Top 5: Top Performers Strong on Empathy

What common threads do the top 5% of salespeople share? Follow TOP 5 on ESA’s Catalyst, a series of posts on the top performers of today. This month, we ask our friends Herb Greenberg and Pat Sweeney from Caliper for their insights.

What makes a “Top 5 Performer”? What traits do they possess? What best practices and common threads do they share?

Without getting political here (sorry for the dirty word), and regardless of which side of the aisle your affiliations reside, we probably can all agree that there is an uneven distribution of wealth in America — and well beyond our shores. Heck, we don’t even have to talk about wealth, there are uneven distributions all around us. The Pareto Principle at work.

The same is true in media sales, where the top 5% of performers, the stars of the industry, earn more than the lion’s share of the revenue. That shouldn’t surprise any of us. It may stun a few when they realize just how lopsided the distribution can get.

So, why is this happening? More importantly, how do they — the Top 5’ers — get there? What are the things that place one person in the Top 5, while another might remain in the pack?

One common thread is empathy. This may surprise folks — some of whom may be confusing it with sympathy. There is a world of difference.

There are multiple definitions of empathy out there, and many of them sound too esoteric and soft for salespeople to consider. This is dangerous. Empathy isn’t the fleeting virtue or random birthright that many would have you believe. It is a hard, measurable quality, one that can be learned and applied in your daily efforts. So instead of trying to define empathy, let’s focus on how it plays out in today’s local market.

We’ve been fortunate to cross paths with many forward-thinking companies over the years, companies like Caliper Corporation. Herb Greenberg and Pat Sweeney, two of Caliper’s executive leaders (they’re also best-selling authors and ROI conference speakers) — these guys know empathy, and its firm position in the mix for today’s top performers. They’ve evidenced this fact with millions of personal assessments over the years.

So, how would Caliper define empathy? Here’s an excerpt from Greenberg & Sweeney’s upcoming book, How to Hire and Develop Your Next Top Performer:

Empathy is the ability to read others. It’s knowing what drives them. It’s being able to intuit their strengths, limitations, potential, and motivations. Andrew Skipp, president and CEO of Hubbard-Hall, Inc., a leading chemical manufacturer, distributor, and service provider, told us how empathy has been at the heart of his company culture since its founding in 1849, and therefore, empathy infuses how the company comes through for its customers.

“Everything we do is really about making our clients more successful. How can I help make the person I’m working with be more successful in his or her job? How can I provide a solution that will make his or her life better? It is really about developing those individual relationships in a way where you help them succeed. And that comes from trust. It comes from having real expertise. And it comes from being able to listen and gain a true perception of what your client is trying to accomplish. I remind our salespeople to seek first to understand, then to be understood. By that, I mean that trust requires someone believing that they are truly heard. You have to take the time to understand the person, their concerns, what they want to accomplish, and the challenges they are confronting.”

Empathy is present when we ask the question “What can I do for you that you can’t do for yourself?” You may have heard that question before — or seen it in a video.

Empathy is present when a sales presentation begins with the retail equation, and not the media blitz. You may have heard about that one too.

When you have empathy, clients want to work with you because they get that YOU GET THEM.

The first step is making that conscious decision to learn more about your customer’s business. No, please do NOT request an hour of their time for another CNA. Actually learn as much about their business as you can prior to meeting them. There are many ways to do this today, and no excuses not to.

The alternative? Just hang around with the other 95%.

Read Greenberg and Sweeney’s book, HOW TO HIRE AND DEVELOP YOUR NEXT TOP PERFORMER, available in bookstores and at on September 7, 2012. Please visit for more information.

Herbert Greenberg, Patrick Sweeney, How to Hire and Develop Your Next Top Performer, 2nd edition: The Qualities That Make Salespeople Great, © 2012, McGraw-Hill Professional; reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Dave Eckstein, ESA & Company | Real. Local. Results: 2012Dave Eckstein is a Partner in the firm ESA & Company. He specializes in highly profitable market share growth for local businesses and gets a kick out of demonstrating a declining cost of customer acquisition. He plays baseball, but isn't that Dave Eckstein.

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