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Empathy as the Linchpin for Sales & Marketing Strategies

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 1/14/13 9:49 AM

Disclaimer: If your mandate is to "deliver share-holder value" or "make a paycheck", then this post is not for you.

The ROI of Empathy for Business Development

Last week I attended a webinar sponsored by Social Media Today called the ROI of Empathy. As part of my research for Ingagements, it seemed like a no-brainer. After it was over, I started to to think of empathy as the linchpin for Ingagements and the goal for Smarketing.

"You can be successful without empathy in the short term if you are lucky. But not in the long term." #allthingsc

What is Empathy as It Relates to Your Sales & Marketing Strategy?

Empathy is an intangible element, like curiosity and engagement. Defining it can be difficult, never mind measuring its impact on your company. This is why so many still struggle with social media.

Webster defines empathy as 'the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this.

A linchpin however, is a very tangible thing. (Must be why Seth Godin wrote a book on it) Empathy is the linchpin for Smarketing because sales and marketing alignment is a learning process that brings you closer to understanding the actual (near real-time) wants and motivations of your customer.

Why is Smarketing Impossible Without Empathy?

Empathy for the customer is the intangible perspective that holds together the parts of Smarketing so that your sales and marketing functions as a unit.

Empathy is not just a technique to understand your customers, it is also one for your employees. Smarketing is about putting marketing people in the sales people's shoes and vice-versa. By understanding each other's roles they can align together much more effectively. In fact, I would argue that without empathy, Smarketing is impossible and so is your ROI. I might even further point out that this concept applies not just to sales and marketing, but virtually every aspect of your company.

But, for now, I'll stick to what I know. Feel free to comment and share what you know.

How Do You Achieve Smarketing ROI from Empathy?

Like empathy, the culture of your company is hard to define, and difficult to measure. But like the wind, you can see and measure it's effects. Your culture can either be a devastating hurricane or it can power an energy-producing turbine.

There are certain traits necessary within a culture that are necessary for empathy, and therefore Smarketing. Here are a few that I have observed (and therefore stood out to me in the #allthingsc webinar):

  • Curiosity and the desire to learn. By promoting curiosity you will get the deeper answers and the whole picture. A learning mindset means that failures are not punished, but learned from.
  • 'Customer experience is a team sport''. Eliminate silos. The more people involved in the process of change heightens the curiosity and better questions get asked. Mandates are not just handed down, but developed collaboratively. If no one cares, it doesn't matter who is right.
  • 'Bypass focus groups by making the CEO the customer.' Undercover Boss is a popular reality show because it puts the CEO in the role of the customer and/or employee. It's a great way to put the CEO "in-touch".
  • How you hire is how you sell. There is no disconnect between how employees are hired and treated and how customers are acquired and kept.
  • 'Stories make the numbers real, the numbers give the story breadth and weight.' Numbers and stories are bedfellows. Numbers need context, and if the context of the numbers is the empathy for the customer, then you get the actionable insights that matter. Things you can fix, things you can make better, things you can offer of value to more people.

How do you combine the passion and practicality of empathy in your business? This is a question that has compelled me to seek out actionable ways to help businesses develop a culture of empathy. Putting the customer at the center of your decision making is a question of your motivation, your guiding principle.  It's the reason I am committed to writing Ingagements. It's also why customer persona modes are so important to me as a tool.

Storytelling in business is nothing new, but its resurgence in the 21st century (thanks to social media) is a sign of rising empathy in business. Storytelling is a way to trigger empathy, both mentally and emotionally, internally and externally. Every story needs a good (multi-dimensional) character. Buyer persona modes are the characters in your sales and marketing stories.

The webinar talked also talked about 'design thinking' and the 'value chain'. Developing your own individual best practices that are focused on user experience and triggered by actual behavior is how your business gives and gets value. My hope for Ingagements is to give those companies, whose goal it is to be the culture of the customer, the tools to get started.

Topics: business development, marketing strategy, sales and marketing alignment, sales strategy