I became a mom two years ago, and I think a lot about what I should teach my child so he will be a happy, successful person. Figuring high on my list of life skills every human being needs to have is empathy. As I investigated the importance of empathy and how to teach it to children, I realized that the reason I'm a really good salesperson is because I focus on empathizing with my customer. I have always understood that in order to know how I can help a customer to choose one of my products, I must understand what is happening in his world, from his perspective. I ask questions about his needs, his problems, his opportunities, and then I address them like they're my own. When I do this, selling is simple. However, a lot of salespeople--the mediocre ones in particular--don't seem to possess this ability to empathize.

It became clear from my reading in child development that some of the exercises used to teach children empathy could be modified to measure a potential hire's capacity for empathy as well. Here are 3 empathy gauges to add to your hiring process to ensure that your sales hires become top producers.

1. Story analysis. Give the candidate a story to read while waiting for his interview to begin. During the interview, ask him to explain the story to you, and listen to see if he explains the emotional content of the story or merely recounts the facts. Ask him questions about how the main character reacted, felt, or thought about the events occurring in the story. If the candidate is able to accurately name and describe the emotions of the character, chances are, he will be empathetic to your customers, and thus, be a good salesman.

2. Conflict assessment. Ask your candidate to tell you about a conflict he had with someone, either in his professional or private life. When he finishes telling you the story, request that he tell you why the other party acted the way she did, and how he thinks the other party in the conflict felt. If he is able to assess the feelings of the person with whom he was in conflict without bringing his own feelings into the discussion, he will be able to concentrate on the customer's perspective so that he can find a solution that will benefit both the customer and your company--and he will sell easily.

3. Obstacle management. Role play with your candidate. Suggest that a client the candidate is trying to sell to believes something untrue about your company, and thus refuses to buy from him. How would he handle a situation like this? Listen carefully to which aspects of the obstacle he addresses and how. If he focusses on getting more information about the client's belief, rather than on defending your company's reputation, he will be able to work through obstacles to closing a sale quickly and win your client's business in spite of the roadblock.

Why does empathy play such an important role in making top sales people? Because it expedites the sales process. An empathetic salesperson is continually looking at a customer relationship from the customer's perspective. He does not tout the virtues of his product, but rather the benefits as they specifically relate to the customer with whom he is working. He does not explain why the company he represents is the best, but rather how choosing his company will change his customer's life. He does not attempt to sell the customer anything and everything, but rather the right thing--and he knows it is the right thing because he would choose it if he were in the client's shoes.

A salesperson who missed out on learning empathy as a child will always be a low performer because he will struggle to comprehend, synthesize, and solve the customer's needs, ultimately delaying or eliminating the customer's willingness to buy.