We all recognise the hard sell. Remember the door-to-door salesman touting double glazing or tarmacking, and these days, the unsolicited phone calls or salespeople that stop you on the way into shops to show you something you hadn’t realised you even needed? There’s no mistaking the hard sell. The technique tends to come with a commission based role so we can’t blame the salespeople themselves but maybe you’ll have noticed the hard sell has been making a hard exit in recent years? So what happened and what does the future of sales look like?
Simply put, the advent of the internet and the access to information that we all now take for granted rendered the hard sell slightly useless. The beauty of the hard sell in its hay day was that you were given information about a product and a prize and without the means to compare and research yourself, you could take it at face value. That’s no longer the case. Consumers are smart. Consumers are informed. And in particular in times of economic challenge, consumers are motivated to find out everything they can about a purchase before they make it to ensure they’re making the best decision both quality and prize wise.
Whether it’s through review sites or consumer groups reporting problems, there is no escaping the fact that the information age is holding brands accountable for what they sell and how they make their sales. The idea of hard selling is counter productive in this environment – it can in fact alienate potential customers instead of appealing to them.
So what do we expect now when it comes to sales?
Education and loyalty
A genuine relationship, is the answer. Successful sales now focus hugely on education and loyalty over direct, hard selling. Sales people have necessarily morphed into customer and product advocates, developing in-depth knowledge of their field and working with their audience to offer honest and higher value information with the goal of developing long term relationships rather than focusing on one sale.
With this approach, the goal is to build trust with potential customers. To clearly showcase the ethos and the mission of the company and product and to help each customer make an informed and positive decision when it comes to engagement. Each customer or potential customer is to be nurtured and educated, brought forward as the brand grows and offered solutions to problems they are truly experiencing.
What kind of education?
Making the shift from hard selling to education can feel like a big jump but actually you might find you already have the tools available to make a change.
Detailed and honest information
When it comes to products and services, the more detailed and honest information that is available, the better. Consumers want to know what their products are made of, where they are made, the labour conditions under which they are made, and the carbon footprint of their products. Being open and upfront about this information has the potential to build an incredible amount of trust both with consumers and within the industry. Using your website to document information or inserting details into product packaging will allow potential consumers to trust your offering and to spread the word.
When it comes to your brand, the idea of ‘educating’ often shows up as added value. What added value could you offer your customers? Perhaps you can take the time to visually break down the process your industry and your company uses in production of a product? This way you help your customers better understand what they are investing in. Maybe you undertake quarterly Instagram Live sessions where you can answer questions from your customers and receive feedback? Perhaps you use your blog to share thoughts and leadership writing on areas of your industry that impact your products and customers. Being an expert in your field and finding engaging ways to share that expert knowledge can be a powerful way to connect with your customers and encourage brand loyalty.
Educating also means being educated yourself. Take time to really get to know your customers, find out where they live online, what they are shopping for, what problems they experience and how you can help them. And then, when they offer feedback, listen. Take complaints or concerns on board. Ask your customers what they really need and want and work hard to make that happen. Educating works both ways and can create hugely beneficial change if you recognise that the relationship is mutual and playing the long game will ultimately buy you far more business success.
When you’re setting up or scaling your business, you may already have given thought to how you want to engage with your customers, how you want to sell to them and what techniques you’ll educate your team in. When you’re doing so, keep in mind the idea of educating your potential customers and of building honest, added value relationships that will benefit you long into the future.
Whatever your business idea, whether it’s just something you’ve been mulling over or whether you’ve taken some steps on the entrepreneurial path already, we’d love to help. Read some of our Go For It Success Stories and get in touch. Our business experts will be delighted to hear from you and to talk you through everything you might need to know to move forward with your business concept.