Empathy for Effective Communication

In my career I’ve been a technical trainer, customer success rep, Voice of Customer and now I’m on the Enablement team here at Seismic. When I take a step back and think about what helped me be successful in these seemingly distinct roles, I noticed a common theme – empathy for my audience.  And now in the new normal of our lives, empathy has become more important than ever.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is generally defined as the ability to sense what others are feeling, combined with the ability to imagine what they might be thinking or feeling.

We all (hopefully!) realize that empathy is a critical component of every relationship we are in – with romantic partners, family, friends and even co-workers.  But have you considered what an important role empathy can play in the work that you do? 

As an enablement practitioner,  finding effective ways to communicate with the customer facing teams I support is critical to our collective success. By understanding my teams perspectives, I can find better ways of helping them communicate better with the customers and prospects.  Each time I begin working on a new project, I always ask “how are they doing this now?” and “How will this help them improve?” so that I can be sure that I’m building a message that will resonate with my audience.

As an enablement manager at a SaaS company, one of the main pillars of my job is building materials to help our go to market teams communicate effectively to our prospects and customers. Empathy helps me put myself in their shoes to understand what my audience knows. Or doesn’t know. This helps me know what’s relevant to them, and steer away from extra or confusing details.  When it comes to formally training adults, it’s critical to remember that they need to learn this new message to perform their job well, maybe even to keep their job, their livelihood. Imagine the stress that might cause. It’s easy to imagine they might get caught up in a vicious cycle of insecure thoughts and feelings preventing them from absorbing the material. To reduce some of this stress, I try to speak in the familiar tense, using “we” often, avoiding the pronoun “you”.  I’m careful not to call anyone out for being wrong, or call attention to a missed nuance.  Instead I try to lead with “oh I see what you’re saying, let me try to explain that more clearly”. Interacting with the audience this way helps to create a safe space for them to learn in, so they can absorb what they need to learn.

This need for empathy comes into play for Marketers specifically when building content. Practicing empathy helps them better understand the pain that our prospects are experiencing, helping them build sales collateral and campaigns that really grab a prospect’s attention. If the message conveyed by these resources doesn’t strike a chord with the right prospects, they’ll just keep on scrolling rather than double-click to learn more. Following Simon Sinek’s approach to selling, it’s critical to lead with “why” they should care.  Being able to explain “why” they care requires empathy! From the enablement perspective, I need to make sure that the Marketing teams are fully versed not only in our product or our message, but in why our prospects and customers care about our product. I find the most effective way to help them relate to customers/prospect is to help them identify the problems in their own daily work they can use our platform to solve. And then guide them in solving it.  Nothing like hands-on learning to build empathy for people trying to do the same thing.

Becoming a Trusted Advisor

This is just as true from the sales lens. Sellers need to be able to see the world through the eyes of their buyers in order to create a strong rapport to win their trust and build a solid relationship with them. It is  widely accepted that the most effective sellers ask good questions and use those answers to be able to artfully communicate the value of the solution they’re offering. Being a good listener is not just about hearing the words, it’s about understanding the thoughts and feelings behind those words.  Delving into what your prospect’s daily activities are, what expectations their boss has of them, what their expertise level is… all of these factors help provide important context to drive the conversation in the right direction. Enable sales teams to utilize empathy in their approach through objection handling coaching, working with them understand when to keep pushing for the sale and when it’s time to switch to a trusted advisor in hopes of future selling opportunities.

There is a lot of research showing that creating a positive ‘buyer’ experience (‘audience’ can easily replace ‘buyer’ and applies across the board) leads to higher win rates, faster growth and better ROI for investors. Reach your audience faster and more effectively by building a story anchored in empathy so that you can better understand what they want, and need, to hear.