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What is personal selling? Definition and examples
Use personal selling to discover what customers really want and need from your brand, and deliver the most meaningful pitch you can.
By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer
Last updated December 29, 2023
Customers love to feel special and understood. According to research from Epsilon, 80 percent of customers say they’re more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences, and 90 percent indicated they found personalization appealing.
But incorporating personalization into your sales strategy is a marathon, not a sprint. And it often begins long before a consumer even considers making a purchase. Before the sales process starts, emotional and strategic lead generation techniques grab potential buyer interest through relevant, personalized content that showcases how your company can solve buyer-specific problems.
Of course, you can’t provide this level of personalization unless you truly know your customer. To gain that deep understanding, sales agents must meet with individual customers to discover what their pain points are and what really makes them tick. It’s a long game, but it comes with a massive payoff.
When you master the personal selling strategy, you make every customer feel like the only customer. Who wouldn’t want that?
Personal selling definition
Personal selling is when a sales representative meets with potential customers to nurture them until they make a purchase. It usually happens face-to-face, but it can also take place over the phone or on a video call. Direct contact distinguishes personal selling from other sales and marketing strategies, such as public relations or automated sales calls that tout your company’s products or services.
Think of the personal sales process as getting to know a potential romantic interest. You’re there to find out what the person likes, dislikes, and needs so you can determine if they’re a good fit. In the case of personal selling, you’re also learning about the psychology behind their purchasing decisions so you can influence from a place of truth.
During this one-on-one interaction, focus on building a sincere relationship with the potential customer rather than making a sale. (Remember, you don’t have to sell your soul to close a sale—ethical selling will get you further in the long run.)
Ask the right questions to establish rapport, learn more about their pain points, and discover what they’re looking for in a solution. Your job is to listen carefully to their concerns and see how your company’s products or services can help them.
Personal selling in marketing
When it comes to personal interactions with potential buyers, sales and marketing go hand-in-hand, to the point where they essentially overlap. Product-focused sales follow a more straightforward sales process: the prospect sees a marketing promotion; the prospect buys the item.
With personal sales, getting to know your customer is both a marketing and a sales strategy. The two teams need to simultaneously use the information from one-on-one meetings to craft targeted, personalized strategies. Marketing may focus on a slightly more generic approach to reach more buyers, but sales and marketing must work in tandem to close a personal sale.
Personal selling example
Let’s take a look at personal sales in action. Say you sell mattresses. You want to know your customers’ sleeping preferences, so you write out a list of questions:
- Do you prefer a soft or firm bed?
- Do you sleep on your stomach or side?
- Did you run into any problems with your previous mattress?
- Do you have insomnia?
You could collect answers to these questions through a survey, but you’ll probably receive limited responses—a survey is as generic as the average mailed promotion. Instead, have your sales team individually reach out and initiate a back-and-forth exchange with a list of leads.
The information you gain will allow you to dive a little deeper so you can provide that personalized touch. It also starts a conversation and establishes your company as a group of real humans, not robots.
This might sound like a tedious process (especially compared to mass-sending a survey), but personal selling gives you the advantage of immediate follow-up. If a customer’s answer doesn’t make sense, for instance, you can ask them for more details on the spot.
For example, if a prospect answered “neither” to question number 2 on a survey, you’d be at a loss. With personal selling, you can quickly clarify what sleeping position they prefer by simply asking them.
You can also tailor your responses, sales methodology, and advice to what a customer tells you in real-time. If you’re meeting with the prospect face-to-face, you may even be able to pick up on their body language to get a sense of how they feel about your product or service. It’s marketing research direct from the source.
Personal selling process
Personal selling relies on excellent interpersonal skills and deep product knowledge. This is essential for interacting with potential customers throughout the personal selling process in a way that feels natural. There’s no one right way to go about personal selling, but let’s explore three core tenets of the process your sales force should follow.
Ask informed questions
Questions are critical when it comes to personal selling. Your customers’ responses help you gauge how your product or service might benefit them and what their pain points look like. Asking questions also shows your customers that you’re interested in them, not just their money.
That said, you shouldn’t ask your prospect a lot of random questions—you need to keep it focused. You don’t want to take up their valuable time by asking for information that isn’t relevant to the sale. Instead, ask pertinent questions based on what the buyer has already shared about their interests and needs. This investigation is essential. It’s easy to lean on assumptions and offer potential customers uninformed solutions, but a good salesperson knows the benefit of going the extra mile.
Say you’re selling perfume, and your potential customer says they’ve developed a rash from fragrances in the past. You should take this as a cue to ask questions about their allergies or skin sensitivities and offer a product that won’t cause an adverse reaction. After all, you want your customer coming back for repeat purchases—nobody’s coming back if you give them hives.
To build rapport with a prospective buyer, it’s important to be human. It’s much easier to trust someone who’s friendly and easygoing than someone who’s standoffish or overly pushy.
Some key ways to balance your professional demeanor:
- – Smile often to radiate a positive attitude.
- – If you’re stressed, take a moment to calm down before your meeting. The customer will likely pick up on your negative energy if you enter the conversation feeling anxious, which may reduce their confidence in the information you’re providing.
- – Show a genuine interest in your customer. Remind yourself that you could make a positive difference in their life with your company’s product or service, and you’ll naturally approach the interaction in a friendly, enthusiastic manner. Consumers today appreciate authenticity, and many will be able to tell if you’re actually invested in their needs or just trying to make a sale.
By being kind, confident, authentic, and curious, you should be able to organically build a connection with your prospect.
Prepare for objections
Objections are a part of sales, no matter how personal or how cold. Just because you think your product is great doesn’t mean your customer will at first. With personal selling, you must be ready to justify your product’s value while keeping the customer’s unique needs in mind. It’s not just about canned responses. Your customer must know how their specific concerns will be addressed.
Say you sell sweaters, but your customer insists he already has too many winter clothes. You could jump in and insist that you can never have enough sweaters, but that’s generic.
Instead, pivot quickly and explain why your sweater is more durable and versatile than other cold-weather clothing. Plus, it’s machine-washable, so it’s easy to wear multiple times on the ski trips your prospect mentioned he loved. Remember, it’s not how your product solves everyone’s problems—it’s how it solves that buyer’s problems.
Prepare to answer your potential customer’s challenging questions and assuage their doubts. Study up on the product you’re selling and know what makes it better than others on the market. Practice communicating your value proposition and highlighting the benefits of your product and how they relate to the prospect’s needs.
Advantages of a personal sales strategy
We’ve established that one of the key advantages of personal selling is that it allows you to build relationships with potential customers in real-time. You’re able to address their questions right away, which helps create trust. At the same time, you’re gathering critical information about each buyer’s unique needs.
But personal selling comes with other perks. With personal selling, you can:
Personal selling gives you the chance to handle objections from potential buyers and convince them that your product or service is worth their money. You’ll also be able to answer questions upfront, such as the time it’ll take to implement and whether any training is required.
Suppose you’re communicating with a potential customer asynchronously over email. The customer says they don’t want to try your software because they’ve already tried a similar product from a competitor. You can send an email explaining what makes your product unique, but the customer may have already chosen to stay with the competitor by the time they see your message.
The longer an objection sits in the brain, the bigger and more insurmountable it appears. With personal selling, you’re in a much better position to overcome objections because you’re communicating synchronously. You can explain what differentiates your product and why it’s well-suited to the prospect’s needs. If pricing is the issue, you could offer them a discount or suggest a payment plan that accommodates their budget.
Upsell and cross-sell
Once you’ve developed an ongoing relationship with a customer, you may notice when they’re ready for an upsell or a cross-sell that can provide them with even more value. You could send them an email suggesting different options, but there’s a good chance the customer will ignore it in their overflowing inbox.
By speaking directly with a customer over the phone or in person, you have a better shot at explaining the value of the upgrade or additional item. Based on what they share about their initial impressions, you can tailor your sales pitch around their needs.
Imagine you’re selling hair products, and a current customer tells you their hair is dry. You could offer them a more expensive shampoo that deeply moisturizes hair (upsell), or you could suggest that they purchase a nourishing conditioner and a fortifying hair mask (cross-sell) to help with the dryness. Knowing your customers lets you hone in on promotion opportunities in an organic way.
Let tech do the busywork so you can focus on personal selling
Nothing beats person-to-person interactions. Mastering the art of personal selling will help you close more sales more smoothly. And using a sales CRM like Zendesk Sell makes it easier to engage in personal selling with your most qualified leads.
With Zendesk Sell, you can store the names and data of potential and current customers in a centralized database, track every interaction, add calendars and appointments, create personalized quotes, and more. Our powerful sales CRM reduces busy work so you can spend more time face-to-face with your most valuable resource: your customers.Request a demo of Zendesk Sell today.
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