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About the Author
Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa a firm that helps brands make powerful emotional connections, convert more customers, and drive growth. He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, and the B2B Lead Blog which is read by thousands each week. As a researcher and leader in empathy-based marketing, Brian’s at the epicenter of the shifting customer landscape. He also founded B2B Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,733+ members.

We Stopped Trying to Convert Customers

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About five years ago, someone sent me a news feature on a Tulsa, Oklahoma business that changed the entire way I approached sales and marketing.


The first thing that caught my attention was that the business had been publicly endorsed by Mother Teresa. “Wait”, I thought. “She endorses businesses?”


The second was that the CEO had been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.


This amazingly compassionate company? A collections agency.


I was shocked.


The CEO of the company had decided to rethink the collections agency business model. Instead of browbeating debtors, they decided to offer free services to help their customers pay their bills by renegotiating their debt, finding them work, and getting them back on their feet.


That’s well-intentioned, but what really caught my attention was that after a year giving away all these free services, the company was actually 200% more profitable than their competitors.


The news agency closed by saying CFS2’s strategy was kindness, but I thought they had it wrong; their strategy was actually empathy. They were putting themselves in the customer shoes and it was a powerful business model.


After watching the video, I knew in my gut that I wanted to try something different in my role running a B2B sales and marketing team. Instead of looking at our customers as objects to be converted and pushed down our marketing funnel, what if we put ourselves in their shoes?


What if we focused on helping people instead?


Why customer empathy works

I’m fascinated by the neuroscience behind the way people think. Particularly the work of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, who discovered how critical feelings are to our ability to make even the simplest decisions.


People, as Damasio says, are “feeling machines that think.” Getting to the root of what a person is feeling is key to connecting with them. And, of course, connecting with your customers is the key to marketing.


When your customers come to you, they’re looking to solve a problem. Instead of viewing your customers as objects to be converted – checkpoints along the funnel of your sales process – what if you focused on helping them solve a problem?


That’s the question I took to my team. When I started digging into the reason most people gave us their contact information (by attending a webinar or downloading a resource), I realized it wasn’t because they wanted to be sold our product.


It was because they were looking for help.


The best marketing feels like helping

With that in mind, I asked my team to throw our scripted sales process out the window and focus instead on getting to the root of the problems our customers were facing. What frustrations could we address for them? What roadblocks could we remove? What wins could we help them achieve?


My hypothesis was that we’d get better leads by focusing on helping people rather than converting them, but the entire system for my team – the entire incentive structure – had been built around converting people to leads.


It was a tough ask. It required buy-in from my team, hours of additional coaching, and restructuring incentives to make sure my team felt safe they were going to be supported on this different path.


We honestly didn’t know how hard it was going to be until we tried doing things differently, but in the end, it was worth the challenge.

After six months focusing on helping people rather than converting them, my team generated 295 percent more leads.


Where are your customers turning for help?

I’ve taken this strategy to many more companies since that video back in 2014 eventually inspired me to found , but when I first started running tests, I had no idea where it was going to lead.


What I’ve found is that the strategy of empathy works on an individual level and for more complex B2B sales in organizations. I use the analogy that when your customers are trying to make a change in their organization, it’s like a group of people trying to climb the mountain. Some people don’t want to climb it all. Others might want to go different paths.


The best way to help in this case is to become a buyer sherpa. You can’t do the climbing for them, but you can carry the load, you can provide resources, you can offer stories of how other organizations solved similar problems.


These days, technology is making it easier than ever to connect with masses of customers in a way that feels personal. Data can help us make empathetic decisions, and artificial intelligence and chatbots can move us toward the promise of true one-to-one marketing.

However, without empathy, all that technology just ends up feeling inauthentic. You still need to connect with the human on the other end of the database, to have honest conversations to discover their problems, and focus on how you can help.


After all, your customers are already looking for help – and they’re going to find it somewhere. Why shouldn’t it be with you?