Empathy in Sales: Why You Should Put People Before Platforms
by Shay Hendrick

I speak to dozens of people for the “first time” every week. Officially, my job is to talk about software and the services Affirma offers in that space. In practice, I find myself spending most of the time talking about how team members in a given organization are using technology in their day-to-day life. So much so, that I always introduce myself by saying my title is “just a fancy way of saying that I spend all of my time talking about technology and how it impacts people”.

I think it’s very easy for those of us in an Architect or Pre-Sales level role to spend a lot of time focusing on the components that we know a lot about, whether that’s O365, SharePoint, SQL, or another technology platform. The challenge is getting these technical details to resonate with a broader audience.

Virtually no one I talk to is excited about a data migration or a custom software build. Whether it’s a C-Level exec or a project manager, the tools to them are a means to an end. It’s just a project with timelines, budget, deliverables, and work. Instead, they get excited about the impact the project will have on themselves and their employees.

Recently, I spoke to a client who, like most organizations, transitioned to remote work back in March. They were heavily dependent on a VPN platform to let their users sign in to an on-premise file share, and were interested in transitioning to Office 365. My partner and I dug deeper and learned that their users were spending almost half an hour per day (!!!) just getting signed in through this VPN and accessing what they needed. This was incredibly painful for them.

At that point, we stopped talking about “data migrations” and “site development” and instead focused on how we could reduce that burden. When we put together a proposal, we detailed how much time their organization would save on an annualized basis by transitioning away from their on-premises platform. Not only did this ROI hit home the financial side (it was big-dollar savings), but it showed we understood the core pain point of the organization.

In the example above, SharePoint was the platform of choice in our proposal. But instead of talking technical details, we focused on how their people would be impacted by a transition. Showing this kind of empathy made it much easier to have scoping calls and cost-level conversations with our stakeholders because they understood we were speaking the same language.

Focusing on People rather than Platforms is a much more effective way to make sure your message resonates. I routinely encourage my peers in the industry to focus most of their efforts on building relationships. Of course, technical knowledge is important when architecting a software solution, but ultimately the team members who excel beyond their colleagues are the ones who have stellar empathy along with rock-solid communication and people skills.

For anyone interested in learning more about software architecture and sales engineering, I highly recommend reading Mastering Technical Sales. It has great recommendations on the technical side but takes a deep dive into managing relationships with people in a “hybrid” sales architect role.

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