focused on helping our customers and not trying to get leads, how are we gonna get leads, then?" That was the beginning of our story.
Our big 'a-ha!' happened when I had my team shift from being lead generation people to being more like hotel concierges, who are just there to help people have a great experience.
The good news is that we had good content that people engaged. The problem was that we were using that as the valid business reason to call and try to convert someone to be a lead. So we shifted and started focusing on, “Hey, what were they trying to get done by downloading an eBook? What were they hoping to get done as a result of the webinar? What motivated them to attend an event or a summit?” And instead of trying to use that as the point of conversion, we focused it as the point of helping. We simply helped people get whatever it was done.
It took about six months, but by not focusing on getting leads, and not focusing on conversion, we ended up getting 303% more sales-accepted leads by not making conversion the point of focus.
NUTSHELL: When salespeople and marketers haven't made this switch in mindset towards being empathetic, how does that manifest itself in terms of their tactics for messaging?
BRIAN CARROLL: Right now, we're entering the fourth quarter and there's always this bit of anxiety being a marketer or being in sales. Both sides are focused on the short-term, and the thing is, feeling anxiety can actually help. Cortisol can help focus you. But the problem is that it also forces you to do things that aren't helpful to your customers.
Think about all the automated sequences that we get, one after another after another, or a BDR sending cold emails and following up with the customer like, "I just want to be at the top of your inbox because you didn't respond to my message last week."
Sales hustle combined with automation can actually create a bad experience for the customer because it’s about the salesperson getting their needs met.
So, when you're anxious, or you're focused on trying to get things done, the danger is you focus on getting your needs met at the expense of someone else. And at worst, that's called being a sociopath. Caring about people, being curious about people, collaboration, that happens when we're actually trying to think bigger picture.
That isn't easy to do, so you have to manage your inner game of how you feel towards customers. Are they just emails? Are they just IP addresses? Is that just a phone number or is that a human being?