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Why Empathy is So Important in Sales and How to Use It

People went into lockdowns and businesses were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some salespeople even criticized any kind of sales outreach: "Now is not the time for selling!"

Empathy quickly became the most popular buzzword in sales because everyone agreed that we all needed a little more empathy.

As with many buzzwords, it seems that not everyone understands what empathy really means. Here are some tips for bettering your sales message through empathy. 

What is empathy anyway?

It is often described as the act of walking a mile in another's shoes. Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person's feelings. Essentially, you not only know what they're going through, but you know what it feels like to be in their shoes.

This doesn't mean you have to assume you know exactly how someone feels. You don't. We're all unique, each with our own baggage and history, so telling people you know exactly how they feel is going to annoy them.

In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown describes empathy as "connecting with the emotion that someone is experiencing, not the event or circumstance." It is not necessary for you to have experienced their exact situation in order to empathize with them.

There is a time for sympathy, but it doesn't belong in your sales message. Empathy differs from sympathy, in which you feel sorry for someone. As opposed to sympathy, which can make you appear as though you're looking down on your prospect, empathy puts you on the same page, letting them know they aren't alone in their struggles. 

Why is empathy important in sales?

Mark Roberge, former CRO of Hubspot's sales division, says empathy doesn't just help sales-it's essential. “Selling is about understanding the buyer's perspective and then tailoring your sales process according to that.”

If you demonstrate empathy, you'll be able to communicate more effectively with your prospects, whether you're on the phone or writing an email. 

A prospect is more likely to trust us when they feel that we truly empathize with their situation and understand their feelings. 

In addition, empathy allows us to deliver more value. With that understanding, we can clearly convey why our solution is right for them, so the sale is a win-win situation. 

"Empathy elevates sales conversations." Colleen Stanley, President and Chief Selling Officer at SalesLeadership, Inc (source).

How to Sell with Empathy

While many would readily agree that empathy is a valuable quality in sales, actually developing and applying empathy is harder said than done. Being empathic means, not just acknowledging, but prioritizing, the needs and emotions of others. It means broadening your horizons and deepening your understanding of the situation, the emotions, and the experiences of your prospect. 

To develop empathy, you must put in some serious effort. Here are some ways to get started:

If you're talking to a prospect, listen to what he or she has to say rather than waiting for an opportunity to dominate it. Don't judge them or rush to provide a solution. You can't empathize with their situation if you don't give them a chance to tell you what it is. You can't overcome their objections if you don't know what they are. If you spend most of the call talking, you're doing it wrong. 

If you're on video or in person (remember those days when outside sales was actually a thing before Covid-19?) pay attention to their body language. Is it consistent with what they're saying? Or is there something else going on beneath the surface? You have to pay attention to these cues. Turn off all notifications and alerts, remove all distractions, and listen to what they're saying. 

Trying to send out as many emails or make as many calls as possible will make the prospect pick up on it if you're burning through your list. It's possible you'll treat them like numbers rather than people subconsciously, and it'll come across in your delivery. If you're rushing through your script, you won't have time to listen, and you'll have no time to build empathy with them. 

Empathy requires you to Remember how it felt when you experienced similar experiences in the past.

Displaying Empathy Throughout Your Process

You should show empathy throughout the entire process, including your messaging. In order to succeed, you need to conduct prospecting, presentations, and follow-ups—all the way up to and including closing—with a genuine understanding of the prospect's situation. 

Your messaging must incorporate empathy into the beginning, the middle, and the end. Avoid the hard-sell mentality in your messaging.

The first time you contact someone, you need to have the right goal in mind. You shouldn't try to close the sale right away. Even setting up a meeting might be too much. First, you need to get their attention by showing empathy. Tell them how your product/service alleviates their pain points and solves their most pressing problems.

It's a good idea to ask for permission during a sales call, according to Sarah Brazier, Sales Development Representative at Gong. After your introduction, ask them if they mind you going ahead and explaining a bit more if they don't mind you going ahead and pitching. 

If people say no, that's fine. They'll probably appreciate the fact that you asked, and might be willing to try again another time. If they give their permission, they will appreciate being asked and will be more likely to listen to what you have to say even if they don't. 


There's no doubt that empathy has become the buzzword in sales at the moment, but the best salespeople have understood how important it is for a long time. Your messaging should always be based on empathy, not just during big events. You will be able to build trust and deliver the most value by understanding your prospect and their situation, along with the emotions that come with it.

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