Remember life before the pandemic. You could wander into shops, casually, and browse products. It didn’t matter if you weren’t shopping for anything in particular.
Browsing, which used to involve picking things up and looking at them, or trying them on, when looking at clothes, or spraying perfumes and colognes, and even tasting samples, is all part of the fun of shopping. One of the staff comes over to you, asks how you are getting on. In some shops, that can involve helpful, friendly suggestions, and they let you browse in peace.
In other shops, staff are trained and told to approach customers more proactively. Ask questions. Push for a sale. Then be sure to suggest one or two other products at the till, or encourage you to sign-up to a loyalty card.
As a customer, which approach would you prefer?
It depends on where you are in the buying journey. Browsing customers aren’t necessarily ready to buy straight away, but it doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. In which case, the experience makes a huge difference. A positive experience will mean you are likely to come back when you are ready. A negative one could mean you are very unlikely to come back.
Hard vs. Soft Sell: What’s the difference?
In essence, the difference has been outlined above. Hard selling involves pushing and pushing for a sale, every single sale that comes through the door. Now, we aren’t saying there’s anything wrong with this. If you are eager to buy, which means you’re at the decision end of the buying cycle, then a proactive salesperson will move things along swiftly. You don’t really need the ‘hard sell’, but you need a salesperson who is going to match your energy and desire to move forward with the purchase.
Whereas, if you are interested but not running at full speed, and therefore simply browsing, the hard sell is the last thing you want. A soft sell approach is much more along the right lines.
Let’s take ourselves out of a shopping trip from a time before a pandemic, and instead consider the hard vs. soft sell issue in a B2B environment.
A salesperson taking the hard sell approach will probably send you a cold email, or message on LinkedIn, or even call. If you show the slightest bit of interest, they’ll follow-up with a demo request, aiming to book a call as quickly as possible, and then if you do take the call, it’s straight into a pitch. Some salespeople will do this really well, and even if you weren’t sure about buying this new product or service, you might be convinced.
Again, the hard sell approach usually only works if you are in the market for a particular solution and the right salesperson from the right company comes along just when you need them most.
However, compare this to the soft sell. Instead of a rapid fire approach, a salesperson could comment on LinkedIn posts you’ve shared, or re-share some of your company’s social media content, and then send a personalised message. Getting a message or email that shows a salesperson has taken an interest, instead of a copy-and-paste message is a big improvement on the hard sell approach.
Based on this message, you could have a demo, find out more, and a smart salesperson will ask a series of informative and engaged questions to determine what you need. If you are interested, whether that’s straight away or in a few months, they will send a proposal tailored around solving the problem(s) you are having.
Which salesperson and therefore provider are you most likely to go with?
Unless you are in a hurry, probably the second, the soft sell.
Why is this?
No one likes to feel they are being sold to. Hard sales tactics often make people feel like they’re buying something they don’t want or need.
Whereas, although the soft sell approach can take longer, what’s established is a stronger relationship with a client. Not only does this mean a client is more likely to go ahead with a purchase, but they should remain a long-term client, and speak positively about them with other potential clients.
Taking the hard sell approach is putting quantity over quality. A percentage of sales will go through. Everyone else you encounter is likely to look elsewhere for a similar solution. With the soft sell approach, the quality of every interaction will encourage potential sales leads back, even if they aren’t ready to buy when you first engage with them.
How can you adopt a soft sell approach?
Firstly, don’t assume soft sell means being passive. It doesn’t. It actually means being proactive throughout, from first contacting a prospect, or a prospect first contacting a company asking for information.
Salespeople who use this approach aren’t passive, they simply avoid using more aggressive tactics that can turn clients off. Keep everything, every interaction, email, message, phone call, and online instant demo conversational, friendly, and tailored around the needs of the sales prospect.
Here are a few ways you can do this, to make every sales conversation natural and encourage buyers to say yes without using hard sell tactics:
- Do your research. Get to know your prospects;
- Use active listening;
- Ask smart questions when you do speak with them;
- Be relaxed, friendly and personable;
- Provide value, and use smart questions to tailor sales proposals;
- Give prospects time to decide, but be proactive without being pushy when following-up.