Personal selling: Definition, Types, Kills, Pros and Cons!

Personal selling: Definition, Types, Kills, Pros and Cons!


The basic philosophy underlying the approach to personal selling adopted in this book is that selling should be an extension of the marketing concept. This implies that for long-term survival it is in the best interests of the salesperson and their company to identify customer needs and aid customer decision-making by selecting from the product range those products that best fit the customer’s requirements. This philosophy of selling is in line with Weitz and the contingency framework, which suggests that the sales interview gives an unparalleled opportunity to match behavior to the specific customer interaction that is encountered. This is called ‘adaptive selling’ since the salesperson adapts their approach according to the specific situation and it has been found to be a growing way of conducting sales interactions.

Its importance is supported by research by Jaramillo et al. (2007) which showed that adaptive selling was associated with salespeople’s performance (as measured by their attainment of sales quotas).3 This is not to deny the importance of personal persuasion. In the real world, it is unlikely that a product has clear advantages over its competition on all points, and it is clearly part of the selling function for the salesperson to emphasize those superior features and benefits that the product possesses.

However, the model for personal selling advocated here is that of a salesperson acting as a need identifier and problem-solver. The view of the salesperson as being a slick, fast-talking confidence trickster is unrealistic in a world where most sellers depend on repeat business and where a high proportion of selling is conducted with professional buyers.

Saxe and Weitz (1982) defined customer-orientated selling as ‘the degree to which salespeople practice the marketing concept by trying to help their customers make purchase decisions that will satisfy customer needs’.

They characterized customer-orientated selling as:

  1. The desire to help customers make satisfactory purchase decisions.
  2. Helping customers assess their needs.
  3. Offering products that will satisfy those needs.
  4. Describing products accurately.
  5. Avoiding deceptive or manipulative influence tactics.
  6. Avoiding the use of high-pressure sales techniques.

In order to foster customer-orientated selling, companies need to develop a corporate culture that views understanding customers and creating value for them as being central to their philosophy, and to use evaluation procedures that include measurement of the support given to customers, customer satisfaction with salesperson interactions, and the degree to which salespeople are perceived by customers to behave ethically. In addition, companies should include ethics in sales training courses, and employ sales managers who are willing to promote and enforce ethical codes and policies.

Research studies have shown that successful selling is associated with the following:

  • asking questions;
  • providing product information, making comparisons and offering evidence to support claims;
  • acknowledging the customer’s viewpoint;
  • agreeing with the customer’s perceptions;
  • supporting the customer;
  • releasing tension;
  • having a richer, more detailed knowledge of customers;
  • increased effort; and
  • confidence in one’s own ability.

These important findings should be borne in mind by salespeople when in a sales interview. They also suggest that sales training can improve sales performance, not only by improving skills but by enhancing the self-confidence of the trainees in their perceived ability to perform well.

When developing their personal selling skills, salespeople should also be aware of the characteristics desired by salespeople by buyers. Research has shown a number of key factors and these are displayed in Table 8.1.

As with the development of all skills, the theoretical approach described in this chapter needs to be supplemented by practical experience. Many companies use role-playing to provide new salespeople with the opportunity to develop their skills in a situation where sales trainees can observe and correct behavior.

In order to develop personal selling skills it is useful to distinguish seven phases of the selling process, shown in Figure 8.1. These phases need not occur in the order shown. Objections may be raised during a presentation or during the negotiation and a trial close may be attempted at any point during the presentation if buyer interest is high. Furthermore, negotiation may or may not take place or may occur during any of the stages. As Moncrief and Marshall (2005) report:

The evolved selling process assumes that the salesperson typically will perform the various steps of the process in some form, but the steps (phases) do not occur for each sales call. Rather, they occur over time, accomplished by multiple people within the selling firm, and not necessarily in any given sequence.

Key characteristics of salespeople desired by buyers
Table 8.1 Key characteristics of salespeople desired by buyers
The personal selling process
Figure 8.1 The personal selling process

What is Personal Selling?

Personal selling refers to the presentation of goods and services before the customers and convincing or persuading them to buy the products or services. After having an idea about personal selling, let us know about some of the essential elements of personal selling.

They show certain variety of goods to you, try to explain the features of the products, if required demonstrate the functioning of the items, inform you about the price concession available, persuade you to buy the product and also in some cases promises you to bring certain items of your choice in future. So not only do they inform and explain to you about the product but also persuade you to buy those items and want you to buy from them in the future also. On the other hand, you also gather more information about the product, see and handle it personally to judge it better.

The person who sells goods to you in this way is called a ‘salesman’ and the technique of selling is known as ‘personal selling’ or ‘salesmanship’. Thus, personal selling refers to the presentation of goods before the potential buyers and persuading them to purchase it. It involves face-to-face interaction and physical verification of the goods to be purchased. The objective is not only just to sell the product to a person but also to make him/her a permanent customer.

You can also find personal selling in some shops where salesmen are employed by the shopkeeper to use this technique. For example, you can find such salesmen in jewelry stores, consumer goods stores, saree houses, etc. In the case of some services, we also find personal selling used in shops.

For example, we find people going to the same barbershop to cut their hair and get a massage from a specific barber. This shows that in the case of personal selling the seller usually comes to know about the taster and preferences of the customer and thus attracts him to buy the goods or services.

After having an idea about personal selling, let us know about some of the essential elements of personal selling.

Essential elements of Personal Selling

Personal selling consists of the following elements:

Face-to-Face interaction:

Personal selling involves salesmen having face-to-face interaction with prospective buyers.


Personal selling requires persuasion on the part of the seller to prospective customers to buy the product. So a salesman must have the ability to convince the customers so that interest may be created in the mind of the customers to use that product.


The approach of personal selling is always flexible. Sometimes salesman may explain the features and benefits of the product, sometimes give a demonstration of the use of the product and also faces a number of queries from the customers. Looking into the situation and interest of the customers, the approach of the salesman is decided instantly.

Promotion of sales:

The ultimate objective of personal selling is to promote sales by convincing more and more customers to use the product.

Supply of Information:

Personal selling provides various information to the customers regarding the availability of the product, special features, uses and utility of the products. So it is an educative process.

Mutual Benefit:

It is a two-way process. Both sellers and buyers derive benefits from it. While customers feel satisfied with the goods, the seller enjoys the profits.

Importance of Personal Selling

Personal Selling is extremely important as it helps in increasing sales. But there are other features as well which make it important. Let us discuss the importance of personal selling from the point of view of manufactures as well as consumers.

From the manufacturer’s point of view

  • It creates demand for products both new as well as existing ones.
  • It creates new customers and, thus helps in expanding the market for the product.
  • It leads to product improvement. While selling personally the seller gets acquainted with the choice and demands of customers and makes suggestions accordingly to the manufacturer.

From the customer’s point of view

  • Personal selling provides an opportunity for consumers to know about new products introduced in the market. Thus, it informs and educates consumers about new products.
  • It is because of personal selling that customers come to know about the use of new products in the market. The sellers demonstrate the product before the prospective buyers and explain the use and utility of the products.
  • Personal selling also guides customers in selecting goods best suited to their requirements and tastes as it involves face-to-face communication.
  • Personal selling gives an opportunity to the customers to put forward their complaints and difficulties in using the product and get the solution immediately.

Types of Personal Selling

Intermediaries – selling offerings onward through a channel network to other resellers, who then sell the offering to other members closer to the end-users. e.g. hairdresser branded products that are sold to hair salons, who in turn on-sell them to their clients.

Industrial – main type of selling is B2B marketing & requires selling of components & parts to others for assembly/incorporation within larger offerings. e.g. auto/car part manufacturers who sell car parts to car manufacturing companies who use the parts in the cars they build and then sell.

Professional – requires ideas and offering to advance to specifiers & influencers. They will then incorporate the offering in projects they are developing. e.g. Beauty and healthcare brands who give promotional products to beauty and lifestyle bloggers/vloggers, who in turn use or mention the products in their blogs and vlogs.

Consumer – this form of personal selling requires contact with the retail trade &/or the end-user consumer.

Tasks of Personal Selling

The order aspect of the PS tool is one of four order related tasks:

  • Order takers – are salespersons to whom customers are drawn at the place of supply. e.g. service and wait staff at restaurants, ticket sellers at theme parks.
  • Order getters – are salespeople who operate away from the organization & who attempt to gain orders, through the provision of info, use of demos techniques & the art of persuasion e.g. product demonstrators in supermarkets.
  • Order collectors – are those who attempt to gather orders without physically meeting their customers. This is done electronically or over the phone. e.g. telemarketers or eCommerce sellers.
  • Order supporters – are all those people who are secondary salespersons in that they are involved with the order once it e.g. order processing or financial advice services

Roles of Personal Selling

Personal selling is often referred to as interpersonal communication and from this perspective, Reid et al. (2002) determined three major sales behaviors:

  • Getting information – sales behaviors aimed at info acquisition, e.g. gathering information about customers, markets & competitors.
  • Giving information – dissemination of info to customers & other stakeholders, e.g. sales presentations & seminar meetings designed to provide info about products & an organization’s capabilities & reputation.
  • Using information – sales person’s use of info to help solve a customer’s problem.

Pros and Cons of Personal Selling

Pros of Personal Selling

  • Dyadic communication allows for two-way interaction -> provides for fast, direct feedback & allows the receiver to focus attn. on the salesperson with reduced likelihood of distraction or noise
  • Greater level of participation in the decision process by vendor
  • When combined with the power to tailor messages in response to buyer’s feedback, this sales process has huge potential to solve customer problems

Cons of Personal Selling

  • Cost per contact is extremely high
  • Must find alternative means of communicating messages and improve the amount of time sales personnel spend with prospects & customers
  • Reach & frequency through personal selling are low regardless of funds
  • Control over message delivery is low -> possible message inconsistency can lead to confusion = ramifications can be enormous in money + time costs
  • The relationship can be jeopardized through poor & inconsistent communications

When to use Personal Selling

Complexity: PS is very important when relationship complexity is medium to a high level as PS can convey the product benefits more clearly, the buyer can see product demo & touch/ taste product for themselves; explanations of anything buyer is concerned about or product use environment-related can be made. e.g. buyers want to hire caterers for a special event, PS helps to answer questions they may have about special dietary needs and allows them to sample menu options.

Buyer significance: the significance of product to buyers in the target market is a very important factor in the decision of whether to use PS – significance can be measured as a form of risk and risk is assoc. with benefits & cost

Communication effectiveness: there are a no. of other ways to satisfy a campaign’s comm objectives other than ps. The best case to us ps is when advertising and / or other tool or medium provides insufficient comms.-> when advertising media cannot provide buyers with the info they require to make purchasing decisions. E.g. buying a house, online and newspaper adverts of houses for sale include photos/videos, dimensions, features, location info, etc. but are lacking in info about property history and details concerning current owners’ inclinations to negotiate on sales details. PS helps bridge this gap.


Personal Selling Process

Personal Selling Process
Personal Selling Process

Qualities of salesperson engaged in Personal Selling

It is very difficult to enlist the qualities of people engaged in personal selling. The quality will vary from time to time and from situation to situation. It also depends upon the customers’ demand and nature of the product. Again a salesman may be effective in one situation but may fail in another situation. So in real life, certain qualities may be suitable for a particular line of product and maybe irrelevant in any other case. However, there are certain common qualities, which every salesman should possess in order to become successful in their life. These qualities are listed below.

  1. Physical Quality
  2. Mental Quality
  3. Integrity of character
  4. Knowledge of the product and the company
  5. Good behavior
  6. Ability to persuade

Now let us discuss the above qualities in detail.

Physical quality: A salesman should have a good appearance and an impressive personality. He should also have sound health.

Mental quality: A good salesman should possess certain mental qualities like imagination, initiative, self-confidence, sharp memory, alertness, etc. He should be able to understand the needs and preferences of customers.

The integrity of character: A good salesman should possess the qualities of honesty and integrity. He is to gain the confidence of the customers. He should be able to understand their needs and guide them on how to satisfy those needs. His employer too should have faith in him. A salesman should be loyal both to the employer and to the customers.

Knowledge of the product and the company: A salesman should have full knowledge of the product and the company he is representing. He should be able to explain each and every aspect of the product i.e. its qualities, how to use it, what precautions to be taken, etc. He should be able to explain the business and service record of the company. He should also have knowledge of the products of rival companies. So that he can put across the superiority of his own products.

Good behavior: A salesman should be co-operative and courteous. Good behaviour enables one to win the confidence of the customers. He should not feel irritated if the buyer puts up many questions even if the questions are irrelevant. It is also not necessary that the person he is trying to convince buys the product. The salesman has to remain and courteous in every case.

Ability to persuade: A good salesman should be good in conversation so that he can engage the person he is attending in conversation. He should be able to convince him and create the desire in his mind to possess the commodity.

Personal selling skills


Initial impressions can cloud later perceptions, so it is important to consider the ways in which a favorable initial response can be achieved.

Buyers expect salespeople to be businesslike in their personal appearance and behavior. Untidy hair and a sloppy manner of dress can create a lack of confidence.

Further, the salesperson who does not respect the fact that the buyer is likely to be a busy person, with many demands on their time, may cause irritation on the part of the buyer.

Salespeople should open with a smile, a handshake and, in situations where they are not well known to the buyer, introduce themselves and the company they represent. Common courtesies should be followed. For example, they should wait for the buyer to indicate that they can sit down or, at least, ask the buyer if they may sit down. Attention to detail, such as holding one’s briefcase in the left hand so that the right can be used for the handshake, removes the possibility of an awkward moment when a briefcase is clumsily transferred from right to left as the buyer extends their hand in greeting.

Opening remarks are important since they set the tone for the rest of the sales interview. Normally they should be business-related since this is the purpose of the visit; they should show the buyer that the salesperson is not about to waste time.

Where the buyer is well known and by their own remarks indicates a willingness to talk about a more social matter, the salesperson will obviously follow. This can generate close rapport with the buyer, but the salesperson must be aware of the reason for being there and not be excessively diverted from talking business. Opening remarks might be:

Trade salesperson: Your window display looks attractive. Has it attracted more custom?

Industrial salesperson: We have helped a number of companies in the same kind of business as you are to achieve considerable savings by the use of our stock control procedures. What methods do you use at present to control stock?

Retail salesperson: I can see that you appear to be interested in our stereo equipment. What kind of system do you have in mind?

The cardinal sin which many retail salespeople commit is to open with ‘Can I help you?’ which invites the response ‘No thank you. I’m just looking.’

The use of the internet can help to create favorable first impressions. For example, research using online business databases can make the salespeople appear more knowledgeable about the customer’s company and industry.


Most salespeople have a range of products to sell. A car salesperson has many models ranging from small economy cars to super-luxury top-of-the-range models. The computer salesperson will have a number of systems to suit the needs and resources of different customers. A bicycle retailer will have models from many different manufacturers to offer customers. A pharmaceutical salesperson will be able to offer doctors a range of drugs to combat various illnesses. In each case, the seller’s first objective will be to discover the problems and needs of the customer. Before a car salesperson can sell a car, they need to understand the customer’s circumstances. What size of the car is required? Is the customer looking for a high fuel economy or performance? Is a boot or a hatchback preferred? What kind of price range is being considered?

Having obtained this information the salesperson is in a position to sell the model best suited to the needs of the buyer. A computer salesperson may carry out a survey of customer requirements prior to suggesting an appropriate computer system. A bicycle retailer should ask who the bicycle is for, what type is preferred (e.g. mountain or racing) and the color preference, before making sensible suggestions as to which model is most suitable. A pharmaceutical salesperson will discuss with doctors the problems that have arisen with patient treatment; perhaps an ointment has been ineffective or a harmful side-effect has been discovered. This gives the salesperson the opportunity to offer a solution to such problems by means of one of their company’s products.

This needs analysis approach suggests that early in the sales process the salesperson should adopt a question-and-listen posture. In order to encourage the buyer to discuss their problems and needs, salespeople tend to use ‘open’ rather than ‘closed’ questions. An open question is one that requires more than a one-word or one-phrase answer, for example:

  • ‘Why do you believe that a computer system is inappropriate for your business?’
  • ‘What were the main reasons for buying XYZ photocopier?’
  • ‘In what ways did the ABC ointment fail to meet your expectations?’

A closed question, on the other hand, invites a one-word or one-phrase answer. These can be used to obtain purely factual information, but excessive use can hinder rapport and lead to an abrupt type of conversation which lacks flow:

  • ‘Would you tell me the name of the equipment you currently use?’
  • ‘Does your company manufacture 1000cc marine engines?’
  • ‘What is the name of your chief mechanical engineer?’

In practice, a wide variety of questions may be used during a sales interview. Thirteen types of questions and their objectives, together with examples, are given in Table 8.2.

Salespeople should avoid the temptation of making a sales presentation without finding out the needs of their customers. It is all too easy to start a sales presentation in the same rigid way, perhaps by highlighting the current bargain of the week, without first questioning the customer about their needs.

Questioning can also be useful in order to understand the customer’s situation. Here is an account of how important this can be:

We had a problem with a new customer and one of our young sales reps. We sent the CEO in to meet the customer. The customer was a new wine buyer for a large supermarket chain. This was when supermarkets had just started selling wine. The customer always seemed very defensive, and questioning revealed that he didn’t know much about the wine trade. We invited him out for lunch at our premises and just talked to him. We found out that he liked Rugby League, so we talked to him about that. After that there was no problem; he relaxed and we understood that he was nervous about a new position. This enabled us to move from a $20,000 per year account to a $150,000 account.

Types of question used in personal selling
Table 8.2 Types of question used in personal selling

At the end of this process, the salesperson may find it useful to summarise the points that have been raised to confirm an understanding with the buyer. For example:

Fine, Mr. and Mrs. Jones. I think I have a good idea of the kind of property you are looking for. You would like a four-bedroom house within fifteen minutes’ drive from Mr. Jones’s company. You are not bothered whether the house is detached or semi-detached, but you do not want to live on an estate. The price range you are considering is between £300,000 and £350,000. Does this sum up the kind of house you want, or have I missed something?


Once the problems and needs of the buyer have been identified, the presentation follows as a natural consequence. The first question to be addressed is the presentation of what? The preceding section has enabled the salesperson to choose the most appropriate product(s) from their range to meet customer requirements. Second, having fully discussed what the customer wants, the salesperson knows which product benefits to stress. A given product may have a range of potential features that confer benefits to customers, but different customers place different priorities on them. In short, having identified the needs and problems of the buyer, the presentation provides the opportunity for the salesperson to convince the buyer that they can supply the solution.

The key to this task is to recognize that buyers purchase benefits and are only interested in product features in as much as they provide the benefits that the customer is looking for. Training programs and personal preparation of salespeople should pay particular attention to deriving the customer benefits which their products bestow.

Benefits should be analyzed at two levels: those benefits that can be obtained by purchase of a particular type of product, and those that can be obtained by purchasing that product from a particular supplier. For example, automatic washing machine salespeople need to consider the benefits of an automatic washing machine compared with a twin-tub, as well as the benefits that their company’s automatic washing machines have over competitors’ models. This proffers maximum flexibility for the salesperson in meeting various sales situations.

The danger of selling features rather than benefits is particularly acute in industrial selling because of the highly technical nature of many industrial products, and the tendency to employ sales engineers rather than salespeople. Perkins Diesels found this to be a problem with their sales team after commissioning market research to identify strengths and weaknesses of their sales and marketing operation,11 but it is by no means confined to this sector. Hi-fi salespeople who confuse and infuriate customers with tedious descriptions of the electronic wizardry behind their products are no less guilty of this sin. A simple method of relating features and benefits in a sales presentation is to link them by using the following phrases:

  • ‘which means that’
  • ‘which results in’
  • ‘which enables you to’.

For example, an estate agent might say, ‘The house is situated four miles from the company where you work (product feature) which means that you can easily be at work within fifteen minutes of leaving home’ (customer benefit). An office salesperson might say, ‘The XYZ photocopier allows stream feeding (product feature) which results in quicker photocopying’ (customer benefit). Finally, a car salesperson may claim, ‘This model is equipped with overdrive (product feature) which enables you to reduce petrol consumption on motorways’ (customer benefit).

The term ‘presentation’ should not mislead the salesperson into believing that they alone should do all the talking. The importance of asking questions is not confined to the needs and problem identification stage. Asking questions as part of the presentation serves two functions. First, it checks that the salesperson has understood the kinds of benefits the buyer is looking for. After explaining a benefit it is sound practice to ask the buyer, ‘Is this the kind of thing you are looking for?’

Second, asking questions establishes whether the buyer has understood what the salesperson has said. A major obstacle to understanding is the use of technical jargon that is unintelligible to the buyer. Where a presentation is necessarily complicated and lengthy, the salesperson would be well advised to pause at various points and simply ask if there are any questions. This gives the buyer the opportunity to query anything that is not entirely clear. This questioning procedure allows the salesperson to tailor the speed and content of their presentation to the circumstances.

Buyers have different backgrounds, technical expertise, and intelligence levels. Questioning allows the salesperson to communicate more effectively because it provides the information necessary for the seller to know how to vary the presentation to different buyers.

Technological advances have greatly assisted the presentation. For example, laptops allow the use of online resources such as video material and the ability to get a response from a sales office during a presentation.12 Access to company websites permits the carrying of masses of product information, including sound and animation.

Many sales situations involve risk to the buyer. No matter what benefits the salesperson discusses, the buyer may be reluctant to change from the present supplier or present model because to do so may give rise to unforeseen problems – delivery may be unpredictable or the new model may be unreliable. Assurances from the salesperson are, of themselves, unlikely to be totally convincing – after all, they would say that, wouldn’t they! Risk is the hidden reason behind many failures to sell.

The salesperson accurately identifies customer needs and relates product benefits to those needs. The buyer does not offer much resistance, but somehow does not buy; a likely reason is that the buyer plays safe, sticking to the present supplier or model in order to lessen the risk of aggravation should problems occur. How, then, can a salesperson reduce risk? There are four major ways:

  • (a) reference selling;
  • (b) demonstrations;
  • (c) guarantees; and
  • (d) trial orders.

Reference selling

Reference selling involves the use of satisfied customers in order to convince the buyer of the effectiveness of the salesperson’s product. During the preparation stage a list of satisfied customers, arranged by product type, should be drawn up. Letters from satisfied customers should also be kept and used in the sales presentation in order to build confidence. This technique can be highly effective in selling, moving a buyer from being merely interested in the product to being convinced that it is the solution to their problem.


Chinese proverb: Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.

Demonstrations also reduce risk because they prove the benefits of the product. A major producer of sales training films organizes regional demonstrations of a selection in order to prove their quality to training managers. Industrial goods manufacturers will arrange demonstrations to show their products’ capabilities in use. Car salespeople will allow customers to test drive cars.

For all but the most simple of products, it is advisable to divide the demonstration into two stages. The first stage involves a brief description of the features and benefits of the product and an explanation of how it works. The second stage entails the actual demonstration itself. This should be conducted by the salesperson. The reason behind this two-stage approach is that it is often very difficult for the viewers of the demonstration to understand the principles of how a product works while at the same time watching it work. This is because the viewers are receiving competing stimuli. The salesperson’s voice may be competing for the buyers’ attention with the flashing lights and noise of the equipment.

Once the equipment works, the buyers can be encouraged to use it themselves under the salesperson’s supervision. If the correct equipment, to suit the buyers’ needs, has been chosen for demonstration and performs reliably, the demonstration can move the buyers very much closer to purchase.

There now follows more practical advice on what must be regarded as an extremely important part of the personal selling process, for without a demonstration the salesperson is devoid of one of their principal selling tools.


1. Make the process as brief as possible, but not so brief as not to be able to fulfill the sales objective of obtaining an order, or of opening the way for further negotiations. It is basically a question of balance, in that the salesperson must judge the individual circumstances and tailor the demonstration accordingly. Some potential buyers will require lengthier or more technical demonstrations than others.

2. Make the process as simple as possible, bearing in mind that some potential purchasers will be less technically minded than others. Never ‘over-pitch’ such technicality, because potential buyers will generally pretend that they understand and not want to admit that they do not because of loss of face. They will see the demonstration through and probably make some excuse at the end to delay the purchase decision. The likelihood is that they will not purchase (or at least no purchase from you). This point is deliberately emphasized because it is a fact that
many potential sales are lost through overly technical demonstrations.

3. Rehearse the approach to likely objections with colleagues (e.g. with one acting as an ‘awkward’ buyer). Work out how such objections can be addressed and overcome through the demonstration. The use of interactive video is useful here, as you can review your mistakes and rehearse a better demonstration and presentation.

4. Know the product’s selling points and be prepared to advance these during the course of the demonstration. Such selling points must, however, be presented in terms of benefits to the customer. Buyer behavior must, therefore, be ascertained beforehand. By so doing, it will be possible to maximize what is euphemistically called the ‘you’ or ‘u’ benefits.

5. The demonstration should not go wrong if it has been adequately rehearsed beforehand.

However, machines do break down and power supplies sometimes fail. Be prepared for such eventualities (e.g. rehearse an appropriate verbal ‘routine’ and have a back-up successful demonstration available on your laptop). The main point is not to be caught out unexpectedly and to be prepared to launch into a contingency routine as smoothly as possible.

Conducting the demonstration
  1. Commence with a concise statement of what is to be done or proved.
  2. Show how potential purchasers can participate in the demonstration process.
  3. Make the demonstration as interesting and as satisfying as possible.
  4. Show the potential purchaser how the product’s features can fulfill their needs or solve their problems.
  5. Attempt to translate such needs into a desire to purchase.
  6. Do not leave the purchaser until they are completely satisfied with the demonstration. Such satisfaction will help to justify ultimate expenditure and will also reduce the severity and incidence of any complaints that might arise after purchasing.
  7. Summarise the main points by re-emphasizing the purchasing benefits that have been put forward during the demonstration. Note that we state purchasing benefits and not sales benefits because purchasing benefits relate to individual buying behavior.
  8. The objectives of a demonstration should be: (a) to enable the salesperson to obtain a sale immediately (e.g. a car demonstration drive was given to a member of the public); or (b) to pave the way for future negotiations (e.g. a car demonstration drive given to a car fleet buyer).
  9. Depending on the objective above, in the case of (a) ask for the order now, or in the case of (b) arrange for further communication in the form of a meeting, telephone call, letter, an additional demonstration to other members of the decision-making the unit, etc.

Information technology can allow multi-media demonstrations of industrial products in the buyer’s office. No longer is it always necessary for buyers to visit the supplier’s site or to provide facilities to act as video ‘showrooms’ for salespeople wishing to demonstrate their product using video projectors.

Advantages of demonstrations
  1. Demonstrations are a useful ancillary in the selling process. They add realism to the sales routine in that they utilize more human senses than mere verbal descriptions or visual presentation.
  2. When a potential customer is participating in a demonstration, it is easier for the salesperson to ask questions in order to ascertain buying behavior. This means that the salesperson will not need to emphasize inappropriate purchasing motives later in the selling process.
  3. Such demonstrations enable the salesperson to maximize the ‘u’ benefits to potential purchasers. In other words, the salesperson can relate product benefits to match the potential buyer’s buying behavior and adopt a more creative approach, rather than concentrating on a pre-prepared sales routine.
  4. Customers’ objections can be more easily overcome if they can be persuaded to take part in the demonstration process. In fact, many potential objections may never even be aired because the demonstration process will make them invalid. It is a fact that a sale is more likely to ensure if fewer objections can be advanced initially, even if such objections can be satisfactorily overcome.
  5. There are advantages to customers in that it is easier for them to ask questions in a more realistic way in order to ascertain the product’s utility more clearly and quickly.
  6. Purchasing inhibitions are more quickly overcome and buyers declare their purchasing interest sooner than in face-to-face selling/buying situations. This makes the demonstration a very efficient sales tool.
  7. Once a customer has participated in a demonstration there is less likelihood of ‘customer remorse’ (i.e. the doubt that value for money is not good value after all). By taking part in the demonstration and tacitly accepting its results, the purchaser has bought the product and not been sold.


Guarantees of product reliability, after-sales service, and delivery supported by penalty clauses can build confidence towards the salesperson’s claims and lessen the costs to the buyer should something go wrong. Their establishment is a matter for company policy rather than the salesperson’s discretion but, were offered, the salesperson should not underestimate their importance in the sales presentation.

Trial orders

The final strategy for risk reduction is for salespeople to encourage trial orders, even though they may be uneconomic in company terms and in terms of salespeople’s’ time in the short term when faced with a straight re-buy. Buyers who habitually purchase supplies from one supplier may recognize that change involves unwarranted risk. It may be that the only way for a new supplier to break through this impasse is to secure a small order which, in effect, permits the demonstration of the company’s capability to provide consistently high-quality products promptly. The confidence, thus built, may lead to a higher percentage of the customer’s business in the longer term.


Acton Mobile Industries, Baltimore, Maryland, USA – Mobile office building supplier automates sales process for the sales team


Acton Mobile Industries had historically managed its sales process with spreadsheets and other paper-based means. Under new management, the company made a business decision to automate their sales process using™ in order to increase revenue and sales effectiveness through a shortened sales cycle, implementation of best practices, and the ability to provide senior management with accurate real-time forecasting data.

Client overview

With headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, and 15 offices in 12 states, Acton Mobile Industries has been servicing the mobile office and modular building industry since 1970. Through the ability to quickly deliver temporary space that makes job surveillance and project management both comfortable and convenient, the company has become the leader in providing mobile offices and modular buildings to suit customer-specific needs. Acton Mobile Industries provides temporary space for construction sites, schools and industry in a variety of sizes and for varying lengths of time.

Situational overview

Acton Mobile Industries made a business decision to automate their sales process with a web-based salesforce automation system in order to better manage the sales process from lead development to closed orders. The Chapman Group was engaged to implement their proprietary salesforce automation solution (™) through a three-phase process consisting of an assessment, customization, and implementation phase.


The Chapman Group (TCG) worked with a client team consisting of senior members of Acton Mobile Industries in the corporate office and various members of the field  salesforce in order to further develop the strategic objectives, goals and vision for the project. This provided an opportunity to gain valuable insight into

Acton Mobile Industries’ sales process in order to target key areas of improvement through the implementation of the new salesforce automation package. During this initial assessment phase, Chapman Group met with key stakeholders to create ownership of the proposed salesforce automation concept.

The next phase involved tailoring and customizing™ to provide the sales team with a system that would enable them to meet their quotas more consistently and provide them with a reliable reinforcement of sales best practices.

The user interface of the system was designed with key performance indicators from Acton Mobile Industries’ market in mind, including a variety of charts, graphs and analysis. Each screen within™ was reviewed during this process, culminating in a user-friendly, results-focused system.


Since going live in February 2004, Acton Mobile Industries has experienced radical improvements in the areas of forecasting, prospect development, closed business and order fulfillment. Employees received an intensive one-day training session that introduced them to the system and provided them with a roadmap for future success. Results point to a more effective sales process and a renewed sense of strategy and direction of the sales division for all employees.

Source: adapted from, with permission.


Objections are any concerns or questions raised by the buyer.14 While some objections are an expression of confusion, doubt or disagreement with the statements or information presented by the salesperson, objections should not always be viewed with dismay by salespeople. Many objections are simply expressions of interest by the buyer. What the buyer is asking for is further information because they are interested in what the salesperson is saying. The problem is that the buyer is not yet convinced. Objections highlight the issues that are important to the buyer. For example, when training salespeople, Ford makes the point that customers’ objections are signposts to what is really on their minds.

An example will illustrate these points. Suppose an industrial salesperson working for an adhesives manufacturer is faced with the following objection: ‘Why should I buy your new adhesive gun when my present method of applying adhesive – direct from the tube – is perfectly satisfactory?’ This type of objection is clearly an expression of a desire for additional information. The salesperson’s task is to provide it in a manner that does not antagonise the buyer and yet is convincing. It is a fact of human nature that the argument that is supported by the greater weight of evidence does not always win the day; people do not like to be proved wrong. The very act of changing a supplier may be resisted because it implies criticism of a past decision on the part of the buyer. For a salesperson to disregard the emotional aspects of dealing with objections is to court disaster. The situation to be avoided is where the buyers dig in their heels on principle because of the salesperson’s attitude.

The internet can aid the creation of convincing answers to objections. The salesperson can guide buyers to the firm’s website where frequently asked questions and testimonials may be found. Potential customers might also be directed to favorable online reviews at independent websites. This improved dialogue between sellers and buyers can improve the chances of a successful sale.

So, the effective approach for dealing with objections involves two areas: the preparation of convincing answers and the development of a range of techniques for answering objections in a manner that permits the acceptance of these answers without loss of face on the part of the buyer. The first area has been covered in the previous chapter. A number of techniques will now be reviewed to illustrate how the second objective may be accomplished. These are shown in Figure 8.2.

Listen and do not interrupt

Experienced salespeople know that the impression given to buyers by the salesperson who interrupts midstream is that the salesperson believes that:

  • the objection is obviously wrong;
  • it is trivial;
  • it is not worth the salesperson’s time to let the buyer finish.
Dealing with objections
Figure 8.2 Dealing with objections

Interruption denies the buyer the kind of respect they are entitled to and may lead to a misunderstanding of the real substance behind the objection. The correct approach is to listen carefully, attentively and respectfully. The buyer will appreciate the fact that the salesperson is taking the problem seriously and the salesperson will gain through having a clear and full understanding of the true nature of the problem.

Agree and counter

This approach maintains the respect that the salesperson shows to the buyer. The salesperson first agrees that what the buyer is saying is sensible and reasonable, before then putting forward an alternative point of view. It, therefore, takes the edge off the objection and creates a climate of agreement rather than conflict. For example:

Buyer: The problem with your tractor is that it costs more than your competition.

Salesperson: Yes, the initial cost of the tractor is a little higher than competitors’ models, but I should like to show you how, over the lifetime of the machine, ours works out to be far more economical.

This example shows why the method is sometimes called the ‘yes . . . but’ technique. The ‘yes’ precedes the agreed statement, while the ‘but’ prefaces the counterargument. There is no necessity to use these words, however. In fact, in some sales situations, the buyer may be so accustomed to having salespeople use them that the technique loses some of its effectiveness. Fortunately, there are other less blatant approaches:

  • ‘I can appreciate your concern that the machine is more expensive than the competition. However, I should like to show you . . . ’
  • ‘Customer XYZ made the same comment a year ago. I can assure you that he is highly delighted with his decision to purchase because the cost savings over the lifetime of the machine more than offset the initial cost difference.’
  • ‘That’s absolutely right – the initial cost is a little higher. That’s why I want to show you . . . ’

The use of the reference selling technique can be combined with the agreeing and counter method to provide a powerful counter to an objection. For example, salespeople of media space in newspapers that are given away free to the public often encounter the following objection:

A buyer [e.g. car dealer]: Your newspaper is given away free. Most of the people who receive it throw it away without even reading it.

Salesperson: I can understand your concern that a newspaper that is free may not be read. However, a great many people do read it to find out what second-hand cars are on the market. Mr. Giles of Grimethorpe Motors has been advertising with us for two years and he is delighted with the results.

The straight denial

This method has to be handled with a great deal of care since the danger is that it will result in exactly the kind of antagonism that the salesperson is wishing to avoid.

However, it can be used when the buyer is clearly seeking factual information. For example:

Buyer: I expect that this upholstery will be difficult to clean.

Salesperson: No, Mr. Buyer, absolutely not. This material is made from a newly developed synthetic fiber that resists stains and allows marks to be removed simply by using soap, water and a clean cloth.

Question the objection

Sometimes an objection is raised which is so general as to be difficult to counter. For example, a customer might say they do not like the appearance of the product, or that the product is not good quality. In this situation, the salesperson should question the nature of the objection in order to clarify the specific problem at hand. Sometimes this results in a major objection being reduced to one which can easily be dealt with.

Buyer: I’m sorry but I don’t like the look of that car.

Salesperson: Could you tell me exactly what it is that you don’t like the look of?

Buyer: I don’t like the pattern on the seats.

Salesperson: Well, in fact, this model can be supplied in a number of different upholstery designs. Shall we have a look at the catalog to see if there is a pattern to your liking?

Another benefit of questioning objections is that in trying to explain the exact nature of objections buyers may themselves realize these are really quite trivial.

Forestall the objection

With this method, the salesperson not only anticipates an objection and plans its counter, but actually raises the objection as part of their sales presentation.

There are two advantages of doing this. First, the timing of the objection is controlled by the salesperson. Consequently, it can be planned so that it is raised at the most appropriate time for it to be dealt with effectively. Second, since it is raised by the salesperson, the buyer is not placed in a position where, having raised a problem, they feel that it must be defended.

The danger of using this method, however, is that the salesperson may highlight a problem that had not occurred to the buyer. It is most often used where a salesperson is faced with the same objection being raised time after time. Perhaps buyers are continually raising the problem that the salesperson is working for one of the smallest companies in the industry. The salesperson may pre-empt the objection in the following manner: ‘My company is smaller than most in the industry which mean that we respond more quickly to our customers’ needs and try that bit harder to make sure our customers are happy.’

Turn the objection into a trial close

A trial close is where a salesperson attempts to conclude the sale without prejudicing the chances of continuing the selling process with the buyer should they refuse to commit themselves.

The ability of a salesperson to turn the objection into a trial close is dependent upon perfect timing and considerable judgment. Usually, it will be attempted after the selling process is well underway and the salesperson judges that only one objection remains. Under these conditions they might say the following: ‘If I can satisfy you that the fuel consumption of this car is no greater than that of the Vauxhall Vectra, would you buy it?’

When dealing with objections, the salesperson should remember that heated arguments are unlikely to win sales – buyers buy from their friends, not their enemies.

Hidden objections

Not all prospects state their objections. They may prefer to say nothing because to raise an objection may cause offense or prolong the sales interaction. Such people may believe that staying on friendly terms with the salesperson and at the end of the interview stating that they will think over the proposal is the best tactic in a no-buy situation. The correct salesperson’s response to hidden objections is to ask questions in an attempt to uncover their nature. If a salesperson believes that a buyer is unwilling to reveal they’re true objections, they should ask such questions as the following:

  • ‘Is there anything so far which you are unsure about?’
  • ‘Is there anything on your mind?’
  • ‘What would it take to convince you?’

Uncovering hidden objections are crucial to successful selling because to convince someone it is necessary to know what they need to be convinced of. However, with uncommunicative buyers, this may be difficult. As a last resort the salesperson may need to ‘second guess’ the reluctant buyer and suggest an issue that they believe is causing the problem and ask a question such as: ‘I don’t think you’re totally convinced about the better performance of our product, are you?’


In some selling situations, the salesperson or sales team has a degree of discretion with regard to the terms of the sale. Negotiation may, therefore, enter into the sales process. Sellers may negotiate price, credit terms, delivery times, trade-in values and other aspects of the commercial transaction. The deal that is arrived at will depend on the balance of power (see Chapter 7) and the negotiating skills of the respective parties.

The importance of preparation has already been mentioned in the previous chapter. The buyer’s needs, the competition that the supplier faces and knowledge about the buyer’s business and the pressures on them should be estimated. However, there are a number of other guidelines to aid the salespeople actually engaged in the negotiation process.

Start high but be realistic

There are several good reasons for making the opening stance high. First, the buyer might agree to it. Second, it provides room for negotiation. A buyer may come to expect concessions from a seller in return for purchasing. This situation is prevalent in the car market. It is unusual for a car salesperson not to reduce the advertised price of a car for a cash purchaser. When considering how high to go, the limiting factor must be to keep within the buyer’s realistic expectations; otherwise, they may not be willing to talk to the seller in the first place.

Attempt to trade concession for concession

Sometimes it may be necessary to give a concession simply to secure the sale. A buyer might say that they are is willing to buy if the seller drops the price by £100. If the seller has left some negotiating room, this may be perfectly acceptable. However, in other circumstances, especially when the seller has a degree of power through being able to meet buyer requirements better than the competition, the seller may be able to trade concessions from the buyer. A simple way of achieving this is by means of the ‘if . . . then’ technique.

  • ‘If you are prepared to arrange collection of these goods at our premises, then I am prepared to knock £10 off the purchase price.’
  • ‘If you are prepared to make payment within 28 days, then I am willing to offer a 2.5 percent discount.’

This is a valuable tool at the disposal of the negotiator since it promotes movement towards agreement while ensuring that proposals to give the buyer something are matched by proposals for a concession in return.

It is sensible, at the preparation stage, to evaluate possible concessions in the light of their costs and values, not only to the seller but also to the buyer. In the example above, the costs of delivery to the seller might be much higher than the costs of collection to the buyer. The net effect of the proposal, therefore, is that the salesperson is offering a benefit to the buyer at very little cost to the seller.

Implement behavioral skills

Graham reports on research carried out by the Huthwaite Research Group into negotiation effectiveness. By comparing skilled, effective negotiators with their average counterparts, the researchers identified a set of behavioral skills that are associated with negotiation success. These are:

  • Ask lots of questions: questions seek information (knowledge is power) and identify the feelings of the buyer. They also give control (the person asking the questions directs the topic of conversation), provide thinking time while the buyer answers and are an alternative to outright disagreement.
  • Use labeling behavior: this announces the behaviour to be used. Examples of labeling behavior are ‘Can I ask you a question?’, ‘I should like to make two further points’ and ‘May I summarise?’
  • But do not label disagreement: a likely way of ensuring your argument does not get a fair hearing is to announce in advance to the other party that you are going to contradict their argument. Statements like ‘I totally disagree with that point’ or ‘I cannot accept what you have just said’ are bound to make the other party defensive.
  • Maintain clarity by testing understanding and summarising: testing understanding is a behavior that seeks to identify whether or not a previous contribution has been understood. Summarising is a behavior which restates in a compact form the content of previous discussions. An example of this combined behaviour would be, ‘Let me see if I’ve got this right. You are saying that if we could deliver next week, match the competition on price and provide a day’s worth of free training, you would place an order with us today.’
  • Give feelings: contrary to conventional wisdom, skilled negotiators are not pokerfaced. They express their feelings, which makes them appear human, creates an atmosphere of trust and can be an alternative to giving hard facts.
  • Avoid counter-proposing: this is a proposal of any type which follows a proposal given by the other party without first demonstrating consideration of their proposal. Counter-proposing is usually an instant turnoff. If the seller is not prepared to give due consideration to the buyer’s proposal, why should the buyer listen to the seller’s?
  • Avoid the use of irritators: these are behaviors that are likely to annoy the other party through self-praise and/or condescension. Statements like ‘Listen, young man, I think you’re going to find this a very attractive and generous offer’, are likely to be more irritating than persuasive. The response will be ‘I’m best placed to judge your offer, and don’t patronize me.’
  • Do not dilute your arguments: common sense suggests that presenting as many arguments in favor of a proposal is the correct way to gain acceptance. The problem is that as more and more points are advanced they tend to become weaker. This allows the buyer to attack the weaker ones and the discussion becomes focused on them. The correct approach is to present only a few strong arguments rather than a complete list of both stronger and weaker points. This avoids the risk of weak arguments diluting the power of the strong points. In addition to these behavioral skills, Buskirk and Buskirk (1995) suggest a further one:18
  • Avoid personalizing the discussion: negotiations should never get personal. Negotiators should never say ‘You’re being ridiculous’ or ‘Your price is too low.’ Calling someone’s statement ‘ridiculous’ is an affront. Personal pronouns should be taken out of speech patterns. Instead, say ‘That price is too low.’

Buyers’ negotiating techniques

Buyers also have a number of techniques that they use in negotiations. Sellers should be aware of their existence, for sometimes their effect can be devastating. Kennedy, Benson and Macmillan19 describe a number of techniques designed to weaken the position of the unsuspecting sales negotiator.

First, the shotgun approach involves the buyer saying, ‘Unless you agree immediately to a price reduction of 20 percent we’ll have to look elsewhere for a supplier.’ In a sense, this is the ‘if . . . then’ technique played on the seller, but in this
setting the consequences are more serious. The correct response depends on the outcome of the assessment of the balance of power conducted during preparation. If
the buyer does have a number of options, all of which offer the same kind of benefits as the seller’s product, then the seller may have to concede. If the seller’s product offers clear advantages over the competition, the salesperson may be able to
resist the challenge.
A second ploy used by buyers is the ‘sell cheap, the future looks bright’ technique:
‘We cannot pretend that our offer meets you on price, but the real payoff for you will
come in terms of future sales.’ This may be a genuine statement – in fact the seller’s
own objective may have been to gain a foothold in the buyer’s business. At other
times it is a gambit to extract the maximum price concession from the seller. If the
seller’s position is reasonably strong they should ask for specific details and firm
A final technique is known as ‘Noah’s Ark’ – because it’s been around that long!
The buyer says, tapping a file with one finger, ‘You’ll have to do much better in terms
of price. I have quotations from your competitors that are much lower.’ The salesperson’s response depends on their level of confidence. The salesperson can call the
buyer’s bluff and ask to see the quotations; or take the initiative by stating that they
assume the buyer is wishing for them to justify the price; or, if flushed with the confidence of past success, can say ‘Then I advise you to accept one of them.’


The skills and techniques discussed so far are not in themselves sufficient for consistent sales success. A final ingredient is necessary to complete the mix – the ability to
close the sale. Some salespeople believe that an effective presentation should lead the buyer to ask for the product without the seller needing to close the sale. This sometimes happens, but more usually it will be necessary for the salesperson to take the initiative.

This is because no matter how well the salesperson identifies buyer needs, matches product benefits to them and overcomes objections, there is likely to be some doubt still present in the mind of the buyer. This doubt may manifest itself in the wish to delay the decision. Would it not be better to think things over? Would it not be sensible to see what competitor XYZ has to offer? The plain truth, however, is that if the buyer does put off buying until another day it is as likely that they will buy from the competition. While the seller is there, the seller has the advantage over the competition; thus part of the salesperson’s job is to try to close the sale. Why, then, are some salespeople reluctant to close a sale? The problem lies in the fact that most people fear rejection. Closing the sale asks the buyer to say yes or no.

Sometimes it will be no and the salesperson will have been rejected. Avoiding closing the sale does not result in more sales, but rejection is less blatant. Thus, the most important point to grasp is not to be afraid to close. Accept the fact that some buyers will inevitably respond negatively, but be confident that more will buy than if no close had been used.

A major consideration is timing. A general rule is to attempt to close the sale when the buyer displays heightened interest or a clear intention to purchase the product. Salespeople should, therefore, look out for such buying signals and respond accordingly. Purchase intentions are unlikely to grow continuously throughout the sales presentation. They are more likely to rise and fall as the presentation progresses (see Figure 8.3). The true situation is reflected in a series of peaks and troughs. An example will explain why this should be so. When a salesperson talks about a key benefit that exactly matches the buyer’s needs, purchase intentions are likely to rise sharply. However, the buyer then perhaps raises a problem, which decreases the level, or doubts arise in the buyer’s mind as to whether the claims made for the product are completely justified. This causes purchase intentions to fall, only to be followed by an increase as the salesperson overcomes the objection or substantiates the claim.

In theory, the salesperson should attempt to close at a peak. In practice, judging when to close is difficult. The buyer may be feigning disinterest and throughout a sales interview, several peaks may be expected to occur. Which peak should be chosen for the close? Part of the answer lies in experience. Experienced salespeople know intuitively if intentions are sufficiently favorable for a close to be worthwhile. Also, if need and problem identification have been conducted properly, the salesperson knows that a rough guide as to when to close is after they match all product benefits to customer needs; theoretically, intentions should be at a peak then.

Not all buyers conform to this theoretical plan, however, and the salesperson should be prepared to close even if the planned sales presentation is incomplete.

The method to use is the trial close. This technique involves asking for the order in such a way that if the timing is premature the presentation can continue with the minimum of interruption. Perhaps early in the presentation the customer might say, ‘Yes, that’s just what I’m looking for’, to which the salesperson replies, ‘Good, when do you think you would like delivery?’ Even if the buyer says they have not made up their mind yet, the salesperson can continue with the presentation or ask the customer a question, depending on which is most appropriate to the situation.

The level of buyers’ purchase intentions throughout a sales presentation
Figure 8.3 The level of buyers’ purchase intentions throughout a sales presentation
Closing the sale
Figure 8.4 Closing the sale

A time will come during the sales interview when the salesperson has discussed all the product benefits and answered all the customer’s questions. It is, clearly, decision time; the buyer is enthusiastic but hesitant. There are a number of closing techniques that the salesperson can use (see Figure 8.4).

Simply ask for the order

The simplest technique involves asking directly for the order:

  • ‘Shall I reserve you one?’
  • ‘Would you like to buy it?’
  • ‘Do you want it?’

The key to using this technique is to keep silent after you have asked for the order. The salesperson has asked a closed question implying a yes or no answer. To break the silence effectively lets the buyer off the hook. The buyer will forget the first question and reply to the salesperson’s later comment.

Summarise and then ask for the order

This technique allows the salesperson to remind the buyer of the main points in the sales argument in a manner that implies that the moment for a decision has come and that buying is the natural extension of the proceedings.

‘Well, Mr. Smith, we have agreed that the ZDXL4 model meets your requirements of low noise, high productivity and driver comfort at a cost which you can afford. May I go ahead and place an order for this model?’

The concession close

This involves keeping one concession in reserve to use as the final push towards agreement: ‘If you are willing to place an order now, I’m willing to offer an extra 2.5 percent discount.’

The alternative close

This closing technique assumes that the buyer is willing to purchase but moves the decision to whether the color should be red or blue, the delivery should be Tuesday or Friday, the payment in cash or credit, etc. In such circumstances the salesperson suggests two alternatives, the agreement to either thus closing the sale:

  • ‘Would you like the red one or the blue one?’
  • ‘Would you like it delivered on Tuesday or Friday?’

This technique has been used by salespeople for many years and consequently should be used with care, especially with professional buyers who are likely to have experienced its use many times and know exactly what the salesperson is doing.

The objection close

This closing technique has been mentioned briefly earlier in this chapter. It involves the use of an objection as a stimulus to buy. The salesperson who is convinced that the objection is the major stumbling block to the sale can gain commitment from the buyer by saying, ‘If I can convince you that this model is the most economical in its class, will you buy it?’ A positive response from the buyer and reference to an objective statistical comparison by the seller effectively seal the sale.

Action agreement

In some situations, it is inappropriate to attempt to close the sale. For many industrial goods, the sales cycle is long and a salesperson who attempts to close the sale at early meetings may cause annoyance. In selling pharmaceutical products, for example, salespeople do not try to close a sale but instead attempt to achieve ‘action agreement’ whereby either the salesperson or doctor agree to do something before their next meeting. This technique has the effect of helping the doctor–salesperson relationship to develop and continue.

A useful characteristic of salespeople is persistence. Making a decision to spend large quantities of money is not easy. In most sales situations, no one product is better than its competitors on all evaluative criteria. This means that the salespeople for all of these products stand some chance of success.

The final decision may go to the one who is most persistent in their attempts to persuade the customer that the product meets the buyer’s needs. Children learn very quickly that if they are initially refused what they want, asking a second or third time may be successful. The key is knowing where to draw the line before persistence leads to annoyance.

Once the sale is agreed, the salesperson should follow two rules. First, they should never display emotions. No matter how important the sale and how delighted the salesperson feels, they should remain calm and professional. There will be plenty of opportunities later to be euphoric. Second, leave as quickly as is courteously possible.

The longer they stay around, the greater the chance that the buyers will change their minds, and cancel the order.


This final stage in the sales process is necessary to ensure that the customer is satisfied with the purchase and no problems with factors such as delivery, installation, product use and training have arisen. Salespeople may put off the follow-up call because it does not result in immediate order. However, for most companies repeat business is the hallmark of success and the follow-up call can play a major role by showing that the salesperson really cares about the customer rather than only being interested in making sales.

The follow-up call can also be used to provide reassurance that the purchase was the right one. As we have already seen, many customers suffer from cognitive dissonance, which is being anxious that they have made the right choice.

Advances in technology have changed the way the follow-up is made. Traditionally it was done with a telephone call, a letter thanking the customer for the sale and asking if the product was meeting expectations, or the salesperson ‘dropping by’ to see if any problems had arisen. Today, email is frequently used, particularly in business to business situations. Emails are quick and efficient at reaching customers and allow them to respond quickly if difficulties arise.

Websites can also be used to remind buyers about post-purchase support resources and salespeople can maintain an open dialogue with buyers through online user newsletters. Companies such as Dell and Xerox allow customers to log into a secure buyer website to track the status of their orders, order products online or pay invoices.

This chapter has stressed the importance of changing the sales approach according to the differing needs and circumstances of customers. The boxed case discussion continues this theme by showing how different British and German customers can be.

Selling in Germany

Salespeople have to be aware of the need to adapt their approach to different customers and different ways of doing business. Major differences in the ways British and German companies do business were described by two German employees of British computer company Psion:

With German firms, there is much greater emphasis on bureaucracy and proper procedure. With British firms, things are done in a much more off-the-cuff way which means that they can react more flexibly and it is possible to act on a client’s requirements very rapidly. In Germany, particularly with big German companies, you have to go through a very long bureaucratic procedure.

I think the Germans are very precise. Their attitude is ‘I want this thing by 10.15 am not at 10.16 am.’ If you order something in the UK, you ask ‘When will it arrive?’ You will be told ‘You’ll have it next month.’

The office hierarchy is very important in Germany. For example, office subordinates may not be willing to take even the smallest decision while their boss is away. Salespeople can waste a lot of valuable time under such circumstances by attempting to sell to persons not authorized to take the decision of whether to buy the product or not.

The Germans place great emphasis on personal contact and usually expect to meet business partners face-to-face. However, one-to-one meetings are rare, with senior executives normally bringing along at least one colleague. Sometimes they appear confident, almost arrogant. The correct response is to be polite and correct. Germans are not impressed by covering up uncertainty with humor, particularly not at first meetings.

German business people should be addressed by their title and surname: Herr Schmidt or Frau Strauss. The dress is sober. Lunch is an important element in German business negotiations, although it may well be in the company canteen since business guests are rarely invited out for lavish meals.

Often suppliers’ salesforces are expected to negotiate with purchasing departments which may have considerable organizational power. Attempts to bypass the purchasing department may cause annoyance. Face-to-face contact at trade fairs and advertising campaigns are often used to communicate with engineers and other technical people.

Sources: Based on BBC2 Television (1993) ‘Germany Means Business: The Frankfurt Contenders’, 5 January; Forden, J. (1988) ‘Doing business with the Germans’, Director, July, pp. 102–4; Welford, R. and Prescott, K. (1992) ‘European Business’, Pitman Publishing, London, p. 208; and Wolfe, A. (1991) ‘The Euro buyer: how European businesses buy’, Marketing Intelligence and Planning, 9 (5), pp. 9–15


The skills involved in personal selling have been explored in this chapter. The necessary skills have been examined under the following headings:

  1. The opening.
  2. Need and problem identification.
  3. Presentation and demonstration.
  4. Dealing with objections.
  5. Negotiation.
  6. Closing the sale.
  7. The follow-up.

The emphasis in this chapter has been on identifying the needs and problems of the potential buyer and presenting a product or service as a means of fulfilling that need or solving that problem. Having identified the skills necessary for successful selling, in Chapter 9 we will examine the role of key account management in the selling process.


  1. Distinguish the various phases of the selling process
  2. Apply different questions to different selling situations
  3. Understand what is involved in the presentation and the demonstration
  4. Know how to deal with buyers’ objections
  5. Understand and apply the art of negotiation
  6. Close a sale


  • buying signals
  • closing the sale
  • demonstrations
  • needs analysis
  • negotiation
  • objections
  • personal selling skills
  • reference selling
  • sales presentation
  • trial close


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