The soft sell sometimes gets a bad rap. In an era of aggressive marketing, particularly in the technology-driven e-commerce sector, there is little room for prevarication. One needs to convert, convert, convert – drive sales and grow, in an ever-competitive, ruthless marketplace.
The debate over hard versus soft sell approaches is as old as the hills, but the truth is that our customers are often just as overwhelmed by the whirring speed of overt blanket marketing as we are.
We need to redefine the soft sell. It is no longer its predecessor, the ‘softly, softly’ approach of yore. A soft sell today is a sophisticated, strategic, multilateral machine that builds customer trust and loyalty. It converts browsers to buyers, casual visitors to converts.
While the soft sell comes with risks, so do all sales strategies and the key to getting bang for your buck with any strategy is authenticity. In a crowded market and at a time of consumer fatigue towards insincere platitudes in promotions, you can guide your customers down the sales funnel with marketing content that provides value and builds trust. For those in business for the long game, it’s worth investing the same time and careful consideration into nurturing your customer base for the longer term.
Traditional businesses that have a website and e-commerce in place can sometimes see it as an ancillary, a necessary evil. For most of them, 95% of visitors will leave without engaging. However, if managed well it can be one of the major pillars to your business success and longevity.
You can’t see your website browsers the way you see your customers. They are less tangible than watching the foot traffic in your shop or showroom. If 95 percent of the latter walked in and out of your shop without purchasing or enquiring or even acknowledging, you would be very quickly putting strategies in place to increase customer service, increase targeted traffic, and retain the loyalty of your core customer base. So why not treat your online customers the same way?
Personalisation and segmentation
It is important to not generalise your customers. They are unique individuals, and beyond that can belong to various demographic groups, cultures, age groups and other areas of differentiation. This is important because they want different things from your business or product for different reasons.
In simple terms, don’t send the same email to your entire database. Systems are now geared to allow you to easily send a different message to different people in your database via segmentation and automation. Authenticity and care in your communications are key. Consider culture, language, demographic and the relevant targets of your offering when crafting your automated messaging, use your database wisely – segmentation is critical to relevant communications.
Email marketing automation allows you to send personalised messages (based on segments) automatically, as well as based on any trackable engagements that your customers take. Retailers can create very personalised emails that will resonate with their customers, to the point where selling doesn’t feel like selling, it’s valuable information that relates to their needs.
Give them a destination
Although soft selling via social media is crucial for growing brand awareness and building your audience, a call to action is crucial. There is little point in spending your valuable time and money on content to engage your audience if it contains no pathway or journey for the user to continue.
Encouraging your customers to do something after sharing information with them is known as a call to action. Calls to action might include ‘Click here’, ‘Learn more’, ‘Get started!’, ‘Download here’.
Without a clear call to action, conversions will remain low. If you’ve got somebody who’s already engaged with your content, give them somewhere to go. Content is never more powerful than when it encourages your consumers to act.
Communicate on their terms
Your online presence should let your customers communicate with you on their terms. How do your customers prefer to communicate? Do you have these channels clearly visible on your website? To bridge this divide, consider solutions such as live chat or Facebook Messenger as a chat option, along with a clearly visible clickable phone number on all pages of your website. If your customers are international, you could encourage them to use WhatsApp.
You should also include an email address, since people generally do not like the impersonality of filling out contact forms. Finally, ensure you’ve got links to your Facebook, Instagram and any other relevant social platforms on all of your webpages.
The golden rule here is this: when your customers initiate a conversation, via any of their chosen channels, do NOT direct them to another one. For example, there is no point in using your live chat capability to direct a customer to call a help desk. Utilise available technology to either resolve their query or undertake to return the correspondence directly, within their chosen channel.
Quid pro quo – value for contact
The number one missed opportunity on small business websites is that they do not offer visitors something of compelling value in exchange for their email addresses. This seems fundamental, but value, perceived or in real terms, is vital in verifying and converting your potential lead.
Not everyone is ready to immediately book/buy from you when they visit your website. They may be ‘browsing’ or are at an early stage of their purchase lifecycle. They are interested, but not ready to invest in detailed reading or immediate obligatory costs. But an offer that pops up, at the right time, promising to deliver them something of value is more of an exchange, and less of a database trawl.
This looks different for every business depending on your customers’ needs. Give your potential customers something special in exchange for their email addresses. They are already considering your product. How can you educate, inform, entertain, and ultimately convert? It might be free content such as a document or e-book download. It might be an appealing discount on their purchase when signing up to be a potential customer. Whatever it is, in this exchange, you get the email address and can nurture your potential customer with an email sequence tailored to them.
Soft and steady wins the race
It can sometimes feel that a soft sell is a bit like treading water, and not enough is happening. All of these tips and considerations will go a long way to strengthening your soft sell strategy, and remember the customer journey is not always linear, so everything you do to develop trust on your customers’ preferred channels can contribute to them becoming a warm lead.
The tapestry of techniques, capturing the interest and loyalty of those potential customers, and your authenticity and commitment to them, are all part of a sophisticated strategy that, if done right, will reap sustainable rewards. And it’s much easier to implement, when you have the right knowledge, support and digital tools, than you might think.
Article contributed from Liz Ward, co-founder and CEO, Navii:
Liz Ward is the co-founder and CEO at Navii going digital. With more than 20 years’ experience helping businesses build their digital capabilities, Liz is a committed advocate for tech innovation.
Navii is an Australian government-backed, independent organisation that helps small and medium-sized businesses thrive in the digital economy. The team behind Navii has helped thousands of small businesses in Australia and around the world with unbiased digital advice, courses, one on one consultations and industry training.
Alongside a team of 11 in-house employees, Navii also boasts a wide network of trusted digital professionals, educators, and mentors who are on hand to provide specialised help and advice. Navii is always practical and jargon-free, with all materials written in plain English.