Batman or superman, Barcelona or Real Madrid, hard sell or soft sell. Life is full of these dichotomies, clashes between what may often appear are two poles of completely different natures. If you love Barcelona it’s hard to understand why anyone would love Real Madrid and vice versa, for example.
This divisive attitude permeates the sales industry too and the clash between hard sell versus soft sell advocates is well known. Hard sell enthusiasts might think their counterparts are too wishy washy, whereas soft sellers may think that hard salespeople are too aggressive. The truth is that these ostensibly polar opposite ideas have far more in common than that which divides them.
Hard sells and soft sells both have their times and places. That’s why it is crucial to understand both methods and to take the lead in implementing them when called for.
What is hard sell and what is soft sell?
Before we can delve deeper into how you can use hard sell versus soft sell let’s examine what the two terms mean. As you can no doubt imagine they refer to an approach adopted by a company’s sales team. This is usually achieved in coordination with one’s marketing department.
In short the division between hard and soft sells comes down to several aspects. Perhaps the most prominent is timing: one approach relies on having plenty of time at hand, the other, a limited timeframe within which to achieve a lead or sale.
Soft selling involves using subtlety during the sales process, relying on persuasion and persistence to achieve success. Soft sellers approach their prospect from an empathetic position, they try to understand what makes them tick. Naturally this process requires the sales person to have ample time to achieve success.
Hard selling involves directness, aggression and forward thinking to achieve a lead or sales quickly. Hard sellers rely on an absolutely solid sales pitch which frequently only has one chance to succeed. This approach is usually utilized when the salesperson’s time is limited.
Many sales people specialise in either one of these sales approaches however the ultimate professional can utilize both. This is because either approach can be useful given the right circumstances. The difference between hard sell vs soft sell is not merely philosophical, it’s practical, and sales people can profit considerably by learning when to use either one of them.
When should you use a hard sell strategy?
It’s important to remember that a hard sell approach doesn’t refer to negotiations alone. A hard sell can be an advertisement or leaflet as much as it could refer to emails, a pitch or negotiations. Hard selling is more traditional and it does have a negative reputation in some quarters, however, it’s still a very useful technique.
Hard sells need to be direct and forceful in order to work. Therefore one of the scenarios where they are best employed is with low cost products. Requiring an immediate reaction or sale from your prospect is aided by a product’s low purchase cost, after all it’s easier to agree to buying something cheap.
You should also use hard selling tactics when a prospect’s need or pain is immediately apparent. If they require a replacement for a functioning product, for example, they’re likely to take their time considering their options. If however the product in question is broken then urgency facilitates a hard sell.
When using hard sell tactics just make sure you avoid appearing aggressive or rude. You will damage both your personal and company’s reputation by doing so. Customer reviews carry considerable weight so do not jeopardise potential future sales by going too far.
When should you use a soft sell strategy?
The soft sell approach has become a lot more popular recently. Soft-sell enthusiasts describe it as being more intelligent, intuitive and effective compared with hard selling. Some might even describe the soft sell approach as insidious as the ultimate aim is to get under the prospect’s skin.
Businesses that involve large amounts of customer interaction almost always use the soft sell approach. This is particularly true in industries like IT where customer support is almost as important as sales. In these circumstances the soft sell salesperson needs to possess excellent knowledge about their product and related issues.
Soft cell sales work particularly well for companies that require repeat custom. If your product depends on consumer loyalty, like Apple for example, then the soft sell method is for you. Naturally this depends on solid and effective marketing.
Soft sells won’t work if your sales funnel requires urgency. You need time to achieve success in soft sales, it takes commitment and creative thinking to make it work. Therefore only use it if you are able to commit to implementing the process 100%.
How to implement hard sell tactics
Successfully adopting the hard sell approach is relatively simple compared to its counterpart. Hard sales depend on high quality sales people who know their product inside out and can think on their feet quickly. Compared with the soft sell approach it relies more on the individual involved rather than an overarching sales system.
Therefore make sure you invest time in your HR and recruitment process. You’re looking for confident people, individuals who can handle pressure and, as the Kenny Rogers song goes, know when to hold them and when to fold them. Hard sell sales requires excellent human analysis and empathic knowledge, in essence, ‘people skills.’
The directness required to make hard sales work depends greatly on high quality marketing. If your content is sub-par and un-persuasive your sales people will find it hard to persuade your customer to agree to a sale. Make sure your content is punchy, attention grabbing and without any mistakes or blemishes.
How to implement soft sell
Implementing the soft sell approach takes more time than it’s hard sell counterpart and it also requires more planning on your part. Marketing is once again crucial for more than just sales. The softer approach requires high quality customer support, which in turn requires good content, therefore your marketing team needs to think about several different aspects of the business, especially customer service.
You also need to plan and execute a social media strategy for both general sales as well as specific offers and products. This should include all major social networks including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Offer value to your subscribers, give them a reason to interact with your content and company.
Quality, not quantity, should be your catchphrase. Focus on proving a high quality product with excellent customer services and your pitches will transform into leads, then sales. Soft sales is definitely a long term approach.
Hard sell vs soft sell – Which will you use?
While you were reading this article were you thinking about which approach you would adopt for your business? It’s important to know both of them inside and out, and it’s equally important to experiment. Try new ideas, don’t be afraid to mix things up a little.
We’d love to hear about the sales structure you use at your company. Which do you prefer in the hard sell vs soft sell debate? Or do you prefer to use a hybrid system.
We’re always keen to hear from fellow sales professionals so let us know about which sales system you use. Make sure you check back in with our blog too for the latest sales content. Last but by no means least, like and subscribe to our social media pages for the latest sales news and updates.