The Role of Empathy in Business

Empathy in business is often a trait overlooked. Clichés like “the customer is always right” or “the customer always comes first” are thrown about without much thought as to what they actually mean. If a client is always right, then a negotiation is futile as you are going to end up giving them everything they want without much in return.

You will not only be losing out on this deal, but also on any future deals as the client will take advantage of your submissive behaviour. Being truly empathetic involves understanding your client to the extent where their problems become your own. This will transform your negotiation from a competitive head to head to a creative partnership.

“What if my client is really stubborn? They want a cheaper price, but I don’t want to eat into my company’s margin.”

During my first two weeks at True and North I have learnt a lot about the importance of empathy in a sales environment. What I really found interesting was the fact that price is something you do not want to focus on. It is the main variable that both a client and supplier are going to be at odds with each other on. Compromising on price usually ends up at a point where neither party will be fully satisfied and so you must find creative solutions that you will both be happy with. This ties in with what I have learnt about consultative sales and design thinking. The best way to summarise these methods is as follows:

·      Listening carefully to your client.

·      Finding alternative ways to provide them with value.

·      Making it all about them.

These three things encapsulate what True and North is all about. By harnessing human traits such as creativity, empathy and insight into others we can create an environment that is positive and productive.

“How do I go about using these traits in a business context?”

This is the same question I was asking myself. It becomes incredibly obvious when it is spelt out to you, but at the same time it is fascinating to understand how many huge businesses fail to see the importance of these human traits. We can use these traits through empathy mapping and storytelling, changing the way we do business to an extent where price is almost a non-issue.

Maximise the number of variables you have to negotiate with, it’s not just price.

This can be simply by giving insights to your client, e.g. giving advice about more effective ways to use their advertising money to promote the product. Your interests coincide here, if the product is well marketed then more will sell, increasing business for the both of you. You are building value for the client without conceding any profit. An insight is a piece of data, market research, or expertise that when shared helps someone see something differently. By giving insights you may create a ‘eureka’ moment for your client. This will then strengthen your relationship, as you have helped in a way that was not initially expected.

Truly listen to your client, do not make assumptions and put yourself in their shoes.

Listening and asking questions is underrated in negotiation. Often, clients use price as a cover for what they really value so you should try to create a dialogue rather than a debate. You will be talking to someone who wants to climb the career ladder and is looking to get a good deal to impress their superiors. Try to work out how you can help them achieve this without sacrificing margin. It could be by allowing them more autonomy over a project so that they are running it their way and will therefore get more credit. The key is to listen to find a solution that no competitor can match because no one else will listen carefully enough to the customer’s underlying agenda. Offer them services that are valuable to them but are not too costly to you.

Negotiation is all about control, who has it and how they are using it. Listening to your client, asking questions and giving them insights will lead them to believe they have the control. However, all the time you are leading the conversation taking them to conclusions that you want them to come to. The tactic of going head to head with your client in a bid to get the best possible price has had its day; the more imaginative and creative of us will be the one who are more successful in business.

Kundan Uppal


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