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Empathy vs. Sympathy

Zig Ziglar - Sales

If you are sailing with friends and one gets seasick and begins to throw up, you may well understand how he feels. The chances are good that you have thrown up at some point in your life. When you understand how that person feels because you “have been there,” you can have great empathy for another human being. However, if you are sailing with friends and one gets seasick and begins to throw up, and you rush to the rail and begin to throw up, too, this is sympathy. And I might add that this won’t help your seasick friend a bit. If you have empathy, you will join your friend at the rail with a cool cloth to bathe his face and some medicine to quiet that upset stomach.

Empathy is required to build a successful sales career. Along with empathy, you will develop intuition and psychological insights into people, which can make a substantial difference in your results. Many times experience is required, but as you work to develop genuine sensitivity—by listening to what your prospect is really saying and not just the words used—you develop empathetic sales skills.

K.J. Hartley of Cheshire, England, called on a young couple to sell the wife an insurance policy. The husband had adequate coverage, but the wife had no insurance. K.J. knew that the couple had one small child and one on the way, so the need was obvious. The objection the couple kept using was, “We can’t afford it,” although the monthly premium was only £12 (less than $21 at today’s exchange rate). By asking questions so he could understand and identify the problem, K.J. discovered that the couple had determined that £10 per month was their limit. Since so many of their other expenses were covered in £10 increments, they had a mental block against paying more than that amount per month.

As K.J. began to close his folder in preparation for leaving, he realized that he might be sympathizing with the prospects, and he stopped for moment. He had been listening to their words, but had he been listening to what they were saying? “Do you think that £3 or less per week would cause you a problem?" Was K.J.’s question. They both agreed that this amount would be easy. The answer showed that they did not have a financial problem. Their problem was the perception of the monthly £10 barrier.

At that point, K.J. multiplied the £12 by twelve months, which equals £144. He divided by fifty-two weeks and came up with the perfectly acceptable premium of £2.76 per week. The objection of £12 per month reduced to acceptable figures made the sale.

Obviously, £2.76 per week and £12 per month are the same thing. But please notice K.J. wasn’t “tricking” the people; he was filling their need in a manner that was psychologically acceptable. The couple needed the protection. They had the money. They needed an empathetic salesman who could understand how they felt and show them a way to take action that would be comfortable for them, their children, and their future. K.J. Hartley broke a psychological barrier (they couldn’t take a big £12 per month step, but they could easily take a little £2.76 per week step) for a couple with a problem who needed the solution he had to offer.

Zig Ziglar was known as America’s Motivator.  He authored 32 books and produced numerous training programs.  He will be remembered as a man who lived out his faith daily.

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