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Using Data to Sell with Empathy in these Interesting Times

Below is a link to a recent article from McMillan and Doolittle on dramatic changes in retail traffic patterns in reaction to the pandemic. Those data led me to think about how to empathize with many prospects and customers who may be going through similar changes in behavior.

Looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in conjunction with these data, you see that people have dropped right to the bottom levels of psychological and safety needs. They are disregarding higher level considerations. Borrowing from that connection, I thought about company buying behavior and devised a series of stages companies are likely going through. Then I tried to understand how to best align a sales message to companies as they work through these stages.


Reactive – how do I keep my business alive

A lot of companies will find themselves fighting for their survival. If they welcome any sales conversation it will be about how to do more with less. How to get the basics done with less staff, budget, and other resources.

If you have a current client at this stage, reach out and share how the products and services you provide can help them survive by getting more done with less. Help save them now and you save your revenue.

For prospects, you need to be listen and be creative. They are not looking to buy but if what you have will help them survive, they’ll listen. Position a starter package and show how it helps them survive today and can expand when they are ready to expand. At minimum, let them know you’re there to help when they need it. At this stage, no one wants to hear about growth and greatness.

Stable – adjusting to the new normal

The companies who make it through Reactive stage will achieve some level of stability. They won’t be ready to lean in, but they’ll be out of panic mode.

Selling at this stage is about efficiency. There will be less urgency to act. It’s not needed for survival. Companies at this stage may take no action but take what you share as they regroup and understand their new reality. Be there. Be helpful. Be patient.


After a bit of stability and having grown accustomed to their new size, roles, budgets and marketing conditions, they’ll be ready to take some action. The sales conversation will be somewhere between efficiency and low risk growth. They remain risk averse, but they realize they can’t stand still forever. And they’ve had time to adjust to the new normal.

A sales conversation on what other companies are going or how they can benefit from the changes they made during reactive and stable mode should be fruitful opportunity discussion areas.


With a few successes from Proactive mode, a renewed sense of confidence and stability will lead to growth mode.

Lead a conversation on how they can take advantage of this unique situation by acting more quickly, more decisively and more effectively than their competitors to rebuild their business.



Few will make it to this level. It’s a pyramid that narrows at the top after all. Some will stall by choice. Others will simply not work their way up. You may have to coach some to even see this level.

The ones who get here will have a better run organization, fewer competitors, and be able to dominate. A nice incentive to find companies who have made it to this level.

Ideally, you’ve walked through some prior stages with them to get them here. From that experience you should have a very strong relationship, a list of prior successes, and be ideally suited to put forward some game changing suggestions. Even if you haven’t made the journey with them, this is no time to think small. This is a rare opportunity to capture market share and dominate in a way that would have been near impossible just months ago. Everything has changed. It’s time to take action based on those changes.

This is a lot to extract from data on store foot traffic, but, buyers are people. Why not borrow from how people are reacting to this experience. Under the stage they are in and empathizing with their situation. You’ll be more likely to have the opportunity to help them move up a stage. And from that, you’ll both succeed.

I welcome your comments on how this helped you align and sell during these interesting times. 

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