It’s long been said that people might forget what you say. But they will never forget how you made them feel.
There’s a lot of truth to that. And one of the first things your clients and prospects should feel is that you understand what they’re going through. Before some of you were born, there was a great, great sales trainer and educator named Zig Ziglar. Look him up! He learned to sell by selling brushes. Door-to-door.
He went on more sales calls before breakfast than some of you go on in a month. And he used to say “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care… about them.”
There’s two steps to that equation: First, you need to genuinely understand what they are going through. Second, you need to communicate that to them.
If you do the first thing without the second, you may come up with the perfect solution to their financial problems – and not get the sale. They’ll go with somebody else, every time.
Here’s another thing I learned from Zig Ziglar: There’s a difference between sympathy and empathy.
Sympathy means you actually feel what the other person feels.
Empathy, on the other hand, means you understand what that person feels. But you don’t necessarily get drawn into it yourself. Empathy allows you to remain objective. And that’s what you need as a financial advisor.
What’s your empathy quotient?
Are you an empathetic person? Some people are more developed in this dimension than others. Social scientists have tried to quantify it. For example, you can take this questionnaire, developed by Simon Baron-Cohen at ARC (the Autism Research Centre) at the University of Cambridge.
If you naturally score very high, you’re probably doing ok in the empathy department. On the other hand, if your score is very low, you might need to make an extra special effort to understand what your client or prospect is experiencing.
This might mean you need to take a moment or two and consciously place yourself in their shoes. Some people do this instinctively. Others who are more left-brained than right-brained have a harder time with it. If you are very left-brained, numbers, and logic-oriented, it’s very easy to get carried away with the logical side of things – and lose track of your prospects’ perception.
This is why Captain Kirk needed Spock – and Spock needed Captain Kirk. Spock understood math and logic beyond ordinary human understanding.
But he had trouble understanding people.
So, turn on your inner Spock when you’re developing financial recommendations. Financial advisors should not get carried away by emotions like fear and greed.
But you need to turn on your inner Kirk when you’re interviewing the prospect or client, presenting them with your recommendations, and closing the deal.
How to show empathy
Let’s assume you ‘get it.’ Let’s say you’re in the middle of a big market meltdown, and you’re trying to prevent your clients from doing something rash, like selling their entire portfolio and going to cash at the wrong time.
You need to show them that you understand their feelings of anxiety and fear, or they won’t listen to you. If they perceive that you just don’t understand what they’re going through, they’ll dismiss you outright. They might even get another advisor.
So, you need to communicate that you understand their feelings. But you can’t get carried away by these same emotions yourself, or you won’t be convincing.
Empathy over sympathy, right?
You have got to communicate empathy, while still retaining the objectivity and the moral authority to exercise your responsibility in helping the client make the right decision.
Let’s say you’re Mr. Spock. You know you have the right solution: Don’t sell when the market panics. Buy!
Don’t solve the problem too quickly.
Let’s take another example from pop culture:
Remember the movie “White Men Can’t Jump?” Rosie Perez and Woody Harrelson’s characters are lying in bed together.
Rosie says, “Honey, I’m thirsty.”
Woody, being a guy, wants to solve the problem. So, he gets up and gets her a glass of water.
“Here you go, honey.”
Rosie: “When I said, I was thirsty, it doesn’t mean, I want you to bring me a glass of water.”
Woody: “It doesn’t?”
Rosie “If I have a problem, it doesn’t mean you’re supposed to solve it! Men always think that they can solve a woman’s problems. It makes them feel omnipotent.”
Rosie: “I read it in a magazine: If I’m thirsty, I want you to sympathize. I want you to say, “I, too, know how it feels to have a dry mouth.””
See, sometimes, you need to show them that you’re listening on a deeper-than-surface level, before you go about solving the problem.
Woody’s character and Mister Spock were both great problem solvers. But both needed a little help in the empathy department. And, of course, in actually communicating that empathy to others.
Well, here are a few tips on how to do just that.
#1. Eliminate distractions.
This is a crucial matter when you expect to be discussing an emotionally sensitive topic. Turn off your cell phone, and put it away out of sight. When your client or prospect is really opening up to you, even glancing at your incoming texts for a split-second sends a very off-putting message.
Turning off your cell on a sales call or client meeting is just common sense.
#2. Stay client-focused.
Listen more than you talk. You will probably have to talk more during the presentation phase, when you’re showing the client your recommendations. But definitely listen at least two or three times more than you talk during the fact-finder phase.
#3. Ask open-ended questions.
This not only keeps them talking, it also gives you the opportunity to listen. It also ensures that your prospects won’t walk away from the interview thinking they didn’t get a chance to tell you something important!
#4. Engage the silent partner.
When you’re interviewing a couple, one of them is usually more talkative than the other. Ask the silent partner what he or she is feeling. And listen intently. If you don’t, the silent partner will shoot you down as soon as you leave the appointment. So, get his or her feelings or objections out. And continue to practice empathic listening throughout.
#5. Share your own story. But don’t overshare.
Sharing parts of your own life experience can help you establish that you understand what your client or prospect is feeling at the moment. But don’t say so much that it becomes a conversation about yourself. Make your point – just enough to say “I’ve been there. I get it.” Then go right back to being client-focused.
#6. Confirm your understanding.
After you’ve heard them out, confirm your understanding with them. Say, “so if I’m understanding you correctly, your major concern right now are x, y and z. Am I on the right track?”
Hopefully you have it right. If you don’t, it’s important to get any misperceptions corrected now. But once you express their own concerns back at them, accurately, you will have gone a long way toward showing your prospect or client that you really get where they’re coming from.
This is a necessary precondition to successfully presenting a solution or course of action that may seem counterintuitive. Such as, for example, buying low and selling high.
Now go call 100 people and practice empathic listening!