Article

Personal selling 101: What it is and how to do it well

Use personal selling to discover what customers really want and need from your brand.

By Cristina Maza, Contributing Writer

Published August 31, 2021
Last updated September 27, 2021

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. Additionally, 90 percent indicated they found personalization appealing.

Personalization often begins long before a consumer even considers making a purchase. You must first capture their attention through lead generation techniques and then maintain that interest by providing relevant, personalized content and showcasing how your company can solve their problems.

Of course, you can’t provide this level of personalization unless you truly know your customer. To gain that deep understanding, sales agents should meet with potential customers one-on-one. The act of personal selling will help you discover what customers really want and need from your brand.

What is personal selling?

Personal selling definition: When a sales representative meets with a potential customer to nurture them until they make a purchase.

Personal selling usually happens face-to-face, but it can also take place over phone or video. Direct contact distinguishes personal selling from other sales and marketing strategies, like public relations or automated sales calls that tout your company’s products or services.

Think of the personal selling process as getting to know someone like you would a friend or potential romantic interest who you consistently follow up with. You’re discovering details about what the person likes, dislikes, and needs. And in the case of personal selling, you’re also learning about the motivations behind their purchasing decisions.

During this one-on-one interaction, focus on building a sincere relationship with the potential customer rather than on 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 and learn more about their pain points and what they’re looking for in a solution. Listen carefully to their concerns and see how your company’s products or services can help them.

Say you sell mattresses. You might find out your customer’s sleeping preferences by asking:

  • 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?

Sure, you could collect answers to these questions through a survey, but you’ll receive a limited response. Personal selling is unique because it entails exchanging back-and-forth information and allows you to dive a little deeper so you can provide that personalized touch.

If a customer’s answer doesn’t make sense, for instance, or if you’d like more clarification, you can ask for more details from the prospective buyer on the spot. You can also tailor your responses, sales strategy, and suggestions to what they’re telling 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 and eye movements to get a sense of how they feel about your product or service.

Why is personal selling important?

Unlike asynchronous communication, personal selling allows you to build relationships with potential customers in real-time. You’re able to address their questions or objections right away and in detail, which helps create trust. At the same time, you’re gathering critical information that empowers you to meet each buyer’s unique needs and customize your sales presentation accordingly. Personal selling also provides an opportunity to upsell or cross-sell existing customers.

You can overcome objections

Personal selling gives you the chance to handle objections from potential buyers and convince them that your product or service is worth their money, the time it’ll take to implement, the conversations they’ll need to have with their team, and so on.

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.

With personal selling, you’re in a much better position to overcome objections because you’re communicating in real-time. 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.

You can upsell and cross-sell customers

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.

Say 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 suggest that they purchase a nourishing conditioner and a fortifying hair mask (cross-sell) to help with the dryness.

3 top techniques for personal selling

top techniques for personal selling

Personal selling requires using your 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.

  1. Ask informed questions

    Questions are critical when it comes to personal selling. Customers’ responses help you gauge how your product or service might benefit them and what their pain points look like. What’s more, asking questions shows your customer that you’re interested in them and how your company can give them what they want.

    But it’s not enough to ask your prospect a lot of questions. You don’t want to take up their valuable time by asking for information that isn’t relevant to the sale. Instead, you want to ask questions based on what the buyer has already shared about their interests and needs. This investigation is essential, as it’s easy to lean on assumptions and offer potential customers uninformed solutions.

    Say you’re selling perfume, and your potential customer says they’ve broken out in a rash from fragrances in the past. You could ask questions about their allergies or skin sensitivities and offer a product that won’t cause an adverse reaction.

  2. Be personable

    To build rapport with a prospective buyer, be personable. It’s much easier to trust someone who’s friendly than someone who’s cold and standoffish.

        –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.

  3. Be prepared for objections

    Retailers often like to show off a new product. But 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.

    Say you sell sweaters, and your customer says he already has enough winter clothes. In that case, you can pivot and quickly explain why your sweater is more durable and versatile than other cold-weather clothing. That way, you won’t waste time telling him how your sweater will keep him warm.

    Prepare to answer your potential customer’s challenging questions, and assuage their doubts by studying up on the product you’re selling and knowing 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.

Carve out time for personal selling

While personal selling requires a lot of time and effort, it’s such an effective sales tactic that it’ll likely pay off in the long run.

It’s understandable to try to save time and money by automating most processes. But even if you have a robust, automated system that allows you to make sales pitches and interact with customers asynchronously, use personal selling as often as possible. You’ll be able to offer the personalized experience that buyers are looking for and boost your bottom line.

Nothing beats person-to-person interactions—mastering the art of personal selling will help you close more sales, more smoothly. Using a sales CRM like Zendesk Sell makes it easier to engage in personal selling with your most qualified leads. 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.

The ultimate guide to sales email automation

To beat the competition, prepare your reps to engage with leads through effective email automation.