When you come across the phrase the art of the soft sell, you might focus your attention on the word “soft. " You might not even do this consciously; many salespeople don't.
And based on this unconscious focusing, you may lead yourself to believe that the difference between conventional selling and “soft" selling is. . . well, that you just do the latter softer.
That is, that you do what you've always done, but you say please a bit more, or you say it's really up to you, I'm not here to pressure you, I care more about you than the sale. . . and other things that, when we write them here in black and white, reveal themselves - perhaps a bit embarrassingly - to be what they are: “injected" politeness within a conventional sales approach. It's similar to how aggressive, direct-speech people come across when they first try to be “more diplomatic. " Instead of telling you that you're a total idiot, they say: please let me say that you're a total idiot.
Not very diplomatic, is it?
Nor is the above-described approach to soft-selling very soft. The reason? It's all about that unconscious focusing. It's on the wrong word.
The word to care about here is art; because soft selling really is an art! Just as how you are allowed to look at art and derive your own, personal meaning - the artist EMPOWERS you to do that - true soft selling also has to follow the same path. It has to EMPOWER prospects to build their own meaning, to assess their own value, and to determine - on their own - if you're selling the solution that they want.
Naturally, you can - and should - assist prospects on their journey of meaning-making. Just as painters don't offer you a blank painting and say: go ahead and paint whatever you want, I'm easy, you have a variety of tools and techniques at your disposal to usher your prospect towards a favorable destination (a. k. a. doing business with you). These tools and techniques include:
1. free, unbiased articles, newsletters, white papers, and other information sources that help your prospect become a better buyer (even if they don't buy from you)
2. providing a free assessment or evaluation that will be valuable to your prospect even if they decide to do business elsewhere (or perhaps not at all)
3. paying careful attention to your prospect, and accurately interpreting non-verbal “busy signals" so you know to back off before they ask you to give them more time
4. while promoting the benefits of your solution, honestly and openly share the limitations too; your prospect KNOWS that limitations exist - fill in the blanks with reality, instead of leaving it up to your prospects (potentially pessimistic) imagination
5. ensure that your prospect “saves face" - don't position your selling effort so that your prospect feels “stupid" or “unclear" if they don't do business with you right now
Remember, the key word in the art of soft-selling is the word art, and art is, by its very nature, EMPOWERING. As a “soft seller, " you must truly empower your prospect. Anything less isn't merely not soft selling, but worse, it's not artistic.
And crimes against art are hardly forgivable, in galleries or sales efforts alike.
Adrian Miller is a sales trainer and consultant. Her firm provides customized sales training and strategy solutions for companies nationwide. Adrian recently published “The Blatant Truth: 50 Ways to Sales Success" and her by-line can be found on articles in many business publications