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Connecting With Boomers Requires Empathetic Connections

by Jim Gilmartin –

Empathy is the most important ingredient in lasting relationships. We all want to be understood by those who want to sell us something. When we think we are not understood, we erect defenses against those trying to connect with us or try to sell us something.

However, empathy is not the same as sympathy. You will meet Baby Boomer prospects with conditions that might make you feel sorry for them. Many will notice your feelings and resent them. How will they know? Through your body language – your eyes, your head movements, the tone and pitch of your voice. Words often lie, but the body never does. As we age, reading body language improves. You should learn how to replace sympathy with empathy. With a strong empathy quotient, you can go far in sales to Baby Boomers.

Can you boost your empathy quotient? Yes. One way you can do this is by becoming a “method actor.” Method acting is a style of acting in which the actor doesn’t act “like the character,” but vicariously becomes the character.” Vicarious means feeling what another is feeling without actually experiencing what that person is experiencing – as in my taking vicarious pleasure in watching Jordan Spieth hole out for a birdie from 60 feet away. The actor feels what the character feels.

Method actors hone their method acting skills by imagining experiences such as a butterfly chased by a boy with a net to a mother giving birth for the first time. You can do it as they do: by practicing. Imagine yourself to be one of your prospects and vicariously feel what they feel. Try it. Try to have the same emotions as someone else, in both happy and not-so-happy circumstances.

Setting quotas and rewarding sales associates for meeting them makes sense – but not at the expense of doing what’s right for the customer. Without any qualification, in today’s world of marketing and selling to Baby Boomers the customer’s interests and well-being come first.

Pressuring Baby Boomer customers is dead wrong. You will meet many people who may be subject to confusion and anxiety if pushed hard to make decisions. Pacing your sales conversation to be in harmony with the customer’s pace of absorbing and thinking about what you are presenting.

Reciprocal vulnerability

Vulnerability and empathy are close cousins. A person becomes more vulnerable when he or she expresses empathy because something of the private inner self is revealed by the projection of empathy. Naturally, you want Baby Boomers to let down their defenses and become more vulnerable so they don’t resist your efforts to sell them your product. However, like empathy, vulnerability should flow in both directions.

Don’t be afraid to admit fallibility: “I don’t have all the answers, but I will do what I can to find the right answer.” On the other hand, when a customer says, “My memory isn’t what it used to be,” feel free to respond with something like, “Let me tell you, I searched nearly an hour yesterday for my car keys. You know where they were? In the car – on the front seat.”

We all tend to keep our distance from those who don’t make themselves at least a bit vulnerable. When you meet someone for the first time, aren’t you often a little guarded? You each take baby steps towards more intimacy. As the other person lets their defenses down a notch, you lower yours a notch. Vulnerability humanizes both sides in a relationship.

Many books have been written on how to sell to customers using self-serving logic: “Do this and such and such will happen.” “Don’t do this and you risk such and such calamity.” Taking a more collaborative and consultative approach in presenting your products to Baby Boomers is more effective.

The “Right Brain” Approach

We recommend approaching the Baby Boomer customer using an understanding that the right brain is not into logic and reasoning like the left-brain is. It’s more into emotions and intuition. It’s particularly into relationships. When your customer gets warm fuzzy feelings about you, their right brain is kicking out those feelings. However, reasoning and emotions are sometimes like oil and water. As you know, oil and water don’t mix. Have you ever noticed that when someone is being very emotional that they are resistant to reasoning?

Actually, oil and water will mix when you add soap. The soap that allows reasoning and emotions to mix is trust. The right brain willingly enters into relationships only when it trusts them to be safe. Trust can be reinforced by reasoned analysis, but it cannot be formed by reasoned analysis. Trust is a gut feeling that a relationship will work and a belief that you have empathy for the Baby Boomer customer’s needs.

The Limbic System

Image: “Limbic System”, Wikipedia

Trust begins to form outside the realms of consciousness in the limbic system in the midbrain. That’s where flight or fight responses originate in a little almond-shaped organ called the amygdala. The amygdala plays a big role in the formation of the first impression’s generation of fight or flight responses. It works super-fast in sizing up a situation or another person – much quicker than we can do it with our conscious mind.

And, once a Baby Boomer’s conscious mind becomes aware of how the amygdala sizes up another person – say you – it can take flight (resist you), fight (argue with you) or become a collaborator with you in meeting her needs. Now her conscious mind is receptive to reasoned propositions. Her right brain comfort with entering into a relationship with you has opened up the doorway to her analytical, reasoning left-brain. You may now proceed to counsel her, though you must avoid the appearance of lecturing or dictating to her. Do that and you may compromise her need for autonomy and control and offend her dignity.

Rather than bulldozing your way through a Baby Boomer customer’s psyche, prompt him to provide cues for guiding your sales presentation. Act like a docents – tour guides who know the answers but depend on tourists to help shape their presentations. Each group on a tour will have its own personality, with questions varying.

The best docents avoid sounding like their presentations are 100% scripted by somewhat tailoring their presentations to their groups. Just like you, they have a core presentation they are supposed to deliver, but they personalize their presentations by responding to cues issued by tourists in a given group. Like docents, listening will improve your empathy quotient and increase your closing rate.

Finally, please visit this page to check out your “Empathy Quotient.” However, remember, no one empathy test is perfect. They all tend to indicate a general bias, not an absolute personality trait. Don’t be discouraged by a lower score. Your score can be affected by how you feel at the time of the test or by other factors. Whatever your score, you can improve it by practice. With a strong empathy quotient, you can go far in sales to Baby Boomers.

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