Hard Selling vs. Soft Selling: Which Approach Do You Use With Clients?

814456_business_card_2“Are you going to buy this or what?” the clerk at the hardware store asked me yesterday, nodding at the new garden shovel I was holding in my hand. The frankness of the question put me off at first, but the urgency in his voice prompted me to act. I bought it.

Was he being rude or was it a sales tactic? I don’t know, but it worked. This got me thinking about my own approach to selling my freelance services. Could I get away with saying something similar to a potential client? I can imagine some of them getting turned off, while I can picture others saying “yes.” I wouldn’t dare try it, of course. The sales process is my least favorite part of online freelancing.

Still, whether we’re providing products or services, we can’t escape being a sales person from time to time. This is why we need to be aware of the different approaches we could use when making a sale.

Hard Selling

Hard sell strategies are aggressive and usually put a high amount of pressure on the client. The clerk who sold me the shovel is a simple example. Other tactics include cold calls, forceful sales letters, and unsolicited pitches. You’re there to sell, they know it, and you know it — there’s no gray area.

The main advantage of hard selling is that it gets straight to the point. This is especially important for clients who are ready to buy and aren’t looking around to do a few more meetings. The decision should be made now, and you want to step up and offer yourself as a part of their team.

The problem with the hard sell is that when it’s done too aggressively, your attempt to help will be seen as an annoyance. This plays a big role, especially if you’re working with small businesses that are savvy to such sales techniques. No matter how genuine your offer is, it might come off sounding like a scam.

Soft Selling

Soft selling focuses on the relationship-building aspect of sales. You don’t put psychological pressure on potential buyers. Instead, you find passive ways to show them that you have the solutions they need.

In online freelancing, this could be done through your blog, by providing a free ebook or white paper, or even by participating in online discussions. With all the available online tools for these, it’s no wonder that this tends to be the approach chosen by more tech-savvy freelancers.

A study released by New Century Media in October 2007 showed user buying behavior after being exposed to informational and educational resources that were actually soft selling efforts from businesses. According to the study, consumers were 30 percent more willing to buy a product through non-direct advertising rather than media advertising. Not only that, consumers exposed to this method of advertising were 97 percent more likely to tell their friends about it, and 95 percent more likely to repeat their experience with the business.

There is, however, such a thing as taking an approach that’s “too soft.” You might spend so much energy on updating your personal blog that you forget to use it as a platform for selling your services. Or you could be spending so much time Tweeting with your potential clients that you don’t make firm, actionable proposals that will bring you recurring revenue in exchange for your efforts. Being too gentle with your sales approach might also give clients the impression that you’re not too confident about your services, or that you’re just not interested in working with them.

Soft selling may work in some cases, but it doesn’t make sense to apply those tactics to all of your clients, regardless of where they are in their buying cycle and what services you’re trying to sell. Find out the conditions that make soft selling work and apply it there, but don’t waste your time and effort using these techniques exclusively.

Call To Action

Whatever approach you use, there’s one thing you should always do at the end: ask for the order. From a simple “Will we be working together on this project?” to the more overt “Buy Now!”, there should always be a call to action at the end to indicate the start of a working relationship. Without it, your approach won’t even count as “selling.”

What experiences did you have with hard selling or soft selling? Which approach works better for you?

Image by Steve Woods from sxc.hu