Some coaching clients have teasingly called me their “sales therapist.” Besides preaching the strategic elements of the sales process, I’m also a stickler about focusing on what’s going on beneath the surface. 

If you want to spend your time more wisely, close new business faster and stand out from the crowded stable of competitors, show a little more caring—dare I say love—for your prospects. You might just find that a little love can make a big difference between mediocre sales and mind-blowing success.

We all have a deep-seated need for acceptance, recognition and love. Beneath these desires, we also share universal fears. Understanding these desires and fears is often vital to understanding your prospect’s behavior, and such understanding can be used to your competitive advantage. It allows you to close more business without having to beg, cajole or go on the defensive. It’s so much harder that way, and much less attractive.

The five universal fears that have an underlying impact on any sales conversation or high-stakes negotiation are fear of death, fear of the outsider, fear of the future, fear of chaos and fear of insignificance.

“We are looking for like-minded people who will reduce our sense of isolation in an increasingly complex world,” according to Monty Roberts, author of Horse Sense for People: The Man Who Listens to Horses Talks to People (Penguin, 2002).

As you lead high-level sales conversations, it is your job to minimize fear and put your prospects at ease. It might seem silly, but many of your prospects are afraid of looking bad in front of others, making a dumb mistake or being the loser sitting alone at the school lunch table. It’s not all about the numbers lining up in your perfect-looking presentation. So don’t overlook the personal connection. How many times has your proposal looked better on paper than anyone else’s, yet you still didn’t get the business? I rest my case.

Consider the untrained horse. Traditionally, it takes four to six weeks for a horse to accept its first saddle and rider. Roberts, a horse trainer, can complete this process in as little as 30 minutes. “You build trust,” he says, “when you are in a position where you could do harm but you don’t.” The horse, Roberts says, “becomes aware that I have no agenda to cause him pain.”

When reaching out to new prospects, consider their innate human fears and how they may affect your conversation and overall process of negotiation. If you care for this in the right way, it can change the whole buyer-seller dynamic.

Do you feel any sense of warmth for your prospect? Maybe not in the first minute, but as the conversation moves along, do you begin to feel as though you’d like to do business with the prospect? I don’t mean this in an I-can’t-wait-to-get-this-business kind of way. But do you genuinely think you can help them? Do you think you’re the best person for the job? Are you giving your prospects a clear sense that you’re not going to waste their time or force anything on them that’s not in their best interests?

You think you might have something that can help protect them and their business and possibly get them more of what they want out of their business, right? I hear producers all the time talking about what is the latest hook or what new product can wow a new prospect. This is important, but sometimes we forget the value of just being human, caring and setting the stage for a more meaningful conversation.

So, go ahead, love on your prospects. This doesn’t mean you have to hug them and gush about how cute their kids are or sit inappropriately close at the table so you can touch their arm when you talk. But you can humanize them in your mind. It’s easy to forget that the person across the table has a family and probably feels self-consciousness about something silly. Look into their eyes. Relate to them. 

“To love is to recognize yourself in another,” says Eckhart Tolle, the spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (New World Library, 1999).

I imagine the kinds of people you want to do business are committed to their companies and concerned about their professional reputations. I imagine they want to maintain the life they’ve worked so hard to create for themselves and their families. Tap into their humanity. But not in a forced kind of way—no cheese!—because fake caring is worse than no caring at all.

So often in business, we equate too much caring with weakness. Several studies confirm that employees are more productive when they feel someone at work cares about them. There must be a causal relationship between this sentiment and your level of success in sales. Don’t you think?