Sell with Empathy (Especially during a Crisis)

I’ve heard this from a lot of salespeople lately: How do I still sell right now? I know trying to sell during a crisis has put us all in uncharted waters, but we have to keep moving forward.

Selling with Empathy

This current crisis feels different because COVID-19 has affected everyone. But we can still learn lessons from other nationwide tragedies (the aftermath of 9/11, the Great Recession) or the more common regional natural disasters and industry-specific downturns that can be devastating for our clients.

We can start selling again. But we need to approach it the right way.

Look, I get it—there’s a lot about this situation that we can’t control. But there are two things you’re still in control of: your attitude and your effort. If you focus on having a positive attitude and putting maximum effort into your workday, then you can still sell things.

Please don’t make the excuse that you’re uncomfortable selling during a crisis. The people and companies who are still able to buy things are the ones who are going to keep the economy going. So if you have a product or service that people need right now, then it’s your duty to get busy selling it.

This situation is not permanent, but it is a major adjustment, and it might last a long while. It’s time for us to adapt.

Lead with Empathy, Then Listen 

In the sales process of the past, I wouldn’t have recommended that you start a sales call with, “How are you doing?” It came across as insincere (and it screams “sales call”).

But when you have reason to believe your client may be suffering, it’s the way every call should begin. It’s necessary. We must lead with empathy and sell with empathy.

See how they’re faring. Ask how their family is adjusting. Do they have kids? Take that friendly “opening” conversation a bit deeper to find out how they’re truly doing.

Don’t make assumptions about how this crisis is affecting their business life. Take the time to ensure that you understand their situation before you start prospecting.

Walk in Their Shoes

As you listen, strip yourself of all your personal perspectives and biases; really put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. When you truly understand the position they are in and the problems they have, you’ll have a good chance to use your knowledge and expertise to serve them and help—even if that means you don’t make a sale today.

If they tell you they’ve had to furlough some of their team members, you may adjust the goals for your call. And it might be six months or a year before you call this person again. If they say their business is doing well and they’re adjusting to working from home, that’s your opportunity to test the waters with, “Are you open to discussing…?”

If you’re selling a product like insurance, most people are willing to talk about buying right now. But if you’re selling an add-on service to your software, you may have a hard time getting people to invest more. Depending upon the service you’re trying to sell, you may be prospecting to sell something today or laying the groundwork for six months from now. Remember, building solid relationships today can be the foundation of a healthy pipeline tomorrow.

Adaptation Is Possible

The last thing I will say is this: if you’re feeling a bit of survivor’s guilt, don’t. If your industry, market, or business hasn’t been as deeply impacted by this crisis as your friends or colleagues or business partners, that’s okay. You don’t have to feel guilty and make yourself suffer through this unnecessarily.

Rather, this is a time of opportunity (and responsibility) to help carry the weight of our economy. Selling during a crisis is possible. You just need to figure out how to adjust your processes. You may be selling a lot more on the phone (or via Zoom) than in person for a while. But whenever you talk to a prospect, lead with empathy, take time to listen and understand what they’re going through, and do what you can to help solve a problem.

Until next time—go (safely) sell some stuff!


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