Communicating With “Smart Intentionality”: How Empathy Continues to Win in a Post-Pandemic World


When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world with its full fury, it quickly became evident that empathy would rule the day.

With more than 90 percent of companies negatively affected by the immediate and unyielding economic fallout, sales professionals were told to table the hard sell and “kill ‘em with kindness” – a kind of set of new rules of engagement that would win hearts now, and wallets later.

Though resonant with customers, the approach did little to fill the pipeline with new prospects. Evasive by their very nature, prospects now became “elusive” as well – hiding out at home, booked into a myriad Zoom meetings, and doing what they could to avoid cold calls while simply keeping their current business together. New vendors would have to wait.

With so many businesses and municipalities relaxing social distancing rules, and sales teams clawing to get back into the game, the question now has become: Do I replace empathy with the hard sell? Or is there a middle ground where we can peacefully, yet aggressively, charge forward?

This has given rise to a concept which we call “smart intentionality” – an approach in which sales are pursued with vigor, but with the current realities of the prospect in mind. No longer is it appropriate to send out your generic materials and a one-size-fits-all sales pitch; instead, you’ll need to understand their present-day pain and provide supporting materials that reflect their unique situation.

So how can you instill the concept of “smart intentionality” into your sales team? Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you head back out into the landscape: 

Understand their market’s reality: As we noted above, the pandemic has inflicted varying degrees of impact on businesses, largely determined by the need for their products during a worldwide shutdown. It is likely that a manufacturer of personal protective equipment (PPE), for example, is rolling in opportunity but may be struggling to scale operations to meet demand. Hospitality-focused businesses, on the other hand, may have completely (and temporarily) ground to a halt, and will be looking for sympathetic vendors as they resume operations in the “next normal.” Ask questions, do your research -- then do your best to tailor your approach accordingly.

Know your target: This is not a time for scattershot prospecting. Not only is it a waste of resources, but you could risk alienating a key decision maker with a pitch or email that is too generic, or completely misses the target. Without the tried-and-true technique of the drive-by or drop-in, you’ll likely need to rely heavily on digital prospecting tools to fill your funnel. Again, be sure that you are properly targeting your communications (e.g.: Don’t send an offer for a free trial of accounting software to the head of manufacturing). Remember, it’s not “ready, fire, aim” – it’s “ready, aim, fire.” I remember a time when a sales professional pitched me on targeting software that was not at all consistent with my job role or responsibilities. I replied: “If your software is so good, why are you calling me?”

Know your value: What’s the value you will be bringing to the conversation? How can your offering help to bridge their current reality to where they’d like to be in the new normal? Be sure that as you are crafting your solution, it is as focused as possible on addressing their critical needs. To that end, try to avoid the temptation of talking about how great/wonderful/relevant your product is, and think through the value it has brought to similar clients in similar industries.  In this time of uncharted economic territory, prospects want to know what’s working.  Then transition to what your offering will do for them to make them better, more efficient, and impact profitability. And how can you do so now, to help them finish 2020 as strongly as possible?

Approaching the “next normal” with smart intentionality will help you be perceived as both someone who is sensitive to the realities of the times, and someone who is worth doing business with. How will you work with your sales professionals to instill a spirit of smart intentionality?


Russ Sharer

Russ is the Director, Strategic Sales Excellence at The Brooks Group. Russ combines his 30+ years in B2B Sales and Marketing with his in-depth facilitation experience to deliver high-impact training programs as well as lead The Brooks Group’s team of talented facilitators.

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