Personal Selling and Direct/Interactive Marketing

Personal selling can be the most effective way of influencing the behaviors of buyers or message recipients as it is a direct face-to-face interactive selling technique. It is, however, a very expensive tool to be applied across the board rather than one that seeks to impact key buyers. It is a method now widely used in business-to-business interactions. During the 1960s and 1970s it was very popular, with personal sellers knocking on every household’s door to demonstrate and sell their products effectively. Today, this technique has been replaced by e-mail marketing and the interactive marketing tools of the digital world. Because it can easily be personalized and is very interactive, personal selling is very effective at generating customer attention and can be highly persuasive. However, it can also trigger privacy concerns if it is not conducted appropriately.

Every personal selling process starts by defining the needs and wants of buyers, then proposes and implements a solution for the buyer and finally follows up the buyer at the post-purchase stage. Personal selling is a very persuasive technique that can be perceived as highly manipulative. In traditional selling, success was measured by the amount of sales made, but these kinds of sales tactics can be seen as pushy. It is important to look at the various stages of personal selling in order to develop non-manipulative and truthful experiences for both seller and buyer (see Fig. 6.8).

As can be seen from Fig. 6.8, there are four main steps in personal selling: determining the buyer’s needs; finding solutions; implementing and demonstrating solutions; and following up with the buyer post purchase. In a traditional or manipulative selling mentality, as illustrated by the red lines in Fig. 6.8, a salesperson’s success depends to a great extent on how much need they can create for a buyer even in cases where buyers do not need the product. In other words, a salesperson needs manipulative sales tactics in order to create a need that is non-existent and/or unnecessary. Such approaches are unacceptable in today’s world, where consumers demand two-way communication and mutual understanding (Alessandara et al. 1979). Once the consumer finds the product they need as a result of non-manipulative sales tactics—shown by the blue lines in Fig. 6.8—they engage in communication with the salesperson about the product and the rest of the sales process is concluded smoothly. This major paradigm shift from traditional selling to non-manipulative selling techniques has become of particular importance with the advent of digital shopping. Finally, in traditional selling processes, the salesperson

Mentality shift in personal selling process

Fig. 6.8 Mentality shift in personal selling process

generally provides less support as their goal is about sales, not about building the long-lasting relationship which is critical for industrial (B2B) markets. Post-purchase support and communication become more important in non-manipulative selling approaches, as communication also reduces potential cognitive dissonance.

During any personal selling processes, the salesperson’s goal is to eliminate the buyer’s concerns, providing a smooth and easy shopping experience. The buyer’s concerns generally focus on the perceived risks of buying the product, the price ofthe product/service, whether the product is meeting a genuine need, and how to reach satisfactory or whatever kinds of solution will ultimately benefit the consumer at the end of this transaction. Thus, salespeople need to focus on many issues to develop a successful selling process.

At the beginning of the process, the perceived risk of buying the product is not that high, as the consumer is generally not ready, not sure or not involved in the product/service. But the more time is spent on the process, the more real the purchase amount and price become, at which point consumers may start feeling some risks and perhaps some pressure. Price is always an important factor, and most of the time buyers try to get more concrete ideas about the risk they are taking. Price, in this context, is of moderate importance at the beginning, but becomes less so in the middle of the conversation if the consumers become more involved in calculations. If consumers make up their mind about the potential risk of buying this product at the potential price, they will start questioning what kind of benefits they get as a result of the exchange. This, in turn, increases the importance of potential solutions related to the product especially in the middle of the conversation. At the final stage, if the consumer gets serious, that eventually increases the importance of price-related concerns in a non-manipulative selling process (see Fig. 6.9).

In any sales presentation, the challenge is to keep the buyer’s attention at the highest level all the time. The seller needs to develop the communication and interaction tactics needed to persuade the receiver to purchase, especially in the middle of the process when the buyer’s attention might wander. At the beginning of the conversation, the product or service is new and fresh and the buyer’s attention is at normal levels. They are interested in the product and willing to learn more about its benefits. Their attention level, moderate at the beginning of the selling process, is shown by the message retention curve in Fig. 6.10.

In the middle of the sales conversation, the buyer’s attention starts to flag as they become tired of the constant flow of information from the seller. Moriarty and Duncan (1995) comment: “‘keeping attention is harder than getting attentionIn the middle stages, everything depends on the salesperson’s ability to communicate and maintain a conversation. In fact, salespeople are also advised to generate dramatic effects by changing the pace of the conversation, using visual presentations, exaggerating

Align with the buyer’s shifting concerns Source

Fig. 6.9 Align with the buyer’s shifting concerns Source: Bosworth (1995)

Message retention curve

Fig. 6.10 Message retention curve

Source: Adapted from: Moriarty and Duncan (1995)

some statements, and asking questions to improve interactivity and maximize the attention and involvement of the customer. In general, the attention level of customers returns to normal (or “moderate”) at the end of the conversation, as the receiver gets excited on seeing the key points summarized and resolved. The resultant retention curve is represented in Fig. 6.10.

In any sales process, the consumer’s commitment to the product and interest in purchasing communication are generally lower than the salesperson’s expectations at the first contact. Sales personnel need to work hard to develop communication and interaction so that they can deliver the product message to the buyer. However, soon after the buyer has committed to purchase the product, the roles might eventually be reversed (see Fig. 6.11).

Buyers become more committed to the product as they invest money and time in it. Their expectations remain higher even when the salesperson thinks their job is done. This is the stage where manipulative and nonmanipulative sales mentalities differ, as previously discussed (see Fig. 6.8). This potential interest and commitment gap between buyer and seller is called the relationship gap (see Fig. 6.11). The bigger the relationship gap,

Post-sale relationship gap Source

Fig. 6.11 Post-sale relationship gap Source: Del Gaizo et al. (2004)

the less likely the buyer is to stay with the company, switching perhaps to an alternative and generating loud and negative word of mouth in the market. The salesperson’s job is not over when the sale is concluded; it actually becomes more important as both sides enter a new interactive communication phase, seeking ultimate customer satisfaction. The salesperson who neglects the buyer relationship at the post-purchase stage eventually creates a one-time-only sales experience.

In the digital marketplace of today, many online companies are fighting for consumers’ attention and interest as switching costs for consumers are very low in digital markets. Post-purchase follow-ups are becoming more important as sellers can now easily develop deeper and stronger relationships with their digital-market consumers.

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