I recently watched MIT researcher Kate Darling’s Ted Talk on why people form emotional connections to robots—and I have to admit, I wasn’t surprised. Human beings have a tremendous capacity for empathy, so why not for a robot, especially one that looks or acts like a human? We are hardwired to understand and share the feelings of others. Empathy is in our DNA.
Kate and her research give me hope. If people can connect with a cute baby dinosaur robot that squirms and cries when it is hung upside down, then they can surely make a connection with the people they need to influence—a key success factor when asking people to do something differently.
It also supports my recommendation for how product marketers can improve the results of a new field marketing program: take an empathetic view of the people who will be implementing it and your chances for success grow significantly.
Empathy listens and acts accordingly
So what does empathy look like in this context? It requires asking questions of the field about how they feel about the program and if they understand the details enough to execute it.
Empathy isn’t getting the answers to the questions (even in your head) and saying, “I get it, but I’m going to move ahead with what I was already planning.” Empathy means listening and acting accordingly.
Don’t waste your time
Every marketer works hard to deliver materials that the field can use to open doors, close deals, or improve usage. It can take months and a tremendous amount of struggle to launch a program. And yet, all that sweat equity will be in vain if the messages and materials aren’t shared.
At this point, you are probably asking yourself, "Why is it so hard to get people to just do their job?"
Introducing new ideas or information means change, and we all know that people generally don’t like change. It can result in resistance, a reaction you don’t want when launching a new program.
Making a change is a personal choice, according to Alistair Lowe-Norris, director of Global Strategy for Adoption and Change Management at Microsoft. The change must resonate, Lowe-Norris said, which means you have to get at what the field cares about.
“Empathy puts you in the other person’s shoes and allows you to understand. If you know why people push back or what they might object to with your program, it’s much easier for you to do what is needed to help them accept the change — and hopefully, embrace it,” noted Lowe-Norris.
During a recent project where our firm was developing a bill of materials for a program launch, our client, a product marketer who used to be in the field, said something important: “I used to get volumes of information from product marketers that didn’t address what I actually needed, so you know what I did? I made up a different set of materials that I knew would work. That is a waste of effort,” she said.
The good news is that you can work on developing empathy, just like any other skill.
How to apply it to your program
When you are developing a field program and want to take an empathetic view, you can start by thinking about the people who will execute it, and answer these questions:
How will the news of the program make them feel?
What will their reaction be? Will it be positive or negative?
What changes will the new program bring for them?
Will they believe that it is a significant change?
What could they personally stand to lose? Or, win?
Will the execution details be easy to understand?
With your answers in hand, your next step is to go and ask a few people these same questions, and then pay attention to their answers.
You can also create a group of marketers and sellers you trust and invite them to review your ideas for the program and offer input. Keep them in the loop before and during program development, listen carefully to their feedback, and incorporate it into your effort.
Carrying it through to the launch
When you’re ready to launch, you now have valuable information that will make your communication more effective and the field more receptive. With the detail you’ve captured, craft messaging that covers these key points:
What’s new or different
Why it’s being done
Why it matters to the customer
Why it matters to the company
Why it matters to the field
Your understanding that it is a change
What they will need to do differently
The steps they need to execute it
How they can give you real-time feedback
A competitive advantage
From my perspective, it’s time that we recognize empathy as much more than a soft skill. If product marketers can spend more time getting it right for the field, then the field can attract and sign on more partners and customers. And, considering that empathy is not a common trait, there is a tremendous upside for trying it out.