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The skill of selling a beating machine is necessary to ensure sales

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Last fall, I attended a session led by Mark Crofton, the world’s vice president of sales training at SAP. It was an in-depth study of the proven potential for artificial intelligence (AI) and his understanding of empowerment, impact and even predictions of sales learning success, coaching and performance.

Equally interesting was what technology could not do. Yes, automation goes for our careers, even for sales: Forrester warned us about this phenomenon a few years ago. But it turns out that there is a skill in which machines are not so perfect, and it turns out to be necessary for modern sales. When Mark Crofton reached his slide that revealed this skill – cognitive empathy – I finally had words for the skills / behaviors / traits that I (and others) sales opportunity leaders) have advocated and developed in key sales areas.

Cognitive empathy, or taking a perspective, is the ability to put oneself in another person ‘s place, to explore decisions from his or her point of view, and even to change one’s point of view. While machines may be able to display cognitive empathy through tactics such as active listening because they may not experience the experiences of others, they may not actually possess empathy.

Based on this idea, we can assume that machines may find it difficult to imagine a customer problem as their own problem. They may stumble to adjust their tone and vocabulary in conversation, based not only on the buyer’s responses, but also on where they are in the corporate hierarchy and buying process, and on the role they play in influencing others in your organization. Without cognitive empathy machines may not recognize the overly important moment when a couple lose the battle of immediate sale to win a customer in the long run.

At a time when we are more divided than ever, building a bridge across the perspective is fundamental to bringing the parties to the sales conversation closer. And these principles are not new: they harmonize well with both online sales consulting resources targeted at customers, and with modern sales articles such as Anita Nielsen’s book “Kill the Boots.”

Now that I had the language to describe this skill, what came to my mind was strong: cognitive empathy is not just a necessary skill for today’s sales. This is no less indispensable for securing sales. The success of a single sales advisory may include identifying prospects for many in a wide network of buyers; similarly, a variety of communications and stakeholder management is necessary to ensure that sales not only play a role but also function as a strategy.

What is common to sales professionals who have successfully elevated their function to exceptional heights is not just the luck of the “right company at the right time”. While this may be a factor, there are two other intentional skills that affect their success:

    • Reconciling stakeholder intentions with those that positively impact vendor performance.
    • Communicate and report to these stakeholders on sales initiatives in style and rhythm that resonate with their perspectives.

Let’s explore some real-world scenarios:

Scenario 1

Tune in to the experience of new and veteran vendors can reveal a bigger story than what data can tell you and management about performance gaps. Here is a short list of discoveries you can make based on my own experience and the experience of fellow practitioners:

    • Case studies for use in the sales process were stored in the company’s firewall system without mobile access.
    • New employees received more than 20 emails from Learning Management System (LMS)other systems and other departments on the first day alone.
    • Managers used one-on-one time solely to obtain pipeline updates.
    • Unipaiders, created to share with customers, have been developed in a vacuum, with conversation points and questions for many uncertain types of buyers in different departments.

From a vendor perspective, the sales department can share these discoveries in a variety of ways, gain empathy with the good intentions of the departments, and help manage the flow of information. With such a partnership, the organization’s view will tend to reduce barriers to sales, ultimately so that salespeople can do what they all think is their primary role.

Scenario 2

You have an upcoming meeting of executives at which you should report on the impact of sales activation. How do you decide on your narrative – what to report and what to highlight? Practitioners with cognitive empathy will consider not only their message and intention, but also how people in the room affect what they communicate:

    • A financial manager may want to know that your programs have a positive impact on how a business makes money.
    • The marketing manager may want to know how his or her team’s efforts are involved in the sales movement, what works and what doesn’t.
    • The oldest executives want it to be simple: what works and what doesn’t, what are you going to change and why?

By not treating others in a way to prepare you for this point, you risk losing your audience and your intentions simply by conducting a sales session. If they haven’t signed up for your class, stakeholders want to know how “your stuff” affects “their stuff” and not just “your stuff”.

If cognitive empathy can affect the ability to sell in such a powerful way, it is clear that we need to recognize its need in our practice. Also, given how important this skill is to our largest audience of sales professionals, we need to recognize its importance in our own hiring and evangelize its cultivation and application in our teams.

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