The Resilient and Empathetic Sales Person

One of the core values of SalesHacker and The Harris Consulting Group is our continual desire to learn. We push ourselves and our clients to be better, fail faster, iterate quickly, adapt, and improve. We believe this is essential to being successful in sales and is part of our “Warrior Training”.

Like many people in sales we look to learn from others as much as we look to help others learn. In this post we are going to explore two concepts that have really struck a chord with us in 2015 as we look at the sales world. One is resilience, the other is empathy.  

Before we get into the topics specifically, we feel it’s important to acknowledge those who helped encourage us to explore these paths. While the topic of “Empathy” in sales may have been around quite a while, we weren’t really aware of it until we met Sean Kester from SalesLoft in January 2015. If you follow SalesLoft, Sean, or Kyle Porter you will hear this word used often when discussing the right attributes of a good SDR or Sales Person. And we agree whole-heartedly.

With regards to “Resilience”, we began to apply a deeper thought process around this word and how it relates to inside sales while reading the book, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens. To be honest, this book has absolutely nothing to do with sales, but on the other hand so much of it can be applied it’s hard not to see it.

“Resilience explains how we can build purpose, confront pain, practice compassion, develop a vocation, find a mentor, and create happiness. Mr. Greitens explores all of this drawing on both his own experience and wisdom from ancient and modern thinkers.

While we write posts specifically from the point of view of an SDR or Inside Sales perspective, we do realize that much of this post could be applied to anyone from any perspective or occupation, during any part of one’s life.


So what’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about a salesperson? Go on, be honest. Often times the words we hear are: dishonest, untrustworthy, and our favorite: liar. In fact, if you stop to think about it, the top professions that are known for lying often include the following: Politicians, Lawyers, and of course, Sales People.

Now let’s explore this word “Empathy”. According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings”

Unfortunately, a lot of sales people will think they are being empathetic but unfortunately it comes out insincere and sounding more like sympathy. It is our opinion that taking a sympathetic tone can actually create distance between you and your prospect as opposed empathy which will build a greater bond of mutual respect and trust. To be more specific, having sympathy often means feeling sorry for someone’s situation. Your customers do not want your sympathy. They do not want you to feel sorry for them. Empathy means you actually understand your customers’ feelings at the emotional level.

As an example. One may lose a loved one and people will and should be sympathetic. What if you are a person who has not had that experience in your left yet, could one truly be empathetic? Some people by nature can. Others have a harder time making this connection.

So now comes the hard part for sales people. Everyone has experience and experiences in life. The goal of a good sales person is to understand the challenges you’ve faced in your life or career. Take the emotions behind those experiences and work to appropriately identify ways to share your life with your prospects in such a way to create the right win-win situation.  

So here is a simple exercise for you to try. We call it “Happy & Sad Times”.  Below, write down three experiences in your work or personal life that brought you happy feelings. In the second section, write down experiences that evoked sadness.

Exercise 1 – Happy Times

  1. The day I closed my first 5-figure deal.
  2. The day I shot a hole-in-one.
  3. The day my children were born.

Exercise 1 – Sad Times

  1. The first time my heart was broken.
  2. The time I lost a big sale to the competition.
  3. The moment I found out my father had cancer.

So maybe you haven’t hit a hole-in-one but maybe you hit a home-run. Maybe you’ve never lost a big deal to a competitor but perhaps you didn’t get the job you wanted. In both cases, the emotions felt within the experience allow them to be shared. It’s this shared emotional feeling that allows someone to be truly empathic.

So as a sales person, how do you take these feelings and share them with a prospect? There are three things that will help you.

  1. The words you choose
  2. Your tone of voice.
  3. The words you choose after you express empathy.

Empathy sounds like this. “Wow, that’s awesome.” Or, “oh, wow that’s not much fun.”  

Often times, a sales person will try to follow up their statement with something that tries to push the deal forward. We suggest that in most cases, trying to move the deal forward is not the best choice at this moment. If you do, that’s where the “pushy used car” salesperson stigma comes to mind for most people. It is possible your prospect will feel like you are not listening to them. If they think you are not listening, they will not trust you, and this is where you lose the deal. What ends up happening in many cases is that the prospect will interpret the sales persons’ empathy as sympathy. And prospects do not want their sales people to feel sorry for them. They want their sales people to feel their pains.

We believe that continuing to discuss how this situation is affecting the prospect will lead to greater trust and the deal will move forward naturally. Don’t get us wrong, you still have to ask for the sale or the next appropriate steps but you don’t need to push it simply because you do not know what to say next.


So now let’s shift gears and move towards our other topic, resilience. Resilience is the ability to adapt as necessary based on changing circumstances. The most important thing to remember is that you aren’t really born with resilience, it’s something you develop over time through life, with experiences both good and bad. Resilience is not given to you, it’s earned, and often times painfully. The good news about resilience is that it will always continue to develop, and nobody can take it away from you.

As a sales person, whether you are in inside sales, field sales, an SDR, or Customer Success, the ability to be empathetic and resilient are essential to your overall success. Your prospects and customers do not desire this, they actually expect it.

Here’s an example of building resilience. Right now as I am finalizing this post, my father is upstairs in the hospital. He’s going to die in the next 24-48 hours. In the next 20 minutes, I have a business call I need to make. Some people may think that I am not doing the right thing. In my world, my reality, and my father’s world, he would want me to focus on something other than himself even for a few minutes. This is resilience, this is “Warrior Training”. That even in the face of certain death of a loved one, the human spirit will continue, it can grow stronger, and it will help you persevere. This experience, while tragic and terrible, will build my resilience. I will have lost someone very dear to me, but I will have also gained strength, perspective, and improved my ability to be empathetic to others who lose. It could be a person they lose, it could a pet they lose, or it could be a business deal. But ultimately I can empathize with anyone who loses something they care about.


In conclusion, we would like to leave you with some thoughts you can use to help you continue to build your ability to be empathetic and help you continue to build your resilience throughout your warrior training. This is actually based on something we read in Eric Greiten’s aforementioned book.

  • Begin with empathy.
  • Act with empathy
  • End with empathy.
    • Empathy leads to clarity.
    • Clarity leads to an open mind and open heart.
    • With an open mind and an open heart I see every as being my equal.
    • When I have an open mind and see others as my equal it gives me permission to let them teach me and for me to teach them in tandem. .
    • With every person as my teacher I grow in resilience and wisdom.
    • As I grow in resilience and wisdom empathy becomes a greater strength, a massive asset.
  • Begin with empathy.
  • Act with empathy
  • End with empathy


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