Business leaders agree that empathy, the ability to connect with people on a deep, emotional level, is essential to sales. In fact, salespeople with a high level of empathy have demonstrated a knack for listening to customers and responding to their needs. This translates to a high emotional quotient, or emotional intelligence. Indeed, emotional intelligence, the experts say, is a crucial ingredient in top salespeople.
EQ in Sales
In the past, IQ was considered the main indicator of success. But today experts say it's emotional intelligence that separates the highest performers from the rest. Emotional intelligence is a somewhat intangible quality that affects how we interact with and listen to others. Researchers have studied the inverse link between IQ and EQ. An insurance company, for instance, found that salespeople with a higher EQ sold policies averaging $114,000 compared to the ones with lower EQs, whose sales policies averaged only $54,000. In a paper by Dr. Gary Cherniss, salespeople at L'Oreal who had higher emotional competencies sold more products than other salespeople by $91,370.
EQ & Empathy
Are empathy and emotional intelligence the same? They're related, but not quite the same. While empathy describes a person's ability to understand others, emotional intelligence involves one's ability to manage one's emotions as well as those of others. Psychologist Daniel Goleman says empathy is a component of emotional intelligence. Research shows, furthermore, that companies are doing the right thing by investing more of their time seeking out salespeople with a high degree of empathy. A study by the Harvard Business Review, for instance, found that the top ten companies in the 2015 Global Empathy Index went up in value more than twice the amount as the bottom ten. Those businesses, moreover, took in 50 percent more in revenue.
Types of Empathy
Goleman lists three types of empathy: cognitive, social, and empathic.
- Cognitive empathy is the ability to put yourself in the other person's place, to understand the other's perspective. This type of attitude, or perspective taking, has proven successful in business management. In fact, a University of Birmingham study reveals that managers who excel at perspective-taking could better influence workers to do better at their jobs.
- Social, or emotional, empathy is based on a social connection one feels with someone else. Social empathy involves a lot more than simply being able to take another's perspective. It entails the capacity for placing oneself in another's shoes, being able to feel as the other person does.
- Empathic concern, or compassionate empathy, is where we can actually feel a person's pain, and move to help him or her if possible. It's the one type of empathy that comes closest to sympathy.
A Culture of Empathy
Many business leaders are finding it necessary to instill in their companies' culture a need for empathy. The way to sell products, they maintain, is to put yourself in the customer's place and imagine how you would buy. It's an instance of Goleman's "cognitive empathy," where you imagine how you would act, what would prompt you to buy, if you were in the customer's shoes.
As business leaders point out, people skills are a highly valued trait in the business world. Companies have for some time believed in the sanctity of teams, particularly in sales. Understanding those who work with you provides the cornerstone of collaboration, or team spirit. And it serves as the foundation of your company's success.
Selling with Empathy
Business coach Jonathan Farrington says that the buyer-seller relationship involves the seller's responsibility for helping someone buy rather than selling to them outright. And that is accomplished only through empathy, "the magical word in human to human interaction."
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