4 Practical Ways to Build Empathetic Engagement
Selling Skills – By Wendy Heckelman, Ph.D.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, empathetic engagement was touted as a critical competency for successful sales interactions. Since the pandemic, with the vast disruption to the healthcare marketplace, empathetic engagement has become an even more critical skill for life sciences sales professionals interacting with HCPs and staff. Adding to the many challenges sales professionals already face is the added complexity and variability of obtaining and managing virtual access to their customers.
What is empathetic engagement? Empathy is having the ability to understand or feel the experiences of another person, from their perspective. From a sales standpoint, empathy is about understanding the emotional state that may limit or accelerate a customer’s commitment to buying a product or service. For sales professionals, the challenge becomes how to practice empathetic engagement in an environment that closely simulates reality.
What are some practical ways to build empathetic engagement skills with customer-facing roles?
- Continue to educate customer-facing individuals on the impact of COVID-19 and create a shared understanding of current customer priorities in a volatile healthcare marketplace. Help them understand how trends, pressures and challenges affect individuals in different settings, roles and geographies. In settings delivering care to COVID-19 patients, healthcare workers are stressed and overworked, and until vaccinations of front-line workers are completed, many will remain fearful for themselves and their families. In other settings, the protocols put in place to ensure patient and staff safety are reducing normal patient volumes, disrupting operations and causing financial strain.
- Emphasize pre-call planning activities. Encourage customer-facing roles to set specific objectives for obtaining and delivering virtual meetings, but to be prepared to flex and pivot based on initial interactions with the HCPs and changes in priorities.
- Revisit sales models to emphasize the importance of connecting with customers to understand their unique needs and challenges. Even in virtual environments, where visual clues are not available to “read the situation,” sales professionals need to take extra time to check in with their customers on both personal and professional levels. This creates opportunities to dig deeper and uncover true pain points before exploring solutions.
- Keep patient-centricity in mind. At the heart of most caregiving is the commitment to comfort and reassure patients. Prepare sales professionals to consider how COVID-19 is affecting the patient journey. Treatment choices often involve a significant amount of complexity, with many variables to consider. Equip customer-facing roles with the skills to ask the right
questions, of the right people, to build a deeper understanding of pain points and how best to work together to solve these for better patient outcomes.
Physical access will remain a challenge throughout 2021 and likely beyond. Consequently, learning and sales leaders should create forums for customer-facing roles to share best practices and lessons learned. Use these forums to discuss practical ways sales professionals can leverage existing relationships to set up and optimize virtual appointments.
In addition, empathetic customer engagement practices increase and improve when complemented by empathetic coaching and broader organizational support. Be sure each manager dedicates time to understanding their direct reports’ personal and professional challenges and accepts that most will struggle and need additional support from time to time.
Dr. Wendy Heckelman is president and founder of WLH Consulting. Email her at