How to Quickly Create Empathy-Based Connections With Sales Prospects

Can you pick my passions?

Recently during the Q&A after my Turning Conversations Into Customers webinar, one of the attendees asked, “Do you have any suggestions for quickly creating empathy with sales prospects?”

I didn’t have a good, quick answer. So today, I’m answering her question and hoping that you too find some value here as you work to leverage empathy-based sales prospecting to help you #SellGreatly.

Intend to Connect vs Convert

Yes, the first step is actually this easy. Sales Prospects can feel disingenuous conversations. We’re wired to sniff out bullshit and this BS filter is even more active at face-to-face events like conferences, trade shows and networking functions.

So do yourself a favor and remember that social selling success hinges on the social not the selling.

Smile & Make Eye Contact When You Say Hello

The eyes are the window to the soul. But more importantly, when you make direct eye contact (and hold it) with another person it helps you become and stay present in the conversation.

And when you smile it not only makes you appear friendlier and more engageable, science has shown that smiling actually makes you feel better emotionally by releasing a little dopamine hit to your brain. So you’ll actually enjoy this initial contact more than if you don’t smile.

Leverage Conversation Catalysts to Ask a Question About Something Specific to Your Sales Prospect

This should be an observation based question or informed by your social reconnaissance. Don’t ask where they’re from or why they’re at the event, etc., notice something specific about them and inquire. Use the information you find, specifically anything that reveals their true passions to start a real conversation vs a sales conversation.

Then the hard part starts.

Listen. Actively. Really actively. Pay attention to everything they’re saying but more importantly, what they’re not saying.

The absence of information is information.

Specifically, the kind you can probe or use as a basis for a follow up question.

Follow Up With a Feeling Question

Feeling questions scare folks because they require the person asking to actually care about the response. This is important. When your sales prospect answers, they’re giving up a little piece of themselves to you. They’re entering a vulnerability zone by offering up something emotive to you. They risk you not approving, lacking interest or worse, being turned off and ghosting the rest of the conversation.

That’s why folks always seem to ask fact based questions during networking or face-to-face prospecting encounters. Fact based questions are easier. There is less work required on the part of the asker and less risk on the the part of the responder.

BUT – fact based questions and answers don’t help you find common ground that can build the basis for creating an empathy-based connection.

Ask “Tell Me More” Questions

Far too often people ask closed questions when networking. They’ll ask if the person is enjoying the conference or the last session. And because most people dislike conflict or difficult / negative conversations, the response is almost “yes” or “it was good” even if they hated the session and or conference.

So now you have to start an entirely new line of questioning to start a conversation that you might turn into a customer — the goal of all networking.

Instead, ask what their favorite part of the conference has been. Who was their favorite speaker or session. Then when they answer, you can follow up with “why” or “interesting, what was it that you liked the most?” type questions. After they answer that question, again, try and ask more feeling questions, maybe even switching to what did you dislike the most about their session?

I’m oversimplifying here obviously, but you get the point. Always try to ask a question that can’t really be answered in a single response, unless the person is naturally verbos.

Pinpoint Their Passion

The goal of all this questioning is creating a conversation that leads to common ground where you and your sales prospect can connect and build a little island that only the two of you can occupy.

Often, the best place to find this common ground is passion. If you have the opportunity to learn about a sales prospect before meeting them online or offline, then invest your time in social reconnaissance. Leverage the enormous amount of unstructured data available to you via social media, Google and friends and contacts to uncover potential or obvious passions.

For instance, here is a random snapshot of my Instagram posts. Take a peek and then ask yourself, what are Tom’s passions? What might you ask me when you meet me that would stimulate a conversation — a conversation that would allow you to connect, find common ground and ultimately, turn that conversation into a customer?

social reconnaissance sales prospecting technique converse digital tom martin social selling

Get Excited About Y’alls Passion

Once you’ve found a shared passion, be real. Don’t act all grown up and professional. Don’t let your sales prospect think you might be gaming them or just faking interest so that you can create a false sense of connection.

I get it — showing your true feelings feels odd. Do you know why? Because when we show our true selves, our true feelings, I mean really show them… we become vulnerable to another’s response.

We think to ourselves, “will they think I’m a goofball?” or “will I scare them if I get all fired up about cold smoking salmon?” and then we remember some sales trainer or boss somewhere in our past that told us to always be professional.

Uggggg. Forget that crap.

Just be you. If you get fired up about cooking, making cocktails, smoking meats, or creating healthy recipes that make dieting a snap… find me at the next event I’m speaking at because we’re gonna have a great conversation! Let your passion shine! There is just absolutely nothing wrong about caring about something or someone and showing that to the world.

But more importantly, find everyone else that like you, loves that stuff. You’ll have so much more fun, make far stronger connections and just maybe one or two of those conversations will convert to a customer or at least a Social Agent.

I promise you. People are so tired of weak connections, bullshit and in general everything that is passing for culturally acceptable (and completely boorish if you ask me) behavior. Go be real. Take the risk. Sure you may meet a few folks that will flinch and their reaction will make you momentarily feel kind of stupid. If that happens, get another drink at the bar, reset and repeat because you never know where the next great conversation will lead.

Don’t Sell Anything

And finally, for the love of all that is holy — don’t sell them anything. Don’t even allude to it. That’s not your conversation goal right now. So stick with and achieve your goal – connecting over a passion that can form a common ground.

You’ll be more successful and a sweet little side benefit, that oftentimes happens, is that by not selling or even trying to, your new bestie might actually want you to sell them something.

True story.

I was speaking at a tourism conference and during the opening night networking event, I was catching up with a few folks I knew and they were introducing me to a few that I didn’t.

And with each conversation, I just focused on finding mutual passions that drove fun, interesting conversations. About an hour or so into the event, one of my client side friends, a Social Agent that has never hired my firm to do anything, pulls me aside snickering.

She goes on to tell me that one of her folks told her,

“You know I love that Tom isn’t trying to pitch me his stuff. But… I kind of want to hear the pitch.”

Folks, if that’s not the beginning of a conversation that can turn into a customer, I don’t know what is. And even if it doesn’t, and it didn’t in this case, it is always easier to make a sales call that has been requested by the sales prospect vs one you’ve pressured them into accepting.

Till next time… go forth and sell greatly.

This post was originally published by Tom Martin on the Converse Digital blog.

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About Tom Martin

Tom is 25+ year veteran of the sales & marketing industry with a penchant for stiff drinks, good debates and showing companies how to Sell Greatly, and turn conversations into customers. He is the founder of Converse Digital , author of The Invisible Sale and a contributing writer for Advertising Age. Tom guides clients through the digital sales & marketing maze and helps companies teach their sales force how to Painlessly Prospect their way to more sales. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.


  1. […] this post, Tom Martin talks about how he networks at events. He makes a point to talk to the person he’s just met and hone in on any common interests. […]

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