Why it’s So Hard – and So Important – to Empathize with Prospects

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Few would quarrel with the importance of empathy in sales. According to one expert, empathy builds trust, makes you part of the team, is a differentiator and increases your credibility.

Who wouldn’t want those benefits?

Empathy is very easy to define: It is the activity of experiencing the thoughts and feelings of others.

The mindset of your prospects

In order to empathize with your prospects, first recognize what they’re experiencing when they meet you. I’ve found that – at least intellectually – advisors are very good at this.

I always pose this question in training sessions: Can you describe how the prospect feels when coming to your office? The typical response is “anxious,” “nervous,” “scared,” “uncertain,” and (my personal favorite) “like going to the dentist.”

Those descriptions encompass the feelings the prospect recognizes. But prospects also have subconscious feelings. In their paper, The Psychology of Preferences, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky concluded that “the regret associated with failures to act is often less intense than the regret associated with the failure of an action.”

The import of this finding on your ability to convert a prospect into a client is clear. It’s more palatable for a prospect to make no decision than to risk switching their portfolio to you.

Showing empathy

The combination of high anxiety and a subconscious bias against taking affirmative action means you need to harness all the tools at your disposal to have a successful outcome. The use of empathy is critical.