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Soft Sell vs. Hard Sell: Why a Gentle Approach Wins in Sales

Soft selling is a gentle approach in sales that focuses on the consumer’s needs and not the product you’re selling. Read this guide to learn why soft selling always wins.

The intent of sales is to, well, sell. But just because your goal as a marketer is to sell doesn’t mean your audience wants to be sold to. In fact, insistent or high-pressure “hard” sales approaches often push customers away instead of pulling them toward your brand, products, and services.

Enter the “soft” sell.

The opposite of the hard sell, this marketing technique focuses on building trust and adding value—NOT on closing the deal. While focusing on something other than generating sales may feel counterintuitive to driving your business forward, soft selling strategies are the equivalent of a gift that keeps on giving when integrated into your marketing plan.

Here’s a closer look at what a soft sell is and how it differs from a hard sell. We’ll also share several effective soft selling techniques and a few soft sell examples to demonstrate how you can put this subtle yet significant sales approach to work for your business.

What is a soft sell?

A type of sales strategy, soft selling, is not about making a fast or immediate sale. Rather, it seeks to create and nurture trust with existing and potential customers. This is accomplished by keeping customer needs in sight at all times.

Ultimately, the more brands understand and empathize with their customer’s pain points, the more effectively they can demonstrate the ability of their products and services to solve them. This is the essence of the soft sell: listening, NOT talking.

While soft selling may involve a longer or less direct path to converting leads into sales, it lays the groundwork for long-term customer relationships and future sales.

While there is room for both in sales, soft selling and hard selling are two very different sales approaches. In this section, we’ll discuss hard selling vs. soft selling in more detail.

As discussed earlier, soft selling is more of a long game than a quick fix. Its key characteristics are as follows:

  • A focus on consumer needs (and how to meet them), not on the products and services you’re trying to sell
  • Less talking and more active listening, including consultative selling
  • Using questions and research to guide the conversation, nurture trust, and facilitate long-term relationships

When it comes to building meaningful relationships with customers, the slow-and-steady approach of soft selling will deliver.

Conversely, hard sell marketing is associated with aggressive and high-pressure tactics. If you’ve ever been in a situation with a salesperson who just wouldn’t quit, you were likely on the receiving end of a hard sell. Key characteristics of hard selling advertising include:

  • A focus on the features of a particular product or service, not on its benefits for consumers
  • Making bold claims about a product or service
  • Using scare tactics and other high-pressure approaches to convince customers to purchase

If your above-and-beyond goal is to make a quick sale, hard selling may be more suitable when comparing the goals and outcomes of hard sell vs. soft sell approaches.

But while hard selling can drive sales, it can also lead to diminishing returns if not executed with tact and finesse. For example, if you make bold claims without backing them up, you risk harming your credibility and losing trust.

This is why the latter often comes out ahead in the competition between hard and soft selling.

Soft selling and hard selling can both be advantageous. However, many modern-day marketers will agree that the soft sale will take you further (if not faster).

Specific benefits of soft selling advertising include the following:

Builds trust

This sales strategy builds critical consumer trust, perhaps the defining quality of soft selling.

In today’s world of informed and discerning consumers, trust is crucial with customers—especially when you consider data indicating that 44 percent of consumers will spend at least $500 more annually with their most-trusted brands and 55 percent of consumers won’t ever support a brand again once their trust is broken.

Improves customer relationships

Customers want brands to show empathy by understanding their perspectives, priorities, and frustrations. They also crave connection, authenticity (which is the answer to how to sell anything online), and personalization. In cultivating all of these things, soft selling leads to better consumer relationships.

Increases customer satisfaction

Research further indicates that 58 percent of consumers will stop supporting brands that don’t provide valuable experiences.

Soft selling is crucial to providing a positive customer experience. When customers are satisfied with your service, they're more likely to come back for more and recommend your brand to their friends and family.

By not pushing your customers to make a purchase and focusing on their needs rather than the sale itself, you’re showing that you care about them, which increases customer satisfaction.

Higher sales conversion rates

Drip email campaigns, which deliver information and content via strategic email sequences, are one example of a soft selling tactic.

Linked with conversion rate increases of as much as 50 percent, they’re also an example of the impact of effective soft selling on marketing results.

Enhances communication

The benefits of the soft sell approach aren’t siloed. In fact, they’re symbiotic.

Putting your customers first, listening to them, understanding their pain points, and demonstrating how your products and services can help them while organically and authentically enhancing your communication with your audience.

Another way to look at it? If hard selling is the equivalent of talking over your customers to make sure you are heard, soft selling is the antithesis: it’s also about ensuring that the customer feels heard instead.

There are many ways to incorporate soft selling into your marketing strategy, including the following techniques:

Build trust with customers

Talking about building trust is one thing, but how do you go about actually doing it?

It starts with active listening, a communication skill that goes beyond merely hearing words to understand the meaning and intent attached to them. And the more you show your desire to understand and empathize with your consumers, the more they’ll trust you.

In addition to offering insight into positioning your brand to meet their needs, you’ll also establish valuable rapport.

Provide value and solve problems

Today’s consumers don’t have the patience for brands that talk the talk without walking the walk. Connecting with them comes down to one word above all else: value.

The ability to provide value comes down to many things, including identifying customer (and prospective customer) needs and offering tailored solutions, all while demonstrating your expertise in a way that fortifies your credibility.

Craft a compelling message

Listing a bunch of features without showcasing why they should matter to your target audience results in a major disconnect between consumers and brands. Soft selling overcomes this barrier by leading with benefits over features.

Effective messaging is also integral to any sales process. This is where storytelling comes in. Storytelling involves the creation of evocative narratives that center around your target audience’s wants and needs and make an emotional appeal while simultaneously speaking to your brand’s core values, culture, and experience.

Hearing about your products and services directly from you is one thing, but hearing about it from unbiased third parties is another. This is why social proof and testimonials are especially effective soft selling tools.

These social proof statistics speak for themselves:

  • 97 percent of consumers seek out reviews before making a purchase
  • 93 percent of millennials trust user reviews as much as friend and family recommendations
  • 88 percent of consumers have more trust in reviews than they do in advertising
  • 56 percent of consumers suffer from fear of missing out, AKA “FOMO”

The takeaway is clear for brands: If you aren’t incorporating testimonials and other forms of social proof into your marketing plan, you’re falling far short of your potential.

Maintain a customer-centric approach

Soft sell advertising keeps the customer at the center of the equation at all times. This means knowing and respecting your customer preferences, promoting honesty and transparency throughout the customer journey, and providing post-sales follow-up and support.

On the other hand, saying anything to make a sale or going MIA afterward not only runs contrary to the spirit of the soft selling approach but also compromises your relationship with your customers.

Examples of soft selling

Earlier, we discussed drip email campaigns as examples of the soft sell technique. Here are some additional examples:

  • Sending a follow-up email to an online shopper who abandoned their shopping cart to inquire about their experience and ask if they need additional help or guidance
  • Enlisting influencers to create video tutorials of themselves using your products and services
  • Creating aspirational ads that showcase people using or enjoying your products and services without explicitly promoting them

Embrace soft selling to drive sales success

Rather, soft sell marketing is a modern sales technique that businesses can use to speak to today’s consumers in a way that not only acknowledges their needs but also how they prefer to interact with brands.

The equivalent of “the long game,” the soft sell strategy prioritizes the customer experience to create and nurture strong customer relationships and the organic benefits that go with them—including sales success.

If you’re ready to start leveraging the full potential of soft selling to sell services online, Mailchimp has many tools that can help, including social selling services and more.

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