by Jim Gilmartin –
Empathy is the most important ingredient in lasting relationships. We all want to be understood by those who want to sell us something. When we think we are not understood, we erect defenses against those trying to connect with us or try to sell us something.
However, empathy is not the same as sympathy. You will meet Baby Boomer prospects with conditions that might make you feel sorry for them. Many will notice your feelings and resent them. How will they know? Through your body language – your eyes, your head movements, the tone and pitch of your voice. Words often lie, but the body never does. As we age, reading body language improves. You should learn how to replace sympathy with empathy. With a strong empathy quotient, you can go far in sales to Baby Boomers.
Can you boost your empathy quotient? Yes. One way you can do this is by becoming a “method actor.” Method acting is a style of acting in which the actor doesn’t act “like the character,” but vicariously becomes the character.” Vicarious means feeling what another is feeling without actually experiencing what that person is experiencing – as in my taking vicarious pleasure in watching Jordan Spieth hole out for a birdie from 60 feet away. The actor feels what the character feels.
Method actors hone their method acting skills by imagining experiences such as a butterfly chased by a boy with a net to a mother giving birth for the first time. You can do it as they do: by practicing. Imagine yourself to be one of your prospects and vicariously feel what they feel. Try it. Try to have the same emotions as someone else, in both happy and not-so-happy circumstances.
Setting quotas and rewarding sales associates for meeting them makes sense – but not at the expense of doing what’s right for the customer. Without any qualification, in today’s world of marketing and selling to Baby Boomers the customer’s interests and well-being come first.
Pressuring Baby Boomer customers is dead wrong. You will meet many people who may be subject to confusion and anxiety if pushed hard to make decisions. Pacing your sales conversation to be in harmony with the customer’s pace of absorbing and thinking about what you are presenting.
Vulnerability and empathy are close cousins. A person becomes more vulnerable when he or she expresses empathy because something of the private inner self is revealed by the projection of empathy. Naturally, you want Baby Boomers to let down their defenses and become more vulnerable so they don’t resist your efforts to sell them your product. However, like empathy, vulnerability should flow in both directions.
Don’t be afraid to admit fallibility: “I don’t have all the answers, but I will do what I can to find the right answer.” On the other hand, when a customer says, “My memory isn’t what it used to be,” feel free to respond with something like, “Let me tell you, I searched nearly an hour yesterday for my car keys. You know where they were? In the car – on the front seat.”
We all tend to keep our distance from those who don’t make themselves at least a bit vulnerable. When you meet someone for the first time, aren’t you often a little guarded? You each take baby steps towards more intimacy. As the other person lets their defenses down a notch, you lower yours a notch. Vulnerability humanizes both sides in a relationship.
Finally, many books have been written on how to sell to customers using self-serving logic: “Do this and such and such will happen.” “Don’t do this and you risk such and such calamity.” Taking a more collaborative and consultative approach in presenting your products to Baby Boomers is more effective.