Personal Selling Basics
What is Personal Selling?
We all know, or at least have an impression, of what personal selling entails. As a general rule, college students tend to be somewhat negatively predisposed toward personal selling, particularly as a career. As such, in addition to explaining a variety of personal selling concepts and explaining personal selling’s role in the promotion mix, a goal for these notes is to dispel some of these negative impressions by emphasizing that reputable employers hire and train reputable salespeople. Much of personal selling’s sometimes unsavory reputation originates in the cultures of unsavory businesses rather than in personal selling itself.
I define personal selling as “the face-to-face process of a company representative (or small group of representatives) and a customer identifying customer problems and solving them through the purchase and application of the representative’s products.” This definition suggests several comments about personal selling. First, it is dyadic in nature. Dyadic simply means of or relating to two people. Thus, personal selling revolves around a marketing relationship developed between two people. Frequently, personal salespeople enlist the help of others in their organizations to sell to and service customers. And just as frequently, personal salespeople find themselves making presentations to small groups of people or working with multiple individuals within customers’ firms. However, ultimately a successful marketing relationship is built by two people – one person selling and person buying. Successful salespeople identify that person early on and work to win their trust and confidence.
Second, personal selling is a process, not a single activity. And done correctly, the process continues indefinitely. Salespeople, sales managers, and others inside the seller’s organization frequently see the selling process as culminating or ending with a signed order. However, in these days of so-called “relationship marketing” and “customer relationship management” successful organizations recognize that signed orders simply represent one point of positive feedback in an ongoing and continuous process. Third, personal selling is highly interactive. In advertising, information flow occurs initially in a one-way direction. What feedback the advertiser receives arrives late – well after an advertisement has aired. Moreover, without costly research, the attitudinal effects of advertising may never be known. In personal selling, feedback is largely
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instantaneous and continuous. The two-way flow of information that characterizes personal selling creates a communication channel rich with information, much of it nonverbal. Effective personal salespeople become adept at interpreting this information quickly and adapting their responses to it.
Finally, personal selling is about problem solving. As the marketing concept is adopted by more and more firms, the emphasis of personal salespeople will be more on identifying customers with a true need for the firm’s products and applying those products to solve customer problems. Less emphasis will be placed on simply making a sale. The focus on problem solving in personal selling reflects a larger trend toward building relationships between customers and clients. Marketers know that to develop these relationships, they must be willing to forego short term gains, particularly when the salesperson realizes that at that moment a purchase might not be in the customer’s best interests.
Exhibit 1 below summarizes the shift in emphases taking place in personal selling. Previous Emphasis
“create” customer needs
makes sales pitches to manipulate customers
make immediate sale
selling process ends with completed sale
discover customer needs
listen to and communicate...
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