It goes without saying that the process of selling is critical to your success as a business. Salespeople make critical prospect connections, communicate the value of your product or service, and directly impact your bottom line.
However, it's also no secret that salespeople can sometimes get a bad rap — ever see a comic strip or a meme poking fun at the stereotypical pushy, tactless nature of the traditional salesperson?
In situations where these stereotypes are true, sales can actually hurt your business and brand.
So, how can you leverage sales in a way that positively impacts your business? This is where personal selling comes into play.
Personal selling is the key to a well-balanced sales organization, and, in this guide, we’re going to explain why that’s the case.
What is personal selling?
Personal selling is a method that personalizes and humanizes the selling process. It allows businesses to help prospects resolve challenges with the use of their product or service, rather than simply selling at them.
Personal selling involves direct communication between a salesperson and potential customer and typically happens in person or over email, phone, or video. It's most commonly used for business-to-business (B2B) selling, although it’s also used in retail and trade selling, too.
There are advantages and disadvantages that inherently come with personal selling that you'll want to be aware of as you move forward with the method.
Personal Selling Advantages and Disadvantages
As with many methods and strategies in business, some advantages and disadvantages come with implementation.
Personal Selling Advantages
First, personal selling is advantageous for a few reasons. Personal selling...
- Allows for detailed and personalized communication between your business and potential customers.
- Gives your sales team the chance to individually address any questions, concerns, or objections potential customers may have to move them closer to purchase.
- Provides a personal, one-on-one connection between your organization and potential customers.
Personal Selling Disadvantages
Honestly there aren't many notable disadvantages that come with the process of personal selling — typically, it's a process that reaps more positive outcomes for businesses than not.
However, here are a few possible drawbacks to be aware of so you can work to counteract them. Personal selling...
- Becomes an expensive method to maintain due to the time and resources it requires.
- Requires more time, effort, and thought due to the method's personalized nature.
- Prevents reps from reaching a large pool of people at once because they're forced to identify good-fit — and therefore, more qualified — leads in the process.
As you might already see, these drawbacks can actually be spun into advantages and positive outcomes.
Think about it this way — although personal selling can be expensive, time-consuming, and labor-intensive, these factors also mean reps are fostering strong, trusting one-to-one relationships with qualified leads who are more likely to convert into paying customers and stick around for a long-term partnership.
Not to mention, organizations can take action against these possible disadvantages before they ever become a real issue by detailing a specific sales process for their team. This way, reps can follow the customized sales process while approaching prospects, allocating resources, identifying gaps in the buyer's journey, and more.
Now, let's review that personal selling process and what it entails.
Personal Selling Process
- Handling Objections
- Follow Up
The personal selling process is comprised of seven equally-important steps. Each of these steps allows your sales team to better understand and serve your prospects and customers — ultimately leading to higher close rates and customer satisfaction.
The first step in the personal selling process is seeking out potential customers — also known as your prospects or leads. Prospecting can be done through inbound marketing, cold calling, in-person networking, or online research.
An important part of the prospecting stage is lead qualification. Remember, personal selling is all about finding solutions for your customers, but, naturally, not everyone is fit to be a customer or find a solution using your product or service.
Therefore, you must qualify your leads to avoid spending precious time and resources on prospects who have little to no chance of becoming customers — and minimize customer churn.
During the pre-approach stage, your sales team should prepare to make initial contact with any leads they’ve discovered while prospecting. Pre-approach typically involves extensive online research about the prospect, the market, and his or her business. This stage also includes building and practicing a sales presentation tailored to the prospect.
Next is a critical step — your team's approach. In this stage, the sales team should make initial contact with a prospect by reaching out, introducing themselves, and starting a conversation. This might happen via a phone call, video call, email, or in-person.
The ultimate goal of the approach stage is to better understand the prospect and know their wants, needs, and problems — anything that your product or service can help satisfy or solve. For this reason, your sales team should focus on mainly asking questions in this stage to know if and how your product or service can solve their challenges and pain points.
Now, your team heads into the sales presentation stage. This is when your sales team presents and potentially demonstrates your product or service.
Throughout the presentation, your sales team should focus on how your product or service benefits the prospect, using information gathered in the pre-approach and approach stages. This will ensure the presentation is relevant to the prospect and their needs.
5. Handling Objections
At this point in the personal sales process, after the presentation, a prospect will likely have questions and objections. It’s the job of your sales team to correct any misconceptions, handle any objections, and answer any questions — without seeming pushy or losing the trust of the prospect.
The purpose of this stage isn’t to change a prospect’s mind or force them to buy; it’s simply to learn more about how to best help the prospect reach a solution. If your prospect doesn't reach out with any questions, encourage your team to follow-up to see how they can help.
After any objections and barriers to the sale have been removed, your team should try to finalize the sale — otherwise known as “closing” the deal. This stage refers to settling any negotiations, payments, invoices, contracts, or paperwork that wraps up the deak.
The final stage of the personal selling process is the follow-up, which is when your sales team contacts the customer after a sale to ensure they're delighted and have had or are working through your effective onboarding.
This stage is important because it allows your sales team to maintain customer relationships that hopefully renew or upgrade. It also provides a direct connection to your customer service team if a customer isn’t happy — and happy customers become brand advocates.
Now we'll review some strategies you can incorporate in your personal selling process to make the most of your efforts.
Personal Selling Strategies
- Be natural and personable.
- Remember your buyer personas.
- Ask the customer plenty of questions.
- Focus on end benefits, not product features.
- Personally address any customer concerns.
- Ask for the sale.
- Follow-up after a purchase.
- Consider an email tracking software.
Personal selling can be a complicated job, especially when dealing with the unpredictability of human preference and behavior. Here are some personal selling strategies to help diversify the way your team approaches selling to various customers.
1. Be natural and personable.
The first thing your sales reps are selling is themselves. If a prospect doesn’t like a rep, they likely won’t trust anything they say. Encourage your team to show empathy and share success stories of current customers to help with this.
2. Remember your buyer personas.
As your team prospects and qualifies leads, ensure they remember your organization’s buyer personas (or target audience). If your company typically targets customers with a certain budget or team size, don’t waste time working with leads outside of those specifications.
Salespeople often make the mistake of trying to sell to anyone and everyone; by focusing on good-fit leads, they’re much more likely to make the sale.
3. Ask the customer plenty of questions.
Your team should listen more than they talk. They won’t know how to help and sell to customers if they don’t know their questions or concerns.
Also, encourage them not to forget to ask questions about what motivates prospects — this will tell them how to relate your product or service to the needs of prospects.
4. Focus on end benefits, not product features.
Once your team learns about what your prospect needs and what motivates them, have reps focus on explaining how prospects will benefit from the product or service. Make sure reps don’t waste time explaining features that may or may not connect with prospects or be relevant to their pain points.
5. Personally address any customer concerns.
As your team works with potential customers, they should consider themselves personal advocates. If prospects have any concerns or questions, they should do their best to personally address them. This will allow them to build trust with prospects and move them closer to purchase.
6. Ask for the sale.
Prospects know your sales team is reaching out to them with the intention of making a deal — but, it’s always wise to ensure they pointedly ask for the sale. Your team can do this after the sales presentation and after addressing any questions, concerns, or objections. Research and test various closing phrases to see what comes naturally to your sales team.
7. Follow up after purchase.
Your relationship with your customers doesn’t end once they buy your product or service. Following up with customers (via phone, email, or in-person) keeps the relationship alive, which not only gives you your sales team the opportunity for cross-selling and up-selling, but it also allows you to check in on their level of delight. (Remember, happy customers are your best marketers!)
8. Consider using email tracking software.
Personal selling involves a great deal of tailored communication and interactions with leads and prospects. Email tracking software can alert your team to when potential customers open their emails so they know who's interested and who to follow up with to stay top-of-mind.
Lastly, let's look at some strong examples of personal selling in action to get you inspired.
Personal Selling Examples
- Catering Services
- Travel Services
- Office Equipment
- Real Estate
In this section, we’re going to review a handful of industries that use the personal selling method to sell their products or services. There are many personal selling examples beyond the five listed below.
We chose these examples because they illustrate significant, sometimes complicated purchase decisions that often require a close relationship between a salesperson and prospect — which further illustrates the personal selling method in action.
Most software companies use the personal selling method. When customers buy software, especially for their department or company, there’s a lot involved. There’s often a full suite of tools and a variety of solutions to consider, and customers will likely require buy-in across their company.
For these reasons, personal selling in the software industry becomes necessary to best serve customers. The software salesperson can help customers understand how the software or tool can be tailored to their needs and articulate the features and benefits to others in their organization.
A prime example of personal selling for department-wide software is HubSpot. HubSpot offers a range of software solutions for marketing, sales, and customer service. This requires the sales team to spend time prospecting for good-fit leads and educating prospects and customers about how these tools can help their business. Other examples include Workday for human resources, Slack for business enablement, and Xero for accounting.
Catering companies base their services on events — and because each event is different they must customize their offering based on what each customer needs. For this reason, caterers often deploy salespeople to make initial contact with and talk to prospects to better understand how the company can serve them.
These salespeople are also responsible for building a custom catering plan for customers, managing the execution of the service, and checking up on customers after the event(s) — all important parts of the personal selling process.
Travel services is another industry that often uses the personal selling method. Because travel and touring services are not a physical product, there's arguably a greater sense of trust needed between the travel company, their salespeople, and each customer to close a deal.
Salespeople must explain each travel experience in detail, conduct more intimate conversations about what a customer’s wants (e.g. interests, dietary restrictions, scheduling, etc.), and often present multiple travel options before a customer makes a purchase.
Office Equipment Industry
Companies often need to make office-wide equipment purchases — for chairs, computers, desks, and more — when they move into a new space or simply grow. This process typically requires personal rapport between the office equipment salesperson and the business.
Not to mention, office equipment is a competitive space, with many reputable companies offering high-quality products. For this reason, salespeople must work to understand the customer’s needs and explain why their product is the best choice.
Real Estate Industry
Real estate, for both individuals and businesses, is a significant purchase. Aside from the sheer cost of real estate, the purchase process involves detailed questions about the customer’s needs and wants as well as multiple property walkthroughs (which are synonymous to sales presentations).
For this reason, real estate sellers and agents are responsible for finding good-fit prospects and helping educate them on how their property is right for them.
Start Personal Selling
There are many ways to execute the personal selling method. What should remain consistent, though, is how your sales team approaches, builds a relationship with, and serves a potential customer.
Personal selling centers around a genuine interest in helping customers solve their problems using your product or service — not pushing or forcing a sale for the sake of quotas or the bottom line.
Encourage your sales team to use these strategies to build and maintain successful, authentic relationships with your customers, and hopefully help your customers become strong advocates for your brand.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in October, 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published May 5, 2020 6:37:00 PM, updated July 10 2020