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Friday, October 21, 2011

Guest Commentary: The Death of the Hard Sell

The Death of the Hard Sell
By Kelsey Roth of The Management

We are constantly changing; the fashions we wear, the foods we like, the music we listen to, because we are influenced by the larger world around us. The more we are exposed to, the more we have the potential for change. We change the way we make purchasing decisions too, and the old sales techniques just aren’t as effective as they used to be. Unfortunately, many local businesses still cling to these old ways even though they are in the best position to connect with their customers new and more successful ways.

You may have heard the term “hard sell”. It’s an aggressive sales technique where the seller focuses on the features of a product (zero grams of fat!), the price (50% off!), and creates an urgency for you to buy (limited time only!). I’m sure a million different ads just ran through your head, and unfortunately, most of them were probably from local companies. This used to be a very effective sales technique, but why isn’t it as effective as it once was?

The biggest reason is because the audience has changed. People tend to block out hard sell ads on TV and radio and associate those types of ads with questionable quality or even worse, with deception and lies. Today, customers are more sophisticated. They expect to connect with a business or brand in a more personal way. And they have more decision making tools at their disposal than ever before in the form of search, blogs, ratings and review sites. A hard sell technique is usually the wrong tool to capture today’s savvy audience.

Advertising used to focus on features, price and urgency. Today, people care more about solutions, benefits and value. While features are certainly important, the buyer wants to know how those features solve their particular problem or how it will benefit them and make their lives better. As Harvard Business School marketing professor Ted Levitt said, “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” People want to know that a company is in tune with their needs and desires and with what’s important to them. While price is always an issue, getting value for their money is more important. People will pay more for an item if they get better customer service, if the product is of better quality, or if the product is environmentally, socially or culturally conscious.

Hard sell techniques have the tendency to talk at people, not to them. It’s important to realize that the focus is no longer on you or your product, it’s on the customer. It’s not what you are selling, but what the customer is buying. People will no longer buy an item just because it’s “new and improved”. They want to know that your product or service fits in with their life. That’s where the conversation comes in. Listen to your customer’s needs, objections, problems and questions. Help educate them on how to make good purchasing decisions and avoid confusion. Offer workshops or videos to help them use your products better. By understanding their problems and needs, you will understand what benefits are important to them and where they see value.This helps you provide a better customer experience, and helps you develop a message that addresses their needs. If people think that you understand them, they are more likely to become valuable repeat customers.

When it comes to having a conversation with your customers, local businesses have the edge over large corporations. As a small business owner, there’s a good chance that you already greet and chat with customers on a daily basis. Use this time to listen to them as well. Ask them questions and let them know that their opinion is important to you. Are they a regular customer? Ask what keeps them coming back. Use social media like Facebook and Twitter to reach out to your customers and interact with them. Large corporations have to dedicate entire departments, spend millions on marketing campaigns, and hire outside firms to get this valuable information. All it takes from you is a little time and effort.

People today are more informed, more connected, and more active than ever before and they expect companies to be the same. In the past, companies were too busy shouting about new features and price breaks to take the time to listen to what people actually wanted. Today, customers want to be heard, and the small local business is in the best position to hear and react to their needs.

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