When was the last time you were disappointed because you couldn’t get what you wanted from your favourite food place?

So, imagine this, you were with me for our usual morning breakfast at a nearby coffee shop

(In Singapore, a coffee shop is a local term that describes a place that not just sells coffee but a variety of different local food). As we usually would, we went to a particular food stall to order our favourite “TAO SUAN” from Alice, a young lady who tends the stall, sadly today it appears that she wasn’t selling it.

Tao suan, the metaphor for empathy in sales

Us: Hi! We would like to order 2 “Tao Suan” Please . . .

Alice: Ermm…… I’m afraid we don’t have it today, we only serve it during weekends?

Us: huh?!! But why? you used to serve it every day!

Alice: *Hesitantly, with eyes looking to the left and right* we don’t have enough ingredients to sell it every day of the week.

Us: huh? …. It’s such a waste, because it’s really good ……

Alice: *smiles* Thanks!

And we walked away . . . . . .

[From a sales point of view …… WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS?]

You’re RIGHT! Missed opportunity! but more importantly is to answer the question, what is the root cause of this missed opportunity. It is a lot easier than you think and it affects 8:10 of sales professionals…. (Find out more here)

A study was done on a class of sales professionals. Participants were told to pair up, face each other at an arm’s length and nominate who would be A and B respectively. A was told to be the customer while B the sales professional.

Next, B (Sales Professional) was given a series instructions that he/she had to perform for A (Customer). Imagine that you are B and here’s what you have to do:

Instruction 1: Stretch out your hand, facing A, draw a “Square” for A

Instruction 2: Stretch out your hand, facing A, draw a “Triangle” for A

Final instruction: Stretch out your hand, facing A, draw  a “Capital E” for A

[Now, you wouldn’t believe this….] In the final instruction, an estimated 8 out of 10 Bs (Sales Professionals) in the study drew the E in their perspective rather than the perspective of the customers. Refer to figure 1

Figure 1
how empathetic sales reps draw E

The 20% who drew the E in the perspective of the “customer” happen to also be top sales professionals in their field

Would you say that the key lesson here is EMPATHY? The ability to see things from the perspective of others.

For some us, seeing things from the perspective of our customers come naturally but for most of us it has to be INTENTIONAL. Notice that in the earlier experiment that despite being told to draw an “E” for their customers. 80% of them drew it for themselves.

As in the case of Alice, when we told her that it was a waste that she wasn’t selling “Tao Suan” daily because it’s really good. What we were actually saying was “BRING IT BACK !!!!” Unfortunately, she failed to listen and see from our point of view instead she only heard the praise we gave her.

Empathy can be expressed through various ways, one of which is listening to understand. Interestingly we can a secret meaning relating to this in the ancient Chinese character in Figure 2.

Figure 2 explained:

Decoding empathy through the chinese character "listen"The embedded meaning behind the traditional Chinese character word:  LISTEN

  • Listen with your ears to the other person as

you would to a king ( Ears King)

  • Listen with your eyes by actively observing

the person (10 Eyes)

  • Listen with your heart giving undivided

Attention (One Heart)


Could it be possible that we frustrate our prospects and customers because we don’t listen to understand?

Here are some ideas you can instantly use to improve “listening to understand” that will help you as a sales professional respond to your customers and prospects the way that makes them come back to you again and again

  • Be clear about your position:

Your position in this case is a Sales Professional, in which case is to put the needs of the client above yours with the main objective to understand and meet or if possible exceed the expectation

  • Note what the customers say by paying attention to key words and the tone of voice i.e.:

Emotional Words: Happy, Excited, Upset

Expectation Words: Hoping, Expecting, Waiting

  • Observe how the customer says it:

Tone of voice, eye contact, alignment of body gestures, Body posture, eye brow, presence or absence of smile, volume

  • Verify your assumptions on what the customer wants / needs:

Assessing from the non-verbal and verbal expressions, verify your assumptions by communicating back some of the key words spoken by the customer with some possible solutions and observe the customer’s response

  • Respond to the need

Once confirmed, assure the customer that you will look into it and be sure to have it ready the next time you meet the customer

Story Box Academy specialises in helping their clients turn boring and complex information into meaningful content for their stakeholders that create experiences and drive Action