Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Online Marketing: Can You Be Nice and Still Sell?

Recently, I've noticed a growing trend in sales and marketing talk...the idea that we can sell stuff online and still be nice. A new audio series I recently discovered is basing all its materials on this. An entrepreneur and small business woman prides herself on selling to people by hardly trying, and making the process nearly invisible.

The implication is that the traditional sales person isn't so nice, or rather is obnoxious, or aggressive, or almost forces you into buying something because you're deathly afraid of what will happen to you if you don't. Many entrepreneurs are building their online brands around the fact that they offer the "soft sell." They don't want to rush you. They want you to be comfortable in their world. They are willing to wait years before you will even entertain the thought of buying their course or e-book, and they will slave away for months working on free downloads to offer you first so they earn your trust. They want buyers to comment: "Wow, you're offering this for free? You must be nuts!"

Or, they want you to buy, but don't want you to think of it as buying. You are affirming a relationship, claiming a stake in the future, validating someone, or some thing, else. Investing in yourself.

As both a seller and a consumer, I agree I want to feel trust from the person I'm buying from, but if the product looks appealing and fills a need that I have, I don't need to wait 10 years to buy it, and I don't need to feel like the seller is going to be my best friend. Also, there is going to have to be a sense of urgency. The product is going to have to fulfill a need that I have now.

A great example of a "nice" online seller is Amazon.com. They do everything but place your item in your shopping cart for you. They track what items you research and offer you information about similar items. They tell you about upcoming sales and promotions in your area of interest, and similarly, what books others bought that match your search. They offer user testimonials on the third-party sellers they use, and discounts on shipping. They let you track your order, and have a fair return policy.

So whether the online seller is a company or a person, and even though I may wait until that last moment before the sale is over or the product goes offline, I will still buy it if I perceive it to be of value. I want the seller's online persona to be credible, clear, and concise. I want a specific description of what I'm getting and what will happen if I'm not satisfied after I order. If it is an individual seller, I am uncomfortable if they appear to be rushing me, or if they appear desperate. And even though their next car payment or mortgage may hinge on their sales success, I don't want to hear about it. If their product is that good and does what it says it will, no one needs to be worried.

So, is this a soft sell, or just a "get real" sell? Think about the last item you bought or sold online. What does it take for you to make successful sales, and what criteria do you need to make a purchase?

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