Geoff Bogan

When it comes to sales, most people think in terms of their worst experiences. We all have a story about the overly aggressive salesperson or the customer service rep pushing just a little too hard to sell us on those extra channels we’re never actually going to watch. At previous companies I’ve worked for, the hard sell wasn’t a suggestion, it was the expectation. But when I joined the team at Firespring, I was surprised to find a different approach.

On my first day I was handed the book Soft Selling in a Hard World by Jerry Vass. The soft sell isn’t anything new, but Vass provides an eye-opening look at the benefits of implementing a soft touch to any sales force. However, my most unexpected takeaway from Vass’ book was how familiar the method was and I realized I’ve been using this same strategy in how I try to parent.

Flanking the Armor

Vass introduces the use of probes, or questions meant to get around the natural guards your customers have built up over years of hard selling tactics. As a parent I’ve used this strategy time and time again. We try and avoid yes or no questions in favor of open-ended ones. I never ask, “Did you have a good day at school?” I’d only get a one syllable response back with no explanation. But if I ask, “What happened at school today?” I get a pretty decent run-through of the day’s events.

Your customers are no different. By asking open-ended questions you can uncover problems, even some they may not have realized were there. This will allow your customers to feel more engaged and when you uncover a problem, you can offer a solution.

Features or Benefits

But how do you sell your solution to their problem? The hard sell advertises features guaranteed to knock your socks off, but it often leaves you disappointed with your socks still firmly on your feet. Vass argues against the use of features to make your sale, opting instead for the benefits to the customer.

Your customer is interested in their money, time and effort. Benefits answer the customer’s question of, “What’s in it for me?” In parenting terms it’s the equivalent of explaining your kid can burn themselves on the stove and it’s probably going to hurt instead of only pointing out it’s hot. It’s explaining that even though the apple tastes delicious, it’s also a healthy snack for the benefit of their nutrition.

But be prepared to prove it. Proof statements go a long way in easing your customer’s doubts by presenting them with cold, hard facts. These facts help represent you and your product with more integrity. Once you have your facts straight you can apply them to how they benefit your customer.

Avoid the Hype

My daughter often asks me questions I don’t have answers to. I could pretend to know it all out of the fear she’ll learn her dad isn’t infallible, but I take it as a learning experience for both of us. If I don’t know the answer I’ll at least try to find it. With your customers, it’s easy to embellish your abilities out of fear you’ll lose their business, but the honest approach truly is the best one. The soft sell steers clear of puffery and hype, and embellishment should be avoided at all costs.  

The idea is to gain your customers’ trust and build a mutually beneficial relationship. Hiding behind misleading or grandiose claims will only keep you from making those lasting impressions.

Putting It All Together

Soft Selling in a Hard World is an essential read for anyone interested in the soft sell. If you aren’t getting the results you want from your current sales force, it may be time to switch things up. With a solid soft selling strategy, you can develop strong probes to uncover the true needs of your customers, listen for problems you can solve and provide fact-based proof statements highlighting the benefits you can offer, and avoid flash and hype to build stronger relationships with your customer base and create honest long lasting impressions in your market.

Just like parenting, the soft sell is more than just a few tips here or there, but with a well-rounded plan to engage your customers, it may be worth considering.