What does your enterprise customer want? Start with some empathy!

If you think the first step in enterprise software selling is selling, I want to introduce you to Mark Newman who taught me that the first step in a sales process should be empathy.

I’ve been on Mark’s board for six years and I’m amazed with his uncanny ability to connect with customers.

Mark founded hot HR tech company HireVue in 2004 as a student at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. He didn’t start with any capital or experience, but he did have a good idea, an enormous amount of passion and, above all, he approached his challenge with a great deal of empathy.


From Marriam-Webster’s Dictionary, empathy is:

the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings

It’s about the customer, not you

Mark told me about a recent meeting with the CEO of a massive, global telecom firm. The meeting was at the office of one of HireVue’s investors in Silicon Valley where everywhere you go, you’re in a sea of slick, fast Apple products. A Windows computer is rather quaint.

Mark showed up to the meeting with his not-current-model Windows laptop and the CEO asked why, as a hot venture backed company, did Mark use that machine?

Mark responded, “do you think your HR department uses the latest Macs with a 4k Retina display?”

General laughter. Mark proceeded to explain that he wants to see what his product looks like to his customers. He wants to sit down with them and walk them through the platform the way they will see it and use it. He wants look at the product, the value proposition, the process change…everything…from their point of view.

It’s about helping your customer succeed

In this case, the CEO’s company was already a HireVue customer. But rather than using the meeting to sell, Mark complimented the company’s HR organization for being forward thinking, explained that HireVue considered them best practices among their customer base (true) and congratulated the CEO for the quality of his team.

It’s about building relationships and trust

The outcome of all this was positive. Not because it generated near term business, but because Mark built important relationships. Legitimate relationships…and trust. Because he cares about understanding his customers and thinks deeply about what matters to them and what helps them accomplish their goals.

An unexpected example

When I asked Mark how he gained this perspective, he caught me off guard by using Henry Ford as an example. He told me Henry Ford had said that if he asked people what they wanted, they would have told him “faster horses” but he also drove a Model T, even when he was wealthy, so he’d have the customers’ experience with his product.

Mark went on to talk about how in the early days, HireVue used to ship webcams to their customers’ candidates and they’d get on the phone with the candidates to troubleshoot and make sure the video worked, it synced with the audio, etc. He credited that with building a huge amount of empathy for both the candidate who needed this to work in order to get the job and the client who was taking a risk on HireVue in those early days.

A few more takeaways

I shouldn’t give away too many of Mark’s secrets (!) but a couple of other things he’s told me or I’ve noticed…

  1. He prepares extensively for his meetings. Understanding a customer or a prospect isn’t happenstance. It requires effort combined with real thinking. And empathy.
  2. When HireVue thinks about customer segmentation and verticalization, it’s critical for them to think in terms of the customers’ unique business and needs. “Similar” companies in the same industry can be very different in terms of organizational structure, values, regulatory environment etc. Again, empathy.

Make empathy your North Star

When I hear Mark talk about all this, it seems so common sense and natural. Only I know it’s hard. It doesn’t come naturally to me.

I get so focused on reaching my own goals, I forget that the person on the other side of the table doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking about my needs…they wake up thinking about their own goals and needs!

Thankfully, Mark has given me a North Star of sorts to help me find and keep my direction. Now I try to channel Mark and raise my game with empathy.

Further reading:

Here’s a good article about Mark and the company including some great origin story material that I’d never heard!

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>From near-desperation, a hiring sea change emerged at <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/HireVue?src=hash">#HireVue</a> 🔒 <a href=”https://t.co/PsFacDz8tL">https://t.co/PsFacDz8tL</a> via <a href=”https://twitter.com/Mark_Kellner">@Mark_Kellner</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/business?src=hash">#business</a> <a href=”https://t.co/6gDwU8xsQe">pic.twitter.com/6gDwU8xsQe</a></p>&mdash; HireVue (@hirevue) <a href=”https://twitter.com/hirevue/status/774321786397814784">September 9, 2016</a></blockquote>
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