How Empathy Will Grow Your Sales & Marketing Pipeline

February 14, 2017

by Brian Carroll

We have more marketing channels and more content than ever before, but it’s become harder to actually connect with customers.

Here’s what I mean.

Today’s crazy-busy customers are weary of pitches, cold emails, hype, and manipulative messages, and as a result, they tune them out.

In our rush to obtain leads, drive opportunities and move the sales needle, it’s too easy to forget that we need to address the emotional needs (fears, hopes, wants, and aspirations) of our customers.

But, here’s the kicker:

Neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio discovered, “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.” 

Damasio made this groundbreaking discovery:  when emotions are impaired, so is decision-making. What does this mean? We need to go beyond logic to understand how our customers feel.

This is particularly important if you have a complex sale where B2B buyers face daunting decisions that involve huge risks.

Our customers aren’t saying, “We need solutions.” Instead, they’re saying, “We need to solve a problem”

So what would happen if you focused on helping them do just that?

I believe you can’t answer that question unless you know precisely what your customers want. We need to let go of our assumptions of what we think they want and put ourselves in their place.

This requires empathy, which according to Miriam-Webster, “is the ability to share someone else’s feeling.” To feel what they feel and think what they think. To put it another way, we need to walk in their shoes.

What is empathic marketing?

Empathy is your marketing intuition. Empathetic Marketing is about moving out of our mind and into the mind of the customer. Here’s what I mean.

You move away from business-centric thinking to customer-centric thinking and speak to your customer’s motivations.

It’s built on the following ideas:

  • The best marketing feels like helping
  • Marketing isn’t something you do to people. It’s something you do for people
  • Empathize with your customer’s feelings and walk in their shoes to understand their problems
  • Think like your clients when they set out to solve a problem and discover each step they may take to solve that problem
  • Understand ways you can help make your customers lives better
  • Provide your customers what they want by understanding what motivates them.
  • Helping clients identify and solve problems
  • Give customers content and expertise that helps them gain clarity
  • Empower employees who touch your customers with the resources, training, and tools to really help them

Here are seven ways you can to practice empathetic marketing.

1. Put your customers first

Instead of trying to sound interesting to others, be interested in them. Understand your customer’s motivation (what they want) and make sure it’s something you can deliver. So much of what we see today are product-centric claims aimed at impressing the prospect. The root word of emotion and motivate is the same. Buyers base most of their actions on feelings and then backfill with logic. That’s why it’s so important to get beyond the product to and speak to the end results and the feelings the buyer seeks.

2. Listen and seek to understand 

Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand – they listen with the intent to reply. First, we need to get out of the building. Join sales people on customer visits and just listen and seek to understand customer motivations. It’s shocking how little of this happens. Too many marketers rely on survey data or focus groups to tell them how customer’s think and feel, but that’s not enough.

Empathy is not the product of survey data. It helps you intuitively interpret the context and understand the pressures the facing your customer.  The key to understanding another person is empathetic listening – trying to understand everything (including the nonverbal signals) the other person is communicating. What’s emotions are motivating them? You listen for feeling, for meaning, for behavior and other signals.

3. Stop pushing, start conversing

Focus on developing conversations, not campaigns. Don’t err on the side of pushing our agenda rather than extending an invitation to converse. To the customer, it feels like “somebody wants something from me” rather than “maybe they can help me get what I want.” You need to demonstrate that you’re interested in their world and their motivations. Use empathy maps and personas to understand your customer and how to better connect with them in conversations. For more on this read Copyblogger: Empathy Maps: A Complete Guide to Crawling Inside Your Customer’s Head. Invite, listen, engage and recommend.

4. The best marketing feels like helping (because it is)

Our marketing and lead nurturing are anchored on this idea. As customers, we can feel when someone’s trying to push us to do something. And we also recognize when someone sincerely cares. They’re not trying to push their agenda, and they’re genuinely trying to help us. Ask this as your approach your marketing: Is it how we’d like to be treated? Is this how we’d like a friend or loved one to be treated?

5. Give content they’ll want to share

This content organically emerges from the first four points of placing the customer first, understanding them, conversing with them and helping them. But so much of today’s content does not do that. We’ve become publishing machines, creating content for content’s sake. Customers don’t need more content. They need useful content that helps them convince colleagues inside their companies to choose a different path. Much of the content I see lacks that empathetic context, and content without empathy is just noise. It’s become very noisy in the B2B marketing.

6. Remember that proximity is influence

Empower those closest to your customer (your sales team, sales development reps, inside sales, and customer service people) to be able to achieve the points above. We formulate our opinions about companies based on our interactions with their people.

7. Practice empathy personally to set an example

Be the change you want to see. Our customers are everyone we serve – including our staff and our coworkers. Show how it’s done by practicing empathy yourself. This idea requires a different kind of thinking to drive a different way of doing marketing.

Here’s an example of an A/B test from MarketingExperiments of an email sent to prospects who began a form completion but did not complete it. Note the difference in tone.

The email on the left was “sales speak.”  The tone of the email on the right was changed to be more empathetic and yielded a conversion rate of 7% versus 1.5% for the control email. By addressing the customer’s anxiety (with empathy) through the tone of the email, they saw a 349% increase in total lead inquiries.

I recently wrote about Dave Gerhardt at Drift in this post. Gerhardt shared about how his CEO, called him one day and told him “I think we should get rid of our forms.”

Gerhardt realized that marketing was becoming more about getting people to convert i.e. fill out forms or jump through the next hoop. According to Gerhardt, this results in us, “treating people like leads and email addresses instead of treating people like people.” When you give people what they value or find useful without expecting anything in return, you build a connection and eventually trust.

Closing thoughts

This all may seem altruistic, but it’s not. It has an economic benefit. If we can give customers what they want, we can create a competitive advantage that will reap higher margins and profits.

For example, Slack (currently the fastest growing start-up in history) practices empathy in their marketing and empathy is part of their core values. In this interview, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield stated, “It’s very difficult to design something for someone if you have no empathy.”

Additionally, IBM is gearing up to become the world’s largest design company. As part of their boot camps, employees are learning how to apply empathy to connect better with colleagues and clients. They’re learning how to tap into their customers’ and colleagues’ feelings and need to come up with better solutions.

IDEO’s Empathy on Edge puts it this way, “When organizations allow a deep emotional understanding of people’s needs to inspire them—and transform their work, their teams and even their organization at large—they unlock the creative capacity for innovation.”

Our job is to make each person we connect with online and offline—feel as if they are the most important person in the room (because they are.)

What are your thoughts?  Do you think empathetic marketing is achievable for you and your organization, why or why not?

This post originally appeared on B2B Lead Blog

Photo credit: Flickr user Sharon Sinclair

About Brian Carroll


Evangelist, author and speaker, Brian Carroll knows what drives B2B buyers. As the founder of the B2B Lead Blog, a researcher and lecturer on marketing best practices, and leader in empathy marketing, he’s at the epicenter of the shifting B2B marketing landscape. Brian is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale (McGraw-Hill). He is also the founder of the B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 19,533+ members. Brian recently finished a stint as Chief Evangelist at MECLABS (parent company of MarketingSherpa) and is now back to helping B2B understand and execute modern demand generation. He’s spoken to audiences on four continents, and he’s quoted in numerous publications such as BtoB Magazine, Selling Power, Entrepreneur, Target Marketing, Inc. magazine, Marketing News, DM News, MarketingProfs, and CMO. He and his wife Amy live in Circle Pines, MN.