WHEN TO USE PERSONAL SELLING
Personal selling is the process of communicating with a potential buyer (or buyers) face to face with the purpose of selling a product or service. The main thing that sets personal selling apart from other methods of selling is that the salesperson conducts business with the customer in person.
Though personal selling is more likely to be effective with certain types of products or services, it has important applications for nearly all kinds of businesses. In fact, most of history’s successful entrepreneurs have been skilled salespeople, able to present and promote their companies and products in the marketplace.
Personal selling is one of a company’s promotion mix, along with advertising, sales promotion, and public relations. Advertising is any form of paid sales presentation that is not done face-to-face. Television and radio commercials, newspaper and magazine advertisements, and direct mail inserts are well known forms of advertisement. Sales promotion is the use of incentives (such as coupons, discounts, rebates, contests or special displays) to entice customers to buy a product or service. Public relation is the act of building up a company’s image in the eyes of the community in the hopes of translating the feelings of goodwill into sales. An example of public relations might include a company sponsoring a charity event.
Personal selling offers entrepreneurs both advantages and disadvantages in comparison with other elements of the promotion mix. On the positive side, personal selling allows the salesperson to target the message specifically to the audience and receive immediate feedback. In this way, it is more precise than other forms of promotion and often has a greater persuasive impact.
Conversely, personal selling cannot reach as many potential customers as advertising, plus the cost of each contact is higher. Another advantage is that personal selling can be an important source of marketing information. Salespeople may learn about competitors’ products, for example, or about emerging customer needs that may lead to the development of a new product. If the sales force is well trained (acting as problem solvers and advisors for customers rather than using hard sell tactics) personal selling may help a business build loyal, long term relationships with customers.
When to Use Personal Selling
In general, if a product has a high unit value and requires a demonstration of its benefits, it is well suited for personal sales. For example, an encyclopedia is a high-priced item and most people do not feel they need one. After demonstration, however, most people agree it would be a useful item to have. Therefore, encyclopedias are well suited to a promotion mix that emphasizes personal selling.
Highly technical products, such as computers and copiers, are also primarily sold through personal sales methods. Products that involve a trade-in, like automobiles, are usually handled through personal selling to help facilitate the trade-in process.
Finally, a company that cannot afford a mass advertising campaign might consider personal selling as an alternative to advertising. Since sales force compensation is largely based on actual sales, personal selling may require less money up front than other parts of the promotion mix.
Types of Sales Positions
There are many different types of personal sales jobs. A driver salesperson merely delivers the product and has few selling responsibilities. An inside order taker (such as a sales clerk in a retail store or a telephone representative with a catalogue sales company) takes orders from within a selling environment and requires some selling skills. In contrast, an outside order taker goes to the customer’s place of business to take orders.
Some selling skills are required in this position, especially to establish new accounts. A missionary salesperson, rather than selling an actual product or service, instead tries to make a customer feel good about the company and products he or she represents. The pharmaceutical and liquor industries frequently employ missionary salespeople.
A sales engineer might be found in technical industries such as computers and copiers. Sales engineers provide technical support, explain the product, and help adapt the product to the customer’s needs.
Finally a creative person may attempt to sell goods (such as vacuum cleaners or encyclopedias), but more often represent ideas, such as services (insurance) or causes (charities). These salespeople usually deal with customers who are unaware of their need for the service or product, so they must possess the most developed selling skills of all the types of salespeople.
Improving the Reputation of Personal Selling
Personal selling involves specific steps, requires training and experience, and employs some highly talented people. Unfortunately, personal selling is also commonly perceived as a less than reputable field of work. Unethical salespeople, aggressive or hard sell tactics, and misleading sales pitches have made many buyers wary of personal sellers.
Fortunately, much has been done to address this issue. Selling associations have adopted codes of ethics that dictate standards of behavior that all members are to follow. Most organizations with personal sales forces also adopt their own codes of ethics that provide guidelines regarding the type of sales pitch that can be made, and the hours during which a sales call may be made. Many companies also prohibit the use of misleading information or pressure tactics to make a sale.