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Soft-selling in small business settings

October 4, 2011

Many marketing executives are proud of what they call ‘the hard sell’, pitching a product or service to a potential customer and then manipulating them into placing an order, even if they didn’t really want to.

However, it doesn’t have to be like that, and soft-selling is the much more cerebral approach, requiring an understanding of consumer psychology and a genuine belief in the value of the product.

Soft-selling in small business settings can also help to engender a sense of trust, as a much more talkative and understanding approach to sales can help to build rapport with the customer.

It is this trust that helps you to convince the customer that you value their business – and not just their money – and in many cases, this is what they will be wanting to feel.

The soft sell and the long run

Don’t expect an instant pay-off from every bit of soft-selling you attempt – this is a commitment, not a quick fix, which is why many firms opt for the hard sell to bring in more money in the short term.

What you are looking for, though, is to break down the natural resistance to sharing information with you that many prospects will often feel.

As you communicate more with them, you can pick up valuable insights into what they want from a supplier – and that might help to guide your overall product development, not just bag a sale with the one individual concerned.

Over the long term, you should look to gently turn the relationship towards a more profitable one – and if your customer trusts you, there’s no reason why providing them with more products or services should be any bad thing for either party.

Salutations and the soft sell

Introductions are everything, so work on every networking opportunity you can find – including word of mouth and recommendations or referrals.

Social networks are the new word of mouth, so look out for people asking for legal advice, or financial guidance, or whatever service it is that you offer, and politely get in touch when you see a prospect.

Story-telling and the soft sell

After you’ve established contact, don’t be afraid to get a bit anecdotal – story-telling has been an important social structure for centuries, and it’s still as relevant as ever.

Problem-solving is a very high-level communicative approach, so whatever purpose your product or service is trying to fulfil, make sure your prospect knows that you have identified it and understand it, and that what you’re offering can help them to overcome their obstacle, whatever it may be.

Setting sail with the soft sell

Once the mighty vessel of your client relationship has been built, it’s time to see if it’s seaworthy.

Start by testing the waters – see if you can get the client to recommend you to a friend or colleague, or try a small upsell before you plunge into trying to sign them up for completely extra services.

As you become accustomed to the soft-sell approach, you can cast your net wider, working on recommendations and networking opportunities to reach previously untapped customers.