Executive Insider

Why Selling with Empathy and Integrity Matters Now More than Ever

Ethical sales professionals are continually challenged to bring a high degree of empathy and integrity to the selling process. However, in the midst of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the stakes are even higher.

Authenticity Is Key: Millions of people across the country and around the globe have faced illness, death, and economic hardship in recent months. Now, more than ever, whether it’s in our personal relationships or professional networks, no one has patience for false sincerity. In other words, if a salesperson lacks empathy for a customer’s situation, the relationship will suffer, and repeat business and referrals will not happen.

Yet, as struggling salespeople know, closing deals, securing commissions, and making a profit also matters more than ever in our precarious economic climate. How can a sales professional balance empathy and integrity with the pragmatic need to earn an income? Consider a proven sales approach that offers a win-win to both seller and customer: a soft sell.

Hard Sell vs. Soft Sell: Most salespeople have been schooled in hard sell techniques and tactics, accompanied by tricks of the trade, like bait-and-switch. A traditional hard sell approach is direct, forceful, and overt—no beating around the bush. This method of salesmanship is also described as aggressive and high-pressure, or worse, relentless and manipulative. Does hard sell get results? Sometimes. Does hard-sell win a customer’s trust and loyalty? Never.

In contrast, a soft sell approach is designed to avoid alienating and angering potential customers. Rather than pressuring customers into buying, it aims to persuade them. Soft sell techniques are restrained, subtle, friendly, and casual. Salespeople who excel at taking things soft tend to be more likeable and more trustworthy.

So, why is soft selling especially important during a pandemic, or in any other crisis? Because your customers are under significant stress. And taking a high-pressure, hard sell approach will only escalate their stress levels and make your pitch extremely unbearable.

If you’ve been trained to sell hard, how can you ease into soft selling, effectively and genuinely? Here are 5 proven, ethical soft selling practices, which will allow you to achieve sales success during the age of COVID-19:

  1. Have Empathy. Truly understand the buyer’s needs and intent. A salesperson should not be self-centered and concerned only with closing the sale by any means.
  2. Be Honest. Provide full disclosure of your product offering, including possible limitations regarding the buyer’s requirements. Don’t take a hard sell approach of partial truths, omissions, or, worse of all, hiding a product’s defects.
  3. Be a Problem-Solver. Give truthful answers to a buyer’s questions and be forthright. Find solutions to a customer’s problems by softly probing the customer’s needs and pain points. A salesperson should not hard sell his or her product or service with no regard for the customer’s real needs and problems.
  4. Act as a Consultant. Be a true partner in the sales process and help your customer achieve his or her goals by fulfilling their needs. A salesperson should not manipulate the buyer through fear, false scarcity, luring by bait and switch, slandering the competitor, or other dubious selling techniques.
  5. Have Sales Integrity. A soft selling approach still needs to be persuasive (but not manipulative). Your sales goal, as always, is to make the sale! It is your code of ethics, your honest actions, and your soft, caring manner that will save the day. A salesperson needs to sell ethically, satisfying the customer by providing the right product or service.

Sometimes, the best course may be to walk away from an immediate sale to pave the way for future sales. Doing so can help you build a long-term, friendly, mutually-beneficial relationship. That’s how you earn repeat business and customer referrals.

In sum, an ethical salesperson needs to have empathy and be cognizant of the customer’s emotions. A soft sell approach is better than a hard sell. Overly aggressive, hard sales tactics might give you a very short temporary win, but you risk losing the more beneficial—and profitable—long-term customer relationship. As the sages say, you might win the battle, but you’ll definitely lose the war.


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Joel Malkoff
Joel Malkoff, a.k.a. the Ethics Giver, is a successful business executive and entrepreneur with a conviction: ethical business conduct enhances profitability. Over the course of his 45-year career, he has generated more than a half-billion dollars in sales. A writer and coach on ethical business practices and principles, he also serves as the general manager and vice president of a corporation that manufactures and sells medical and scientific research products worldwide. Learn more about his book, Selling Ethically: A Business Parable Connecting Integrity with Profits (GDL Press; October 6, 2020). Joel Malkoff is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.
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