The Soft Sell Is What Today's Buyers Want

BY Jessica Helinski
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A soft-​sell approach may be just what you need to start the new year off with success. While the traditional hard sell approach has been touted as the aggressive way to get what you want, a soft sell may be more in line with today’s buyers. HubSpot’s Lestraundra Alfred takes the time to walk readers through this strategy in a recent article. 

The soft sell: What is it?

Alfred first makes sure readers understand what soft selling actually is. She defines it as follows:

A soft sell is an indirect approach to persuading a customer to buy a product or service. A hard sell is a direct approach to asking for the sale. With a soft sell technique, sales reps focus more on relationship building with their prospects to build trust than pushing for the sale. Hard selling is a more straightforward approach where a sales rep tries to close the deal as soon as possible.”

She points out that yes, hard selling can be an effective approach, but it may not be the best choice for every prospect. Today’s buyers may be turned off by the aggressive, all-​business approach that has been popular in the past. Buyers are increasingly wary of “pushy” salespeople, and many arrive at the table knowledgeable and educated, thanks to their own research

The soft-​sell first step

After ensuring readers are clear on what constitutes a soft sell, Alfred goes on to share seven techniques that will facilitate the approach. 

Do your research. As mentioned, prospects are now educating themselves about vendors; you should never forgo this necessary part of the process. It’s vital you go in knowing as much as possible about the prospect and their business. To effectively soft sell, you need to play the role of knowledgeable advisor rather than aggressive seller; you can’t do this without the necessary knowledge. Unfortunately, many reps are doing this. SalesFuel’s Voice of the Sales Rep found that not even half of sellers look at a prospect’s company website prior to calling. Even fewer conduct a Google search about the prospect (29%) or review the company’s reputation, rating and reviews (30%).

Set the stage for success by first doing research. “Learn as much as you can about the prospect’s current challenges and point of view,” writes Alfred. “This will help you determine if the product or service you are offering is a good fit, and will enable you to make the best recommendation possible.”

Focus on connecting

Be personable. Engaging in hard selling can give the impression that the salesperson is cold; they come across as only caring about closing. This persona just doesn’t sit well with modern buyers. Alfred explains that while professionalism is important, rapport matters just as much, especially with a soft sell. Showcasing genuine concern, as well as empathy, is what will separate you from competitors. Make each interaction personal so the prospect doesn’t just feel like a generic goal. “You want your communication to feel casual and conversational in nature,” she writes. “Make your delivery feel more like advice from a friend than a dry sales pitch.” One way to do this is to focus on your tone. Not sure how to switch up your tone? Consider the following example that Alfred shares:

  • Formal tone: "Hi Erin, this is Michelle from Office Unlimited. Today I will be sharing our key product features with you."
  • Conversational tone: "Hi Erin, this is Michelle from Office Unlimited. Before I dive into telling you about our products, can you tell me more about how your company is currently sourcing your office furniture? What is and isn’t working about your current setup?"

Can you see the difference between the two? One pushes your agenda while the other encourages a two-​way dialogue between you and the prospect. 

Build a relationship. Trust wins sales. But, you can’t conjure up trust without first building a relationship. “When you take the time to get to know your prospects and are seen as a trusted advisor, your prospect will be more primed to purchase,” she writes. According to Voice of the Sales Rep, 15% of reps say the most common objection they face is the prospect not knowing/​trusting/​liking their company. 

Creating a strong connection with a prospect can start with small things, such as simply asking about their day or taking a moment to learn something new about them. Show interest in them as a person rather than just a potential sales goal.

Actively listen. The SalesFuel blog has covered this topic in the past, and for good reason: Today’s buyers want to be heard. It’s important to them to feel like they are part of the process, not just a cog in the sales wheel. Reps can make them feel heard by engaging in active listening, which, according to Alfred, requires:

  • Truly listening to what your prospect shares with you.
  • Repeating content back to the prospect.
  • Ensuring you understand them correctly by asking for clarification, and getting verbal agreement from the prospect after repeating content back.

Using body language, such as maintaining eye contact and nodding along, clues the prospect into the fact that you are listening and engaged. 

These, and the rest of Alfred’s suggested soft sell techniques, will set you on the path toward success. Consider comparing the soft sell to your current strategy; are you already incorporating some of these tactics? How can you integrate more of them into your process? And remember, before jumping into selling, consider each and every prospect and how they may respond to either a hard or soft sell. Then, choose accordingly. As Alfred writes, “Effective sales reps know how to assess what sales approach to use to best engage with their prospects.”