I want to tell you a true story about one of the most bizarre and enlightening sales experiences of my entire life.

It all started with a beautiful senior living community in a city that will remain unnamed. After many years and millions of marketing dollars, the building just couldn’t fill, so the corporate office decided to close it. There were only nine residents left—nine scared and upset people who suddenly faced the overwhelming task of finding a new home. To ease their transition, the executive director set up a meeting to introduce residents and their families to comparable communities nearby. Five senior living communities arrived to give each resident their 10-minute “pitch.” My team was one of them.

The whole thing felt like some bizarre form of speed dating. How could nine seniors choose the best place for them just from a 10-minute presentation? All five communities had analogous age, health and financial requirements and offered similar amenities. What would set us apart?

I still remember waiting in the lobby with sales people from every single competitor in our market. They looked much more prepared than we did. They brought easels, brochures, pricing sheets, renderings. They’d condensed all of their building features and membership benefits to fit the time limit.

How did we spend our 10 minutes? By displaying our empathy and compassion. We asked each resident about the sudden change they were going through: “Mrs. Jones, this must be so hard for you. I am so sorry you are in this situation. What scares you the most about having to move again?” We only mentioned our product when they directly asked.

Two of the residents cried with us. One daughter hugged us. We offered individual home visits to each family. Months later, after many more conversations, hugs and tears, seven of the nine residents moved into our community.

I won’t pretend like one 10-minute conversation was the only reason why so many prospects chose us. But I firmly believe that our approach—aligning with the residents and challenging them to confront and ultimately untangle their emotional barriers to moving—helped them decide to seek more information about our community.

Whether we’re selling for ten minutes or ten hours, the approach is the same. Here are our top tips for displaying compassion and empathy in everyday sales:

  • Be upfront. State your intentions early in your first interaction with a prospect. Don’t try to tell the prospect what you think they want to hear. Be honest and forthright. Here’s what that sounds like: “Mrs. Jones, my intention is to get to know you and to help guide you in your search, regardless where you choose to move. Or perhaps you’ll decide to stay at home. That is very much your decision.” Or, “Darin, thank you for calling. My intention is to help guide you and your family through this decision, regardless of where your mom ultimately chooses where to live.”
  • Trust the prospect. Every prospect you meet is trying to navigate a difficult path to an important decision. You’ll inevitably meet resistance; when you do, embrace it. Resistance is a natural expression of fear and uncertainty. Listen to their pushback and be glad that they trust you enough to share their concerns.
  • Ask. When you ask a question, shut off the voice inside your head that is dying to fill space with answers. Listen, actually listen. Stay curious. When it’s your turn to speak, ask a follow-up question based on what you heard.

Alex Fisher

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