Think about the last time you decided to purchase something of significant value. Did you walk into a shop with little to no background information on what you were buying? Or, did you do your research online reading reviews and comparing prices while consulting family and friends?

Today’s customer journey looks more like the latter.

With a wealth of information now available to consumers, the buying and selling process has shifted. The power now lies with the buyer, not the seller. This means that traditional sales tactics developed years ago and the skills necessary to be successful in sales simply aren’t as effective today. Gone are the days of the fast-talking, aggressive cold calling salesperson. Today’s most successful women and men in sales are knowledgeable, curious, and most importantly, empathetic.

In our Culture Code, we explain what the acronym HEART means. It’s a way for us to describe the characteristics we believe great employees embody. And, it’s no coincidence that the “E” stands for Empathetic. Empathy is the ability to identify, respect and approach things from another person’s perspective. For salespeople, this quality is critical in today’s modern buying process. Trust, establishing a relationship, and helping prospects find the best possible solution comes down to putting yourself in their shoes.

The difficult part about empathy is that you can’t teach it. We can emphasize the importance of empathy in our product trainings, but it’s hard to tell somehow how to be empathetic. Historically, empathy hasn’t been a must-have skill for salespeople. When you’re trained to hit a quota as fast as you can, selling with empathy can often times feel like learning an entirely new skill set.

Communicating our mission of helping millions of organisations grow better helps remind employees that we aren’t selling to robots, we’re selling to people. This inherently builds empathy. But on the rep, manager, or leadership level, how can salespeople continually flex their empathy muscles?

Here are four ways I think salespeople can begin to build empathy:

Active Listening

Listening is one of those fundamental skills we were taught in primary school, but one that I am constantly reminding myself to practice. Active listening is fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the speaker. And it’s surprisingly hard. It requires unplugging, giving the speaker your full attention, and then taking the time to fully absorb the information in order to understand deeply.

In sales, you can’t effectively help a prospect solve a problem if you aren’t listening, truly listening, to what that problem is. The best reps I know aren’t on the phones waiting to get a word in. They’re active listening and having a conversation.

Recognise Perspectives

The reason active listening is so important is because it's a step toward recognising that different schools of thought are present in the daily conversations you have with prospects. And, we need to be inclusive of those perspectives. If a prospect is reluctant, for example, instead of getting frustrated, we should step outside ourselves and ask why they might be resistant to our help. It’s important to remember that customers are human. We need to be thoughtful about why they have this perspective or opinion at that moment.

I think being empathetic toward different perspectives or dispositions is strongly influenced by the company culture we work in. If our sales team is actively thinking about creating a more diverse and inclusive environment internally, then there's a good chance that sentiment will carry over into their calls. As a leader, I see it as my job to drive inclusion initiatives forward not just to help our employees grow and feel supported, but to help our customers as well.

Change Your Language

Don’t just think about how to be more empathetic, but show prospects and customers that you’re more invested in helping them find a solution than in hitting your monthly quota. It starts with changing your language. Use statements that lead with empathy and think of others first whether during initial prospect calls (“what I want for you is... or Do you mind if I ask you a few more questions?”), or with current customers to gather feedback ("Is [product/solution] meeting your needs? How can I help?").

Respect Cultural Differences

Buyers in different markets will approach sales conversations in different ways. What works for you to build rapport with prospects in Ireland, may not work as well in Singapore. Recognising that there are cultural differences across regions is a step towards being more empathetic in your sales process.

Make the effort to learn a bit about how you can best connect with prospects in different markets; ask someone in your sales organisation who has experience in that market, and spend a few minutes before your call researching what's going on in their country or city socially or politically. At the very least, this puts you a bit closer to understanding their perspective before starting the conversation.

What are some ways you’ve practiced building empathy in your own role or in your organisation? Learn more about #SalesAtHubSpot at


Originally published Oct 24, 2018 10:20:06 AM, updated January 19 2023