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Posted: June 06, 2012

Soft selling in a hard economy

Low-pressure sales are here to stay

Liz Wendling

When it comes to sales, the debate rages on – to hard sell or soft sell? The idea of the hard sell doesn’t sit well with many people. No one likes salespeople who force, push or jam a product, service or idea down their throat.  However, most people do appreciate engaging in honest conversations with salespeople about new ideas and products that can benefit them and make their jobs easier.

Sales are the bottom line for any money-making business. In order to make money, a sale must occur.  But the selling environment has changed forever, moving toward lower-pressure sales techniques combined with a problem-solving approach. This has shifted the focus from making a single sale into building a client for life. The good news? The new paradigm is here to stay. The bad news? It’s here to stay, so not embracing it will cost you sales.

I don’t know anyone who likes to be hard sold.  Most customers can spot manipulation and high pressure a mile away.  So if no one likes to be sold this way, why are some salespeople still doing it?  They either don’t know there’s a better way to sell or they refuse to let go of a selling style that went out of style many years ago. 

Soft selling is a subtle-yet-persuasive, low-pressure, high-trust method of selling your products or services. The basic premise is focusing on developing relationships with a non-pushy approach that is free of tricks, gimmicks, pressure and coercion, instead of aggressively pitching your product in a hard way. 

A “hard sell” is described as a sale that results from pressuring customers by being aggressive, unrelenting and confrontational.  Salespeople who use the hard sell approach are often seen as abrasive, untrustworthy and harsh. Consumers are repelled by the hard sell and are less likely to buy from salespeople who use this method of selling.  Hard selling methods are too shallow and manipulative to do anything but alienate potential customers and drain you of your energy and dignity.  Those tactics simply don’t work anymore, especially in this economy.

Soft selling focuses on the relationship-building aspect of sales. Rather than putting psychological pressure on potential buyers, you find ways to show them that you have the solutions they need and that you are the only person for the job.

In soft selling you become a form of support for your clients. Your products or services become something they depend on.  The more you can suit their needs and make their jobs easier, the better they will respond to your soft selling approach.

We all enjoy doing business with people we know, like and trust. Each of these three elements is important, but where the more aggressive, hard style of selling fails miserably is on the trust element.  In my experience, aggressive salespeople who are unable to close sales don’t succeed because the trust is missing and customers feel the salesperson is only interested in their money!  Soft selling is about being more effective at building long-term profitable relationships based on trust and win-win outcomes.  Make no mistake, soft selling is not passive or laid back, it’s highly effective and creates trust.

The soft sell is not for everyone. Being pushy and manipulative still works, but those who continue to play that way pay a high price: they make less money and have fewer customers. Meanwhile, salespeople who have learned the fine art of engaging consumers are busy taking care of those who did not buy from the hard sellers.  Remember, it’s not what you sell, it’s how you sell.







Liz Wendling is the president of Insight Business Consultants, a nationally recognized business consultant, sales strategist and emotional intelligence coach. Liz is driven by her passion for business and generating results for her clients. Liz understands the challenges that business owners are facing building a business and selling their professional services in today's market.

Liz shows clients how to tap into and use their innate strength, power and confidence to develop highly successful businesses. She teaches them to create effective, dynamic and fluid client conversations that turn interested prospects into invested clients who keep coming back.

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Readers Respond

This may be your best one yet. Nice work. By Grant on 2012 06 06
Hi Liz - thanks for this - I have always put up a wall as soon as a salesperson gets "pushy". Another good piece of advice for salespeople I'd like to offer: If you are attempting to talk to the "right person" about your product, the last thing you want to do is be "rude and pushy" with the admin person answering the phone. Their job is to be the gatekeeper for the boss, and your quickest route to not getting to talk to that person is to lie or be resistant to their queries about who you are and why you are calling. Believe me, we quickly learn to detect salespeople and cold calls over the phone and will not put just anyone through to talk to the person with the authority to make a buying decision. They don't want their time wasted and our job is to assist in that endeavor. By Sue on 2012 06 06
I completely agree with you on this. Soft selling IS a subtle-yet-persuasive, low-pressure, high-trust method of selling your products or services. Always enjoy your expertise. By angela carlson on 2012 06 06
Hi Greg, Thanks for sharing that about your dad. Wish him a happy birthday. Liz By liz wendling on 2012 06 06
Thanks for the great column, Liz! I started working with my dad (who turns 76 today) a few years ago, helping him cover his three-state territory as a traveling salesman. It was great to learn that the soft sell approach he's always used continues to work. This style is confirmed by the honors he's received many times by the national company we represent. Maybe I'm turning this into a tribute to my father, but I have been repeatedly blown away by the respect he has of colleagues, customer and friends throughout the region. (I also discovered he uses the "teacher" identity to describe himself. Teaching seems a lot more comfortable to me than the "consulting" role that has been stressed in sales trainings of recent years,) I continue to learn from him. Thanks for affirming my dad's style on his birthday! By Greg Wright on 2012 06 06
Once I have properly "taught" my potential customer about my product, then they will ask ME to buy it. If I haven't taught they sufficiently, then the sale will fail. TEACHING is ALWAYS the first and most critical step. Many good salesmen do this and don't know it. It's ALWAYS better to know what you are doing. By John Wray on 2012 06 06
Excellent point: "Soft selling is not passive or laid back." It's a very active, engaged state. If there's not an intention of trying to change someone's thoughts, attitude or behavior, you are simply "informing" or "teaching" - not the same as selling. On the money again, Liz! By Julie Hansen on 2012 06 06
I had the hard sell happen to me this past weekend and was completely turned off by the salesperson AND the business. When I heard "what do I need to do to get you to buy today" line, I wanted to run. Thanks for confirming that my intuition was spot on. The softer approach would have worked. By susan on 2012 06 06
Nice job, Liz. Selling is providing a solution that meets the needs of the customer. Understanding the customer and their needs takes time, and one must build a relationship with that customer. As John says, sales people are also educators. Hard selling only works for those who never want to see their customer again. If you want a customer for life, the soft sell works. By George Tyler on 2012 06 06
Selling is and always has been "educating.' You're trying to teach a potential customer about your product and/or service that will help them be more productive. The best salesmen are ALWAYS the best teachers. If the process is not beneficial for both it ALWAYS fails sooner or later. Sometimes the customer can be pushed a bit, but only if they have trust in your word. Good article By John on 2012 06 06
VERY well said. Thanks. By steve on 2012 06 06
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