In the past few tutorials we saw how marketers can use advertising, sales promotion and public relations to reach a large number of customers. While these methods of promotion offer many advantages, they each share one major disadvantage: they are a non-personal form of communication. And whether a company is in retailing or manufacturing, sells goods or services, is a large multinational or a local startup, is out to make a profit or is a non-profit, in all probability at some point they will need to rely on personal contact with customers. In other words, they will need to promote using personal selling. Unfortunately, personal selling is widely misunderstood. For instance, many customers think salespeople possess traits that include being manipulative, arrogant, aggressive and greedy. While many marketers believe salespeople are only out to make a quick sale intended to increase their income and that they often do this by making unscrupulous deals undermining the marketer’s attempt to build strong brands. While there certainly are some salespeople that fit these descriptions, today the most successful salespeople are those who work hard to understand their customers’ needs with the ultimate goal of ensuring that customer’s needs are satisfied at a high level. And, more importantly, personal selling holds a key role in the promotional activities of a large number of organizations. In fact, in the business market where one company sells products to another company, money spent to support the selling function far exceeds spending on advertising. In this part of our highly detailed Principles of Marketing Tutorials, we begin a two-part look at personal selling. We will continue our coverage of personal selling in the next tutorial when we discuss the selling process used to obtain a customer order.
What is Personal Selling?
Personal selling is a promotional method in which one party (e.g., salesperson) uses skills and techniques for building personal relationships with another party (e.g., those involved in a purchase decision) that results in both parties obtaining value. In most cases the "value" for the salesperson is realized through the financial rewards of the sale while the customer’s "value" is realized from the benefits obtained by consuming the product. However, getting a customer to purchase a product is not always the objective of personal selling. For instance, selling may be used for the purpose of simply delivering information. Because selling involves personal contact, this promotional method often occurs through face-to-face meetings or via a telephone conversation, though newer technologies allow contact to take place over the Internet including using video conferencing or text messaging (e.g., online chat). Among marketing jobs, more are employed in sales positions than any other marketing-related occupation. In the U.S. alone, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that over 14 million or about 11% of the overall labor force are directly involved in selling and sales-related positions. Worldwide this figure may be closer to 100 million. Yet these figures vastly under-estimate the number of people who are actively engaged in some aspect of selling as part of their normal job responsibilities. While millions of people can easily be seen as holding sales jobs, the promotional techniques used in selling are also part of the day-to-day activities of many who are usually not directly associated with selling.
For instance, top corporate executives whose job title is CEO or COO are continually selling their company to major customers, stock investors, government officials and many other stakeholders. The techniques they employ to gain benefits for their company are the same used by the front-line salesperson to sell to a small customer. Consequently, our discussion of the promotional value of personal selling has implications beyond marketing and sales departments....