A SOFTER APPROACH TO SALES

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Richard White
Richard White: softer style.

You do not have to be pushy to be successful in sales, argues soft-selling advocate . Here, he outlines the principles of soft selling and how tactics such as story-telling can help build lasting relationships.

You do not have to be pushy to be successful in sales! The majority of the time, hard-selling actually destroys customer relationships resulting in a loss of sales.

The philosophy behind soft selling is that people do not like being sold to, but they do like to get help in solving their problems. Soft selling is a way of doing business where the buyer does not feel like they are being ‘sold’ to. Everything is done in a professional and adult manner where the long-term relationship is key.

Testosterone

The majority of normal testosterone-fuelled sales practices work against human nature. People tend not to trust pushy salespeople and trust is important when buying. Pushy sales people need lots more activity to get the same results as a soft seller.

The thing I discovered is that most top salespeople have a softer style and it’s not a case of learning a whole new way of selling. A few simple but significant changes can make a big difference to sales performance.

It is human nature to be cautious with pushy sales people. If we have a problem that they can fix, then we may speak to them but we are ultra cautious and may say things that are not always true just to keep them happy. It’s part of a game and even pushy sales people play this game with their suppliers!

Full story

The problem is that, as a pushy salesperson, you rarely get the full story and it becomes a guessing game. Rather than meeting you regularly to discuss their plans they will only ever call you when they need something and there will be little customer loyalty. They probably do not want to develop any type of relationship with you as they will be keeping you at arms-length.

So, if you find yourself chasing your prospects and clients then the chances are that softening your approach will work wonders. Below are a few of my top soft-selling tactics which aim to minimize resistance and maximize long-term relationships.

Storytelling

Storytelling is something I have seen in all top salespeople. When people like each other they trade stories so this is an excellent way to start and develop a relationship. They also get people listening to your key sales messages indirectly. The trick is to focus the story on the emotional drama your best clients were facing before you started working with them rather than telling people how good your products and services are.

Holding back

A mistake average sales people make is to launch into a sales pitch at the first sight of interest. In soft selling you do the opposite. You ask someone why they think they are interested. It gives you so much information and I have had salespeople turn a £100 order into a £10,000 order just by asking why! For example, if someone makes an enquiry the first thing you ask is why they think they need help in that area.

Here’s an example....

Buyer: ‘Hello, I am calling about your web design services.’

Seller: ‘That’s great – do you mind me asking why you think you need help?’

Trading places

A key soft-selling objection-handling tactic is seeing the world from the other person’s point of view and then telling them what you see.

For example: ‘If I were you I would be a little sceptical and that is why I recommend you speak to one or two of our existing clients before you decide to go ahead.’ When done properly this is not done as a trick because you have actually imagined what they are probably thinking.

Getting introduced

Imagine someone called you out of the blue asking for a meeting. The chances are you might be a little busy or sceptical. Even if you were to agree to meet, there is a good chance that things would be quite formal. 

Now imagine someone whose opinion you value calls you and recommends you meet someone. The chances are you would at least speak to the person. The whole experience would be different. Getting introduced speeds up relationships, which is why top sales people are always looking for referrals.

As well as getting introduced by referrals from existing customers, another important source of introductions is from advocates. These will be people who have a trusted relationship with your target customers.

For example, let’s say you are in the business of installing tennis courts. You may get referrals from clients but, if you work at the relationships, you may also get referrals from tennis coaches who may never buy one of your products.

The process of developing a relationship with such advocates is very similar to developing a relationship with customers. It takes effort but it is worth it. Stories about recent projects are great to build credibility and help the other person think about who they should be recommending you too.

Start small and grow

Breaking into larger organisations can be difficult and very competitive. It is much easier to win a small, low-risk sale and then pro-actively develop the relationship and the sales from there. Smaller opportunities are less likely to attract competition from the big names. Once you are tried, tested and trusted then you stand a much better chance against more formidable competition.

Ideally the first sale will be an unresolved problem area overlooked by competitors.

A proactive approach

To be successful using soft selling requires a pro-active approach to both relationship development and selling. You do not reduce the activity levels; you just focus on different activities. Soft selling is not for everyone, but if being a pushy and manipulative is a turn off then there is another way!

Being good at developing relationships quickly will always make selling easier. However there are some times when a softer approach is not so important, with low value items or where you have a buyer who knows what they want. A good example of this is for cash business with a short sales cycle, where you are unlikely to see the person again.

Most top salespeople I have met have a softer approach and people like to buy from them; that is the trick in my view and makes the selling process so much more fun!

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