Customer Messaging Matters in Tough Times

Empathy is the key to powerful and persuasive messages. Are you conveying the right tone? Sales guru Paul Reilly advises.

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On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 people and releasing oil into the ocean off the coast of Louisiana. It took nearly 90 days to seal off the well and stop the flow of oil. This event was the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. It’s estimated that 3.19 million barrels of oil were released into the ocean. During this crisis, hundreds of thousands of seabirds were killed, countless fish died, and ecosystems were destroyed. Thousands of miles of shoreline were impacted. Commercial fishing operations hemorrhaged money. After a rigorous cleanup effort, the environmental impact remains.

One of the most memorable moments in this event was the ill-timed comments of BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward. When Hayward apologized for the disruption and devastation, he said, “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I’d like my life back.” His comments were tone-deaf to the suffering of those impacted by this disaster. Hayward faced immediate backlash. After a few more missteps, BP replaced Hayward as CEO.

In my new book, Selling Through Tough Times, I define customer messaging as the initial and ongoing conversation sellers have with their customers. How you act, what you say, and how you say it influence the message. Each message is unique based on the seller, buyer, and situation. 

In tough times, messaging matters — not only the words but also the tone. People are emotional in tough times, which affects how messages are processed. Salespeople might send the right message with the wrong tone. Or they might have the right tone but cannot find the right words. A compelling message has the right tone and structure. Tough times force sellers to tweak their messages. Customers define value differently through tough times. Adjust your message accordingly. Customers still need value in tough times — it’s up to you to deliver. 

Plato wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This thought is especially relevant in tough times. Every person experiences tough times with a varying degree of pain. Tough times are relative. Tough times also pile up on people. Your message is created from the perspective of buyers. A compelling message must be filtered through an empathetic lens. 

Empathy is the key to powerful and persuasive messages. Empathy is viewing the world through the eyes of another. It’s seeing as they see and feeling as they feel. Paul ReillyPaul ReillyEmpathy provides a customer-focused view. Empathy allows you to deliver your message with the right tone. Viewing the world through the eyes of customers is your foolproof way to communicate your message of value. Before sending any message, empathetically proof that message.

Paul Reilly is a speaker, sales trainer, author of Selling Through Tough Times (McGraw-Hill, October 2021), coauthor of Value-Added Selling, fourth edition (McGraw-Hill, 2018), and host of The Q and A Sales Podcast. For additional information on Paul’s keynote presentations and seminars, call 636-778-0175 or email Visit and complete the 30-Day Tough-Timer Challenge.

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