Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Need for the Hard Sell

In a conference session about marketing, there was rather a long digression on the difference between selling and offering that seemed to be belaboring the difference in the hard-sell and soft-sell approaches, in favor of the latter.   In the presenter’s mind, the days of hard selling are over and it’s time that all industries switch to a soft sales process.    I cannot disagree more.

Soft selling is a tool, a good tool, and the right tool for most jobs – most, but not all.   The soft sell works when there is a motivated and informed customer, who has accurately recognized and diagnosed his problem, correctly identified the solution (product) he needs to achieve his desired goals.   And while customers today are more informed than the information starved masses prior to digital media, there is a significant difference between “having access” to information and actually “accessing” it – and then understanding and applying it.

For the customer who does not recognize that he has a problem, who has not accurately diagnosed it, who does not feel empowered to solve it, or who does not know the correct way to solve it, hard selling is still necessary.   You cannot simply sit back and wait for the customer to come to you, but must convince the customer that he can and should leverage your product to solve a real problem.   You have to go to him, help him recognize the problem, show him the solution, and make him feel empowered and motivated to act.

All of this can be snake-oil in the wrong hands: making people believe they have problems when they really do not, suggesting your product is a solution when it really is not, and stirring people to action that they really don’t need to take.   It depends on the situation.   And the soft-seller is not immune to unethical selling – when he passively allows a deluded person to purchase his product and shrugs off any responsibility for the negative consequences because he played no active role in helping the customer make the appropriate decision. He is the proverbial “good” man who does nothing when action would prevent harm, which is not a very good man at all.

Ethics in salesmanship means matching customer problems to commercial solutions – regardless of the sales tactic – a prerequisite to which is accurately recognizing the level of sales assistance that is needed.   Where customers accurately recognize and diagnose problems and identify and employ solutions, stay out of the way and give them what they ask for.   Where the cannot do all of those things, provide assistance – and whether it is ethical assistance or unethical pressure depends on the customer, the product, and the situation.

It is no more correct to soft-sell in all circumstances than it is to hard-sell in all circumstances – and to suggest otherwise is an act of ignorance and immorality unto itself.

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