Take a walk on the client side – Empathy and emotional intelligence when selling professional services

Posted on: January 21, 2011

Earlier this week I did some training on sales conversion on the telephone and in meetings with some delightful family lawyers in Wolverhampton. At the end of each training session, I always ask people which key idea they found most useful. Not surprisingly, the majority of responses relate to the psychological aspects of selling – and, of course, the importance of empathy and emotional intelligence or seeing things from the client’s point of view. I call it “Take a walk on the client side”.

The following concepts were those that struck a chord this week:

Watch your language

All professions have jargon – it helps others who are in the know communicate quickly and accurately. Unfortunately, jargon creates barriers when used with those who aren’t in the know – and that is often the lay client. Also, we can get into language ruts where we use hackneyed, cliché words that everyone else uses so it becomes meaningless marketing speak – for example, are there any professional adviser who don’t say “Quality. Expertise. Responsive. Personal Service”?

Try writing down all the words that you usually use to describe your firm, your service, your differences and the value that you bring to clients. Then produce another list using the sort of words that your clients use. They’re often quite different. So the key is to see things from the client’s point of view and use language that is familiar and meaningful to them.

Instant rapport

Research indicates that most people have a natural rapport with about 30-35% of the people that they meet and with training (whether this is in basic non verbal communication or more advanced programmes such as NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming) we can double this number. There are some posts about NLP.

Personality match

We get on best with people who are like us, but we can’t all be the same. Nor can we be something that we are not or act in an insincere or artificial way. We need to be authentic.

However, familiarity with some of the many models that allow us to understand ourselves better and recognise other types, appreciate the strengths and weaknesses in each type and modify our behaviour to put the other person more at ease can help. As a psychologist, I have studied many models such as Myers Briggs, but an early model learned in a sales environment – the 3D approach – is simple and effective. Search on psychology and learn about other models.

What I’m thinking…

As well as personality and generational differences, people also think and process information in different ways. This is called cognitive style. Once you understand your own style and appreciate the nuances of other styles, it becomes easier to adapt, match and communicate in a way that is more comfortable and effective to the other person.

Where I’m at

When people seek professional advice they could be just starting to consider the issues or they may have thought about things a great deal and be seeking specific information. Understanding where the client is in terms of their thinking (or buying process) enables you to provide the frameworks and information in a way that best suits them – rather than reeling out the same speech which can make people feel as if they are being processed.

Questions, questions…

If a client is facing an unfamiliar problem – especially if there is a high degree of emotion and risk involved – they will not be sure what questions to ask a professional adviser. Often, clients in this situation will ask about price and time and their advisers may become unnecessarily defensive.

In most sales training, there is a big focus on how to use questions skilfully – whether this is to structure a conversation along the best convergent and divergent lines, provide a consultative sounding board, or to help the client think about the critical issues or their desired outcomes.

In addition to demonstrating expertise and experience, questions often demonstrate the extent to which the adviser is “on the same wavelength” (empathy by another name) as the client and can be immensely reassuring.

It’s just emotion taking me over

A rational decision or buying process would have you focus on the features of the service you buy. For example, when purchasing legal services you would hope that buyers focus on expertise, qualifications, relevant experience, price etc.

However, in both consumer and commercial decision making the more irrational and emotional elements play a critical role. Your reaction to another person, how they look and speak and act, whether you feel comfortable with them, whether you like them…

What’s in it for me?

Most sales folk will talk about the need to focus on the client rather than the seller. This means that rather than rattling off a list of features (we’ve been established for over 100 years, we have three offices, there are eight qualified people in our family team, we are members of Resolution etc) you need to answer the client’s question of “So what?” and translate these features into the advantages and benefits that they will bestow on the client – for example, “You’ll want someone who has been through a similar situation before and can guide you swiftly through the process”, or “You’ll want to be able to speak to someone immediately who is familiar with your situation, even if your main person isn’t available”.

Demonstrating a little empathy for my readers, I suspect that this is as much information as you would like to take from one blog post!

 

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