Hard vs. Soft Sells: How I Learned the Art of Selling
Your side hustle can offer the best product or service to the world, but without a sound sales strategy, you'll struggle to scale your business to the levels it otherwise could reach.
Making things even more difficult is that there are many different approaches to selling, including online, live virtually, in person, and over the phone.
Even with all of these options, though, the hardest decision you'll have to make is whether to implement a hard or soft selling approach. Today, we're going to talk about these two different approaches, their applications, and what may resonate best for your business.
What are hard and soft selling?
Hard and soft selling are two competing approaches to selling a product or service.
1. Hard selling
Hard selling is characterized by a couple easily identifiable qualities, including:
Being direct: There is no beating around the bush in hard selling. The mantra to always be closing is definitely applicable in a hard selling environment. Occasionally, high pressure techniques are used, which can make consumers and businesses alike uncomfortable.
An emphasis on closing sales: Those hard selling oftentimes try to minimize the amount of time it takes to close sales with their leads. Signs of this include offering aggressive discounts, limited time offers, and persuasive sales copy.
2. Soft selling
Soft selling, on the other hand, is easily recognizable given its' completely different approach. Indications of a soft sell include:
Listening as much as speaking: Your target clients have needs. Listening intently to them and then providing solutions that meet those needs is the ultimate goal.
Relationship based: Rather than trying to make a sale as quickly as possible, you'll take a more relationship-based approach. This may or may not help you to close more sales, but it will help encourage clients or customers to return to your business in the future.
Educating your customer: Rather than constantly pushing your product/service, you may instead opt to educate your customer on your offering, helping them to see the benefits in doing business with you.
How I learned to soft sell
As The Student Debt Destroyer has evolved over the past couple of years, I quickly realized just how important a sales strategy can be to a side business. Your product or service can be perfect, but you still need to be able to sell it.
Early on, I realized that I wanted to soft sell, for two reasons.
First, I realized that, in my online business model, a hard sell would be counterintuitive to what I was trying to do - helping people.
Secondly, the pushy and aggressive nature of hard selling just isn't something that I feel comfortable doing. So if you don't either, remember that there is another way forward.
Learning to soft sell takes time and a certain level of finesse, particularly when you're trying to execute in an online or virtual environment. I learned by focusing on these techniques in particular:
Addressing objections properly
Adapting to individuals
1. Listening actively
Soft selling all starts with listening to your customers. Whether you're communicating with leads in person or virtually, it is always a good idea to ask open-ended questions and assume positive intent.
By showing genuine interest in helping others to solve their problems (which your business just so happens to specialize in), you'll build rapport, which may be needed to turn leads into customers.
This doesn't even have to be done in a live setting either. You can also show that you "listen actively" by the way in which you respond to leads' emails or contact forms on your website.
My business has next to no live interaction with my readers, but I do read through every email and inquiry I receive from readers/customers and respond with the same diligence and effort that I hope others would do for me too.
2. Adding value
I also learned to uniquely add value for my readers. By writing lots of content that can help them for free, I'm able to add enough value that potential customers find impressive.
That way, when I mention my course, program, or other services that can help my readers make even more progress on their student loan debt, side hustle, or home buying goals, I've built up that credibility.
You can do this too. By focusing on the value that you can add, and then adding it, you'll also build the trust and confidence that you'll need to generate regular sales.
3. Addressing objections properly
The difference between hard and soft selling is most apparent when addressing client or customer objections. If your customer has reservations and you resort to pressure tactics, you're not doing anything productive to address these reservations.
Plus, that's not what I believe in.
Customer objections are just an invitation to continue a dialogue about your product or service, either in person, via email, or virtually somehow. There's a chance you'll be able to rescue the sale, but even if you're not, you'll still learn helpful tips to help you address similar concerns in the future.
When I come up against objections, I always try to:
Understand the nature of the objection: I need to know if the reservations are about the price of my course, the content covered, or something else altogether. It will help me tailor my responses accordingly.
Gauge if there is more than meets the eyes: I always assume positive intent when communicating with leads and target customers. But I also understand that sometimes, there is more than meets the eye. Understanding whether there is another factor preventing people from buying from you can also help you tailor your messaging.
4. Respect boundaries
One of the best techniques you can use to soft sell with conviction is to respect any boundaries you sense from prospects.
Not moving through the sales process before he/she is ready for it
Following up respectfully
Showing thankfulness and gratitude
Ultimately, this is what soft selling is all about: respect.
Respecting these boundaries may not directly lead to sales, but it will lead to building respect and potential future sales in the event that circumstances change.
5. Adapting to individuals
Hard selling is oftentimes characterized by providing a similar sales experience to as many customers as you can reach. But I quickly learned that many businesses, mine included, work better by providing a more unique and personalized experience.
I quickly learned that tailoring my approach to each individual as needed would be more fruitful, even if it took more effort.
Hard sell approaches may be necessary
None of this means that there isn't a place for hard selling. In fact, some side hustles and businesses in certain industries need to hard sell to stay competitive.
A couple of these side businesses are:
eCommerce/Selling on Amazon: Selling online is highly competitive, so a hard selling approach may be necessary. You can achieve this pretty easily by optimizing product listings and writing attractive headlines or product descriptions.
Event Planning: Event planning is a gig where you'll be constantly negotiating with vendors and third parties on behalf of your clients. Hard selling can help you to secure favorable terms and deals for your customers.
Do know that there is nothing ethically wrong with hard selling, so long as you're honest about it and don't make your target customers uncomfortable. In fact, in competitive niches and businesses like this, it may be necessary at times.
Soft selling is a tactic that has numerous benefits when practiced correctly.
It isn't just the right thing to do for your customers either. It is also good for your business!
By learning the soft selling techniques I outlined above, you'll find that you're better able to manage your business and connect with business leads and potential customers.
Now, I want to hear from you. Have you ever tried soft selling techniques before? How have they worked out for you in the past? Please let me know in the comments below.
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