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According to a recent YouGov survey, a majority of Britons feel that empathy is on the decline in the UK.  Are we turning into a nation of people who see events only from their own perspective? Are we less interested in other people’s views? And if this is the case what relevance does it have for sales?

Whether we’re being cold-called by our utilities provider to commit to a longer-contract with more add-ons for only an extra £7.50 a month or encouraged by our car insurance provider to add legal protection or no claims discount cover again for just a small increase in our premium, it seems that the customer is increasingly seen as someone who should be wrung dry for every available penny regardless of what their actual needs might be.

So does the same apply in B2B sales? I’m sure we can all think of examples where we have experienced something similar as a business customer. Does that mean that to be an effective salesperson you should have low empathy?

Actually, the research indicates that empathy, the ability to really listen and connect on a deeper level, is important but crucially only up to a point. Yes, too much empathy can be counter-productive as it can subvert the salesperson’s self-interest i.e. the need to make a sale. However, B2B salespeople can have both too much AND too little empathy. Salespeople need to be emotionally aware enough to notice and accurately diagnose how the other party is feeling whilst not necessarily tipping the scales so much that they are sympathetic and blindly agree with how the other party is feeling (Greenberg & Mayer, 2006).

Pink (2013) finds that the ability to imagine what the other party is ‘thinking’ rather than ‘feeling’ in a negotiation can lead to even better outcomes for both parties. Further research finds that this ability to appreciate another party’s perspective is 
the precursor to being able to adapt behaviour appropriately to the situation which can lead to the most effective sales outcomes (Galinsky et al, 2006; 2008).

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