I’m visiting a friend in Seattle, helping her recover from surgery – the 3rd since she broke five foot bones in what must have been a spectacularly inelegant leap from a boat to the dock.  She mentions how difficult it is to get around in the city and how surprised she is by the number of people who won’t open a door for her.  Most everyone ignores her, except people who have been in a similar situation themselves and, for some reason, Uber drivers.

This reminds me of one of the most memorable parts (to me) of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. It is the story of a subway rider who is annoyed by misbehaving children and their father who seems uninterested in harnessing their energy. In the end, the rider discovers the children and their father have just left the hospital where the children’s mother – the man’s wife – has died; and that immediately changes his perspective.

Andrew Sobel, author of Power Relationships gives this a business angle when he writes about an investment banking firm about to be selected for a large M&A win. I’ll let Andrew tell the CEO’s story. The following is take directly from his book.

“I was part of an internal mergers and acquisitions team that was assessing the possible acquisition of another company. We worked for weeks together on it, and things reached a fever pitch over the weekend.

“We had literally camped out in a large conference room in our offices. By early Monday morning we had slept only about eight hours over the previous three days. Imagine the scene: we are unshaven and red-eyed. The room is a mess.

“At that point we needed to appoint an investment bank. So we put one of the major banks we work with on standby over the weekend. The senior banker and his team agree to come in just before noon.

“In the meantime, we are starving. We order bacon sandwiches to be brought in. One for each of the four of us. When they arrive you can smell the bacon aroma 20 feet away! Shortly after we get the sandwiches, the investment bankers arrive.

“The head banker walks into the conference room. He is impeccably dressed. The required navy chalk-stripe suit, pink shirt, rep tie. We, on the other hand, are disheveled and wearing wrinkled shirts. Two of us are in our stocking feet. He spies the tray of bacon sandwiches on the table. A single sandwich remains because one of my colleagues has not yet eaten his.

“The senior banker looks at the tray. ‘Bacon sandwiches! I just love these.’ He reaches for the last sandwich. My colleague is too polite to say anything. So the banker takes it and begins eating it enthusiastically. ‘Mmmmm…thanks.’

“My colleague’s jaw drops. He hasn’t eaten for hours and is dying to bite into his salty, greasy, delicious bacon sandwich.”

Ten years later, that starving colleague, the one whose sandwich was nicked, is CFO of the company. And the investment banking firm? You guessed it. They’re still shut out.

Situations like this happen every day because we humans tend to look at things from our point of view only. My friend is blocking the sidewalk, the children are annoying and their father appears not to care, and it’s never occurred to the investment banker that his clients might be tired and hungry.

What’s missing is empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

What about you? Have you really tried to truly understand things from your prospect’s point of view?

It’s not enough to simply imagine.

Many, if not most, marketers these days make a fleeting attempt at understanding the buyer’s point of view.. They sit at their computers or in a meeting and talk about the buyers problems their products or services can solve. They make buckets for buying stages, list what questions the buyers will have at each stage and develop content around those questions. They list keywords buyers are likely to use when searching for a solution like theirs.

These are all good steps except for one thing — they’ve never been buyers themselves and there are no buyers involved in these conversations. For that reason, they are often shockingly wrong.

What does all this have to do with social media, Susan?

Pretty much everything. From a marketing point of view, social media is just another communications channel – albeit it a very powerful one – you can use to send and receive messages to people you want to influence into taking action. You can allocate as many resources as you want into using this channel to further your business, but if you aren’t speaking your audience’s language, if you aren’t providing value that they consider valuable, you’re wasting your time.

So how do you get inside your buyers’ heads?

The easiest place to start is by talking to your sales and business development people. If that’s you, you’re lucky. Pick up the phone and talk to your clients and customers. Buy them coffee. Take them to lunch. Pick their brains. And listen.

If you don’t have direct access, check out your potential buyers on LinkedIn. What are they talking about? What words do they use? Set up Google Alerts and/or use a social media app to see what people are talking about.

The important point here is to stop thinking you can truly relate to what other people are thinking and feeling without having been there yourself. So talk to them. Use what you learn and it will make you much more engaging online.

And please open the door for my friend.

Let me know what you learn.