How to Use the Soft-Sell Approach to Increase Sales

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 1, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An effective approach to successful selling can depend on factors such as the salesperson, the product, the timeline, and the price point. The soft-selling approach involves establishing relationships with customers, so they're comfortable buying products, while a hard-selling approach involves shorter interactions and pressuring customers to purchase products. Learning about soft selling is important if you're beginning a career in sales or looking for a new sales approach for your team. In this article, we explain what a soft sell is, compare it to a hard sell, outline how to implement soft selling, and share tips for using this approach.

What is a soft sell?

A soft sell is a sales technique that prioritizes the customer's trust, needs, and information. Before selling to a customer, the salesperson first establishes trust and a relationship. They can achieve this by uncovering a customer's issues and using subtle persuasion techniques to propose how their products can solve these challenges. A soft-sell technique can be helpful in businesses where the long-term relationship with the customer is important, such as when selling subscriptions or contract services.

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Soft selling vs. hard selling

The opposite approach to soft selling is hard selling, a sales technique involving communication that's more forceful and standardized over a shorter period. Both methods require an aim and the use of persistence to close a deal with the customer, but they have different approaches and priorities. Here are some ways in which soft selling and hard selling differ:

  • Customer pressure: A salesperson with a soft-selling technique puts less pressure on the customer to make a purchase, making them more likely to feel relaxed and in control of the buying process. Using a hard-selling technique, a salesperson tries to convince the customer that buying the product is important, making the purchase process feel urgent and impulsive.

  • Customization: Typically, a soft-selling approach works best when the salesperson customizes the sales pitch, sales process, and email communication for each buyer. For a hard-sell approach, a salesperson can save time and energy by reusing an effective script or approach for each customer.

  • Priorities: A soft-selling technique focuses on making sales over a longer duration, so salespeople prioritize the relationship and customers become eager to speak with them again. A hard-selling approach may use whatever techniques convince the customer to complete the purchase as soon as possible.

  • Time span: A soft-selling approach is typically better for long-term or repeated sales processes, while a hard-selling approach may influence customers to buy an item immediately.

  • Tone: Typically, a salesperson using the soft-selling technique has a calm, casual physical presence and verbal tone to establish trust with the customer. Conversely, a salesperson using the hard-selling technique has a more forceful tone that may make a customer feel pressured into making a purchase quickly, with little consideration.

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How to use the soft-sell approach to drive sales

The soft-sell approach can apply to all sales, from individual customer relationships to social media material. Here are six steps you can take to use the soft-selling approach to increase sales:

1. Research the potential customer

First, research the customer and uncover their needs. If you met them online or at a professional networking event, consider researching their company and industry, especially if it differs from the one where you work. If you met them remotely or briefly, you might look at their professional social media accounts so that you can learn more about their interests and personality. This research can help you consider questions to ask in your first conversation and explore whether they have issues that the product you're selling could help solve.

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2. Establish a relationship with the buyer

A soft-selling approach prioritizes the customer and the salesperson–customer relationship. As when people develop friendships, consumers are more likely to become customers if they like and trust the salesperson. It's rare for customers to make purchases from salespeople that they dislike or distrust. When contacting a consumer for the first time, consider making a casual phone call or arranging a meeting. Ensure that your tone remains empathetic and friendly and ask good questions. When the customer answers questions, they provide you with information that can help you get to know them personally and professionally.

3. Determine the customer's needs

Next, try to uncover if your products can fix the customer's issues or improve their business practices. Consider asking specific questions about their challenges and how well their current providers and services are working for them. Once you know their challenges and how the product you're selling can help, you can send a personalized email or call them to ask for an opportunity to demonstrate the product. When discussing products, ensure you maintain a friendly tone and continue to be empathetic and an active listener.

4. Make a recommendation

When you present the product to the customer, whether by demonstration, formal presentation, or informal conversation, personalize your information and recommend a product for their business needs. It may be helpful to present information about how the products can solve their issues or fall within their budget. Although the soft-selling approach is usually informal, drafting an outline of the conversation can help you remain on topic and recall your talking points.

When you make your presentation, consider the customer's verbal response to uncover what information interests them. If you're presenting in person or over a video call, try to see if their body language gives you an indication of their reaction. With this information, you can change your presentation to focus on information that's relevant and of interest to the customer.

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5. Answer questions and educate the buyer

Once you've recommended a product to the customer, answer any questions they have. If they request additional information, ensure you send it to them following the presentation. Responding promptly and continuing to promote your knowledge of the products can demonstrate professionalism, build trust with the customer, and encourage them to work with you again.

6. Make a sale or provide a contact opportunity

The final step is for the customer to purchase the product. If they decide against buying right away, you can create opportunities for a future sale by remaining in contact with them. Consider keeping updated with their personal or business needs to determine if there's a new opportunity to sell to them. If a customer informs you they're not interested in purchasing, politely accept their refusal and refocus on an interested customer.

Tips for successful soft selling

To succeed with soft selling, it's important to:

Ask relevant questions

Learning how to ask relevant questions can help you learn about customers and their needs more efficiently. One strategy for asking better questions is to work backwards. Think about the information you want to know, such as whether the customer's current product is working for them. Then, ask basic questions such as, “What product are you using now?” before asking more specific questions.

Another way to improve your questions is to follow the cues from the person to whom you're speaking. If they speak about a specific topic, you may wish to ask questions to understand why it's important to them. As you get to know them, you may refer to earlier topics, whether personal or professional, so that the person feels valued.

Build personal relationships

Building long-term relationships with customers is important for soft selling since the technique focuses on trust and personal connections. A soft-selling philosophy doesn't require you to focus on making sales as quickly as possible. Without this time pressure, you can take a personal interest in what customers say and learn about their families, background, and interests. If you find it challenging to remember such information, consider making simple notes about your conversations to review before you next connect.

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Practise active listening

Active listening is the practice of paying attention to a person to understand and retain the meaning of their exchanges. During a conversation, try to minimize external distractions, such as phone use, and internal distractions, such as planning your responses and comments. It also includes practising friendly body language to make the speaker feel comfortable. There are many techniques for improving your active listening skills, including asking relevant questions and repeating important points to ensure you understand correctly.

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