Brian Carroll

Why Empathetic Marketing Matters and 7 Steps to Achieve It

I am at the earliest stages of developing a sequel to Lead Generation for the Complex Sale. It’s been a decade since the first draft and I’ve been contemplating how much business has changed since then.

Today’s sales and marketing environment is a paradox: There have never been more opportunities to reach customers; yet reaching them has never been more challenging.

We have more marketing channels than ever. We’ve moved from traditional advertising to social media, content marketing and beyond. But, I can’t help but wonder, as we have more ways to talk to our customers, are they really listening? Or are they shutting us out as we hurl more pitches at them from different angles?

I believe you can’t really answer that question unless you know precisely what your customers want. This requires letting go of our own assumptions of what we think they want and putting ourselves in their place.

This requires empathy, which according to Miriam-Webster, “is the ability to share someone else’s feeling.” To feel what they feel and think what they think.

Unfortunately, too many in corporate America believe sociopathic behavior – being laser-focused on getting what you want at the expense of everyone else – accelerates businesses and careers to success.

That’s so “Wolf of Wall Street.” What worked two decades ago won’t work today. Sociopathic behavior may be why too many businesses are struggling.

I believe to succeed in the new millennium, we must embrace empathy on every level with every customer – both internal and external. Our customers are more sophisticated than ever and have access to more information and more options. There’s no room for game-playing or guessing. We have to know what they want and give that to them.

Here’s an overview of what I believe can help achieve this. I plan on expanding on these points in future B2B Lead Roundtable Blog posts:

1. Put the customer first. Instead of worrying about being interesting, we need to first be interested. Understand the customer’s motivation (what they want) and make sure that’s aligned with what we can deliver.

2. Listen and seek to understand. Do we know why our customers say “yes”? Why are they buying from us? What are the steps they need take to say “yes”? What difference have we made for our customers because they bought our product or service?

3. Stop marketing, start conversing. Focus on developing conversations, not campaigns. Don’t err on the side of pushing our agenda rather than extending an invitation to converse. To the customer, it feels like “somebody wants something from me” rather than “maybe they can help me get what I want.” We need to demonstrate that we’re interested in their world and their motivations. Invite, listen, engage and recommend.

4. Help. The best marketing and sales doesn’t feel like marketing and sales at all. It feels like helping because it is. Our lead nurturing needs to be built on this concept.

5. Give them content they’ll want to share. This organically emerges from the first four points of placing the customer first, understanding them, conversing with them and helping them.

6. Remember that proximity is influence. Empower those closest to our customer – the sales team, inside sales team, sales engineers and customer service people – to be able to achieve the points above.

7. Practice empathy personally to set an example. Our customers are everyone we serve – including our staff and our coworkers. Show them how it’s done by practicing empathy yourself.

This introduces another paradox: We’ve never been more advanced with ways to connect with prospects, but we’re still not communicating effectively with them. A good start to doing that effectively begins with empathy.

What are your thoughts? Do you think empathetic marketing is achievable for your organization, why or why not?

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Content Marketing, Lead Generation, Lead Nurturing, Marketing Strategy, Thought Leadership



  1. March 4th, 2014 at 12:16 | #1

    Couldn’t agree more. What mystifies me is why more of our peers within the services sector don’t do this, or believe that it is good for business and relationships. What is the barrier? Old fashioned attitudes? Lack of business understanding? Being afraid to try new things? Wrong people in marketing roles?

    • March 4th, 2014 at 14:43 | #2

      Teri, great questions! It’s probably all of those things. I’d suggest that it starts with company culture. Culture is really a way of behaving that’s acceptable inside the company. Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy over breakfast,” and it is only when we understand what this means, that we can lead a successful company and make these changes.

  2. March 4th, 2014 at 12:48 | #3

    Hello Brian – Great list.

    Empathy lays the foundation for customers to like and trust you. In his book “Thank You for Arguing,” Jay Heinrichs describes the three essential qualities of a person or company they can like and trust:

    1. Customers believe you share the same values.
    2. They can see that you have practical experience. When it comes to solving the kinds of problems that your customers have, you know the right thing to do on every occasion.
    3. You appear to be selfless, you put your customers’ concerns above your own.

    Cultivating these traits can go a long way toward overcoming the sales and marketing paradoxes you describe.

    Thanks for a great article.

    • March 4th, 2014 at 14:25 | #4

      David, thanks for your comment and sharing Jay’s book. I think we need to act with credibility before we can earn trust. Jay seems to highlight how to be credible and earn trust over time. Thank you again for reading!

  3. March 5th, 2014 at 09:06 | #5

    Brian – great insight into today’s sales and marketing messages. This has certainly been a shift for our own team. Sharing content freely without the fear that we’re giving away the “secret sauce”. Asking more questions and becoming better listeners. And building relationships with the mindset/intention of furthering that customer’s business, not your own.

  4. March 5th, 2014 at 10:38 | #6

    @Beth I’m glad you found it helpful. I’d love to hear how you made the shift inside your team. I’m sure other readers would benefit from your experience. Let me know.

  5. March 6th, 2014 at 00:03 | #7

    Nice article Brian. You’ve hit on the central flaw with most B2B marketing today:

    Human biology dictates that our decisions derive from a primal place in our brain that actually has no capacity for language. Our subconscious feelings are the most potent drivers of our behavior! That’s why, so often it’s hard to even explain why we desire what we desire.

    One of our jobs as marketers is to create a feeling through words, pictures, video and sound that resonates in our customer’s subconscious. As David C. noted, the values we share with customers are an important key to influencing behavior because they allow us to create an empathic feeling. The power of this bond has been baked into us since the beginning of history, when we formed like-minded communities to survive in the face of nature, wild beasts and hostile tribes.

    Of course, there also needs to be an elaborate rationale in the sales process that gives permission to our evolved, reasoning brains to go along with what we’ve already decided we want. But as Daniel Kahneman documents so well in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, the rational brain is by far the weaker sister in the decision process.

    Judging from what I see, there is still plenty of territory left in the B2B marketing mindset for empathy to rule.

  6. March 7th, 2014 at 22:13 | #8

    @Jon Pietz Thank you for sharing your thoughts. There’s lots of territory to explore in this area for sure.

    A friend of mine said that we often buy based on emotion i.e. feelings and then back fill with logic to justify our decision. I tend to agree. At MECLABS we’ve discovered that the motivation of the customer is the most important thing and the more we understand their motivation (via empathy) the better.

    Rather than us trying to create a huge marketing funnel and push more people into it with advertising to drive traffic and hoping a very small percentage of them become leads and an then even smaller percentage eventually buy (become paying customers) is unsustainable.

    This approach is about putting the funnel on it’s head. Inverting it. Empathetic marketing is making a difference one customer at a time, helping them get what they want and experiencing something so remarkable that they tell other people (inside their companies or peers about it). In short, delighting and serving customers and helping them feel special. We want to do something that really matters.

    We need to give people that something that really matters to them. That’s what I hope to do with learning how to do this better and teaching others what I learn along the way and vice versa. I look forward to hearing your story!

  7. March 10th, 2014 at 16:29 | #9

    I have to echo #3. I work at engajer, and a lot of our customers have been pleasantly surprised by the returns they receive by approaching marketing as a literal conversation. Companies that ask what customers want, and deliver, can always create better relationships with prospective customers.

  8. March 12th, 2014 at 19:19 | #10

    “There’s no room for game-playing or guessing.” and that’s so damn good. Such a BREATH OF FRESH AIR to see that, finally people out to help can win.
    Brian, I don’t like to beg for things, and I won’t really beg now, but as this post gels so extremely with my latest blog post, I really think you need to check it out. And, if you like it, please share/comment as this is way more about a movement than my little blog.

    So, if you’d like to give it 20 sec, to see if it’s worth reading, go to the website given in the form above. Thanks again – loved it.

    • March 13th, 2014 at 15:20 | #11

      @Simon I read your post and tweeted it. I think it’s good. I’m hoping we you can find like other minded marketers who want to apply this. Keep me posted.

  9. March 12th, 2014 at 19:21 | #12

    @Evan Ware yeah, it’s funny.. hardly has a message EVER been more obvious than the fact that listening to the people you’re selling to, and then adapting what you do to what they say they want, but companies are just too caught up in whatever relatively pointless agenda to do it (to do THE most important thing; to listen to the people your company’s success literally depends upon; the people indirectly putting food on your table).

  10. March 12th, 2014 at 19:23 | #13

    @Brian Carroll Spot on. I’ve began to think about how it must FEEL to truly do business this way. For me, the problem has been the money-issue – I’ve felt like I have always needed a certain amount of money BEFORE treating customers (or prospect, right?) like kings. but it has to be the other way around — treat them like kings and get the (DESERVED) money. love killer posts like these — made me think, man!

  11. March 12th, 2014 at 19:25 | #14

    @David Crankshaw Good stuff. And I believe the only way – and the only way it’s actually good to ever contemplte going about it – is not trying to “appear” everything, but to doing the work necessary to BECOME what you want to have appear.

  12. March 14th, 2014 at 03:34 | #15

    It is best to target the emotional aspect of a customers. If you are successful to capture their empathy then you’ll be able to make them listen to you and buy your story.

  13. March 24th, 2014 at 10:12 | #16

    in fact, Dr. Mark Ingwer has written a book entitled “Empathetic Marketing” (2012)…well worth a read

  1. March 17th, 2014 at 03:02 | #1
  2. April 21st, 2014 at 02:27 | #2