Empathy3 types of empathy to drive sales during economic downturn

To make sales in an economic downturn we need to evolve some of the usual Value Based Selling approaches to become more in tune with the customer and demonstrate empathy to the situation. We need to help our  sales teams demonstrate empathy with our prospects and customers. However, there is a thin line between being hard sell and so empathetic that we simply don't close. 


In unprecedented times like these, we need to change our approach; we need to be empathetic in our approach. What many people don’t know if that Empathy comes in 3 different ways:

Cognitive Empathy -  This is also known as perspective taking. In essence you understand what and why they are feeling the way they are feeling, or what is on their mind.

Emotional empathy –is where you match or mirror their emotions, you feel what they feel.

Compassionate Empathy – can combines both cognitive and emotional empathy, but most importantly motivates us to help their situation improve if the need exists. 

When I started my sales career back in the late 80s I have seen my fair share of painful economic periods, such as the early 90's, and more recently when the financial crisis took hold in 2008, and we even saw the same things during Covid.  As an optimistic profession, we can see opportunities in the face of adversity. We can take lessons from the last financial crisis and learn what people were doing then to continue to drive sales when others were struggling to raise anything, and Empathy is key. As companies, or people, enter into uncertain times they tend to adopt one of 3 mental modes

  1. Fight Mode:    The customer is in the fighting mindset have decided to soldier on; these will be easier to deal with as their mind is future-orientated. They are trying to maintain business as usual where possible. Hence they are continuing to honour their existing commitments and are looking for solutions for the future.  

  2. Flight mode:    Some customers have gone into a shutdown mode, let's get away from this, put orders on hold, cancel budgets, batten down all hatches! 

  3. Freeze mode:   These customers are lost and are following a herd mentality and are uncertain of the best thing to do, will be making some arbitrary decisions, but most of the time, will take things to a certain point and then delay decision taking.

No matter which mode they take on,  in order to continue to do business and make sales, the organisation, sales and marketing teams, need to demonstrate empathy with the customers to uncover more about the challenges and environment and build deeper rapport, in order to engage the customer into entertaining the notion of spending money and driving change. 

Utilising the 3 different Empathies will enable you to engage at a deeper level, build that rapport and help the customer to be willing to consider buying your product or service. 

Cognitive Empathy

Do the research and start to view things from the customers perspective. When you conduct your research, truly understand their position, challenges, environment and circumstances. When in discovery calls or engaging with the customer, take time to explore their current situation, and dig deeper into uncovering the causes, not just the symptoms

Emotional Empathy

Use matching and mirroring techniques to continue to build rapport and build the relationship. Spot emotional triggers and cues, that show you how the customer is feeling. Use Emotional Adjectives in your problem based questions to help the customer express their emotions.

Compassionate Empathy

When moving into the solution mode, do not fast track past the pains and issues uncovered. Play back the problems and needs to demonstrate active listening but also then show how your product or service will help mitigate both the problems and help build for a better future.

Remember Empathy is not sympathy. With the right balance of the 3 empathies listed, you will be able to engage with customers and genuinely help them overcome some of their challenges.  To make the most of these different types of empathy, organisations and individuals need to harness all three in their interaction with customers., it will enable you to get deeper into their problems and needs, help them understand Why change, and lead them to the Why Now.