B2B Sales

Soft Selling: Everything You Need to Know

B2B buyers have grown wary of certain sales and advertising strategies, particularly ones that seem forceful or sly. 

Now, don’t worry, B2B sales jobs aren’t going anywhere. That human touch is critical. But to be safe, and to further safeguard your position against any Sales-Bot 3000, it is often beneficial to temper any pushiness, aggressiveness, or exaggeration that might send prospects running. 

Basically, it helps to show your prospects that you are not the stereotypical salesperson they see in the movies. 

You want to put them at ease. You want to give them time to deliberate. And most of all, you want to form a relationship. 

That strategy is what we call the soft sell.

In this post, you will learn exactly how to do it. 

Here are 8 best practices for soft selling that will help you form lifelong clients, not one-time buyers. Read it if you think it will help — it’s your choice. 

See what I did there? 

What is Soft Selling? 

Soft selling is a sales strategy that focuses on conversational language and relationship-building tactics. It is devoid of any urgency or aggressive asks for a close. 

That is because the purpose of a soft selling approach is to make the prospects feel comfortable and unhurried throughout the sales process. 

During a soft sell, the sales rep will consistently provide value and ask a lot of thoughtful questions, much like you would if taking a consultative sales approach

They will also work with the prospects to figure out why the product or service might or might not be a good fit, never forcing the matter. 

All of this results in a strong bond between the buyer and the seller. 

Here is an illustration of a soft sell. 

Let’s say a sales rep asks to connect with a decision maker on LinkedIn. Then, throughout the following month, the rep interacts with the decision maker in ways that provide value. 

Maybe they send the lead helpful articles or comment on their posts. After a month, confident in their rapport, the sales rep decides to casually ask the lead if they would be interested in a quick call. The rep states they would like to learn more about their business. 

From there, the salesperson asks thoughtful questions and moves the lead through the pipeline.

Rather than being mere presentations, their web-demos are more like conversations with features serving as jumping-off points.

Finally, three months after the initial contact, the lead decides this solution is a great fit and signs the deal. 

Over the next 10 years, the client will continue to buy from the sales rep because they have formed such a strong relationship through many conversations and mutual understanding. 

Hard Sell vs. Soft Sell 

Soft selling approaches are less direct than those of hard selling. The former is a succession of many subtle nudges, each of which provokes thought, interest, and trust in the prospect. 

Meanwhile, hard selling is a series of a few hard tugs of the hand, such as calls to action or closing pitches.

During a soft sell, the sales rep focuses on building a relationship, trusting that this will lead to a sale.

In a hard sell, the sales rep attempts to close the sale quickly, happy if a relationship rises from their tactics, but not needing it to happen. 

We usually associate soft selling with larger firms and complex sales, where the goal is a big, loyal customer base. 

Their product’s ROIs are too analysis-heavy to enable a quick purchase. 

For example, an enterprise B2B SaaS solution probably uses a soft selling approach.

On the other hand, hard selling is usually associated with smaller firms and more one-time sales, where their goal is a high number of sales in a short time and the product’s ROI is self-explanatory. 

For example, a B2C low-cost SaaS solution might use the hard sell. 

Elements of Hard Sales 

A hard sell is a sales approach that consists of insistent and direct language. It is considered a high-pressure and often pushy sales strategy. The approach has lost advocates over the last couple of decades. 

Elements of persuasion used in a hard sell might include:

  • Creating intense urgency with expiring deals. 
  • Instilling the fear of missing out.
  • Using unscrupulous psychological tactics. 
  • Making sensational claims about the product. 
  • Putting pressure on the buyer to make a decision. 
  • Asking for a buy even after being told no 4 times. 

For example, a car salesman might use a hard selling approach by convincing the prospect that the price will double if they walk off the lot, or explaining that these models are disappearing like crazy, and that time is running out. 

Hard selling used to be more effective when salespeople held all of the information. 

Now that a buyer can easily google whatever they are trying to buy, soft selling is the go-to strategy in most companies. 

Elements of Soft Sales 

Soft selling is relationship-focused, and therefore consists of selling elements like the following:

  • Conversations, not pitches: The sales rep asks open-ended questions that initiate conversations meant to uncover any of the prospect’s pain points, goals, and needs. Through discussion, the rep is trying to learn as much as possible about the prospect so that they can provide the best help. 
  • Less cold calling, more warm calling: Instead of initiating contact with a cold call, soft sellers will usually send an email first. This is called cold calling 2.0. They also might focus on reaching out to warmer leads who have interacted with their marketing content.
  • Social selling: Soft sellers connect and interact with prospects in sales-free environments — social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. This enables them to build rapport before delivering any pitches.
  • A focus on finding and solving problems: When soft selling, you want to form a strong understanding of what caused the prospect to check out your solution. Once you know that, you can cater your demos and presentations to their interests. 

If your clients think of you as someone who helps them solve their pain points, they will be more likely to establish a long-term partnership with you.

Which One to Use 

While it might seem like a sales rep should always be using a soft selling approach, that isn’t always the case. 

Sometimes deals need to be closed quickly, and the sales rep can’t’ afford to spend too much time with each client. 

This is especially true if the product being sold is transactional — easy to understand and low-priced. 

Now, if you are selling B2B solutions, which tend to be more complex and require buy-in from more than one stakeholder, you probably want to use a soft selling approach. 

The relationship-building tactics will help you close more deals with these informed, business-savvy B2B buyers. 

How to Leverage Soft Selling to Get Clients? 

Relationship-focused networking is all about getting to know the prospect and uncovering their pain points and needs. Through this networking, you might even uncover their favorite hobbies or places to go on vacation. 

That’s what you want. You aren’t all business all the time when soft selling. 

Here are the best ways to leverage soft-selling to get clients. 

1. Do Your Research

The most important part of soft selling is learning about your prospects and their business goals, pains, and motivations. 

So, before each meeting, you should spend time researching the account. You should search for information about both the prospect and their company. Find this intel from their LinkedIn site, their company’s “about us” page, or their competitors’ websites

Additionally, use a lead generation tool like Soleadify. This tool gives you a long list of ideal customers along with important information about them. 

So, what is considered important information?

Useful intel might be the prospect’s responsibilities, career aspirations, or favorite weekend activities. 

Essentially, you are looking for any details you can bring up in your future conversation to keep it engaging and two-sided.

There is no better way to keep conversation flowing than by asking good questions. So form a list of 5-10 informed questions you will ask your prospect during your call. 

These details could be personal: “I noticed you taught ski lessons for a while. I ski too! So, I’m curious, where did you teach?” 

Or they could be business-oriented: “I saw on LinkedIn that you manage a team of fifteen. That’s a lot of direct reports. I was wondering how you track their progress on projects?” 

Not only does research make it easier for you to sell the product, but it also helps the customer trust you. They will see you did your homework and notice that you are putting time and effort into this consultation. 

2. Be Personable

Selling to a room of business executives can be intimidating. The prospects, trying their best to look hard to impress, might seem uninviting or even downright mean. 

But, as a soft seller, your job is to lighten the mood and diffuse the tension. Show them that you are not there to persuade and coax them but to inform and help them. 

Do this by being personable and approachable, while maintaining your professionalism. There is a balance to strike, and you can do it. 

Being personable is when you take a genuine interest in your customers’ businesses and lives. Being professional is when you demonstrate your knowledge about the industry, your product, and their business. 

Exude both interest and expertise by asking relevant questions that show you did your homework. 

There is no better way to keep the conversation flowing. So form a list of 5-10 informed questions you will ask your prospect during your call. 

Ask them about certain business ventures, operational challenges, or changes they are experiencing in the industry. 

Also, don’t be afraid to go off-topic. If they want to talk about last night’s football game, join in. If they want to debate a bad referee call, give your opinion.

Straying away from business topics is okay in soft selling — you are playing the long game here. And through that game, through the countless emails and phone calls, keep up that friendly tone.

3. Focus on Building Relationships (With Existing and Potential Clients)

If you commit to building relationships with both your potential and your existing clients, you will see higher close rates, more upsells, and additional referrals. 

That’s because your clients won’t see you as just another salesperson. They will see you as a consultant who is their go-to person for help in a particular area of their business. 

To form these relationships, you should first of all take care of the necessary technical components. 

Get a good CRM system, and make a pledge to use it. 

When we say use it, we don’t just mean log your calls and track your pipeline stages. We also mean update the CRM with anything interesting you learn about your client and their life.

If your client tells you they are getting married, mark down the date of the wedding. That way, if you have a call with them before the wedding, you can ask how planning is going. And after, you can ask about married life. 

They will be flattered you remembered.

When you demonstrate your interest in the lives of your clients, they will be more likely to take an interest in your products or services. 

4. Listen More Than You Talk

Some sales managers have gone as far as standing behind talkative sales reps and clicking mute on their microphones during calls. The masters know something the newer reps don’t. 

Silence is power. 

How so? 

Well, when you are listening to someone talk, there is usually a point in time where they pause. 

This might cause you to think that they have finished their thought and that it is your time to speak. However, sometimes they are simply considering what to say. 

If you make the mistake of talking too soon, you miss out on any information they were about to give you. 

And in sales, information is critical, as it is often the key ingredient you need to develop the final pitch that sends them over the line. This is why it’s so important to listen more than you talk. 

How to Be a Better Listener

Try this technique to improve your listening: Whenever your prospect finishes a sentence, count to two seconds. If those two seconds pass, and if the other person remains silent, you can respond. 

Two seconds might sound like nothing, but it will feel like an eternity at first. Don’t worry though — the silence is not as awkward as your mind is making it out to be. 

The technique ensures that your prospect can continue talking if they have something else to say. It also trains your mind to actively listen instead of thinking about what you are going to say next. 

Not to mention, your customers will love you for it. How refreshing it will be to say everything they wanted to say, without feeling rushed. 

People have a natural desire to be heard. It’s why writers write. It’s why politicians debate. And it’s why salespeople sell. 

We crave to express our unique thoughts and informed opinions, but any expression is unfulfilling if it falls upon inattentive ears and wandering minds. 

So, give your prospect the best gift you have: your undivided attention. 

5. Ask Thoughtful Questions

If you were a decision maker, which question would you be more likely to enjoy answering?

  1. “How are you handling your management responsibilities at the company?” 
  1. “I heard that you were recently tasked with the implementation of a new software system. You had to roll it out across your entire team. What strategies did you employ to get buy-in from your team?”

Probably number two. Why? 

Because it brings up specific information about the decision maker and therefore excites them. It also demonstrates to them that you truly care about their answer, and are not just fishing around for information that you can use to convince them to buy. 

In soft selling, your questions should be based on the research you did about the company or the prospect. And you should ask for something specific. 

For example, say you are selling sales engagement software to a sales manager. 

Don’t say, “tell me about managing a team.” Instead say, “managing business development reps is so hard these days. How do you get them excited to send cold emails?” 

Then, dig into their answer. Explain how a lot of your clients see increases in successful email outreach when using your solution. 

These good sales questions will help you form a relationship, uncover reasons they should buy your solution, and keep the conversation intriguing and fun. 

6. Provide Value Without Pushing the Sale

In hard selling, most follow-up emails are meant to push the prospect to agree to the sale. So, they are usually product-focused. 

In soft selling, you are encouraged to stray a bit and provide value in other ways that don’t necessarily push the sale. Instead, these follow-ups are meant to grow your relationship.

For instance, imagine that during a past conversation you learned about a prospect’s interest in world history. Today, you remember a book you read on world history that you think they might enjoy. In your follow up email, mention the book, like so:

Hi {Name}, 

I hope your week has been going well. I wanted to quickly check in about your internal conversations about the product. No rush here, I was just looking for any updates. 

Also, I was looking through my bookshelf and came across a copy of one of my favorite history books: {name of book}. I remember you mentioned you were going through a World War 2 binge lately, so I thought I might recommend this one to you. 

Anyway, I’m looking forward to hearing from you!” 

If books aren’t your thing, you can also provide value in other ways: 

  • An article relevant to their responsibilities. 
  • A report informing them of the state of their industry.
  • Educational content about something they are interested in.

Remember, this content can be from other sources than your company’s resource page. 

An added bonus is that if they do read whatever you sent their way, you will have a lot to talk about during the next call. 

7. Give Prospects Time to Decide

It is important not to rush your clients. A bombardment of emails and phone calls might unsettle them or make them feel as though your priorities lie with making the sale, not with helping their business. 

So, give them time to decide on their own. 

Post-demo follow-ups are still important, but you should keep them to a minimum — 1 email and 1 call a week — and they should be tactical, similar to the email example in the section above. 

When you let your prospects take their time, they will feel respected. 

This will further strengthen any relationship you formed in the initial calls and lead to a higher chance of a sale. 

8. Don’t Stalk Your Prospects 

No matter how cool they are, never stalk your prospects. Don’t follow them around at trade shows or comment on every single one of their LinkedIn posts. 

If they feel like you are trying too hard, they might become uncertain about your intentions. 

They might start to question whether they want to work with someone who won’t leave them alone. 

Use your emotional intelligence here. If you are getting signals that they don’t want to talk business right now, leave them be. 

It doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It could just be that they are extremely busy at the moment and cannot think about this project. 

Even though you might want to push for the close, resist the urge, back off, and allow them time to themselves. 

Then, try again next week. Maybe by then, they will be ready to discuss purchasing and onboarding. 

9. Sell Through Stories and Case Studies

Instead of selling through exaggerated promises and long-winded pitches, sell through stories and case studies. 

Discussing how your solution has helped companies similar to your prospects will help them see the benefits of working with you. 

Also, when you share customer success stories, you are putting the prospect in a comfortable position. 

Rather than nodding their heads and forcing smiles as they are being pitched to, they can sit back and enjoy a good story. As long as your stories are emotionally charged and interesting, your prospects will stay engaged. 

To tell an engaging story, make sure you follow this format. 

  1. Introduce the company (the protagonist).
  2. Highlight a problem (the antagonist) the company was experiencing. 
  3. List examples of how they tried and failed to solve the problem.
  4. Show how they successfully used your solution to solve the problem. 
  5. Paint the post-purchase world they now enjoy. 

You don’t need to be Alfred Hitchcock or Stephen King to tell an intriguing customer success story. 

Here is a visual checklist for telling stories you can download:

All you need is a few story outlines and some practice. Also, the more you tell the stories, the better you will get. 

Conclusion 

Soft selling is an art form, a succession of well-timed, personable, and influential actions and statements that you take to politely nudge your prospect towards the victory line. 

If you can master it, the world is yours. 

That might sound like a hard sell, but the hyperbole holds a bit of truth. If you can master the art of building relationships and influencing others, doors will open for you that you have never even imagined. 

So, hone your soft selling skills, delight your prospects, and enjoy the friendships you make along the way. And please, try to use your soft selling skills for good, not evil.