Early sellers and traders were not held in high esteem. The Roman word for salesman meant ‘Cheater’ and ‘Mercury’: the God of cunning and barter was regarded as the patron deity of merchants and traders.
The first salesmen in the U.S. were ‘Yankee Peddlers’ (pack peddlers), who carried clothing, spicer, and notions in backpacks from East Coast manufacturing centers to settlers in the western frontier regions. Many traders came to be viewed as shrewd; unprincipled tricksters who would not think twice about putting sand in the sugar; dust in pepper and chicory in coffee.
In the early 1800s, some peddlers began to use horse-drawn wagons and to stock heavier goods such as furniture, ammunition, etc. Some of these wagon peddlers settled in frontier villages and opened the first general stores and trading posts. The larger retailers traveled once or twice a year to the nearest major city to replenish their stock. Eventually, wholesalers and manufacturers hired greeters; on drummers who would meet incoming trains and ships to beat their competition.
Before 1860, there were fewer than 1000 traveling salesmen, many of whom were credit investigators who also took orders for goods. By 1870, there were 7000; by 1880, 28000; and by 1900, 93000 traveling salesmen. Modern selling and sales management techniques were refined by John Henry Patterson (1844-1922), widely regarded as the father of modern salesmanship. Patterson showed the other companies the way to turn a sales force into an effective tool for building sales and profits.
The competitive environment mandates that sellers not only sell but also serve. In the competitive selling environment that all businesses face, there is no one formula for success, but, if there were, it just might be “Find innovative ways to fulfill a deep commitment to customer satisfaction”.
In a broader sense, this is the service aspect of personal selling, to identify each customer’s needs and problems and to respond to them individually. This is the “value-added” or extra benefit that salespeople can provide. This value-added is often the difference between sales success and failure in today’s very competitive markets. Today Salespeople and Sales Managers are often involved in other important aspects of the total marketing process: distributor credit, the customer’s use or promotion of the product, pricing, and so forth.
MEANING OF 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. Personal selling is a promotional method in which one party (e.g., salesperson) uses skills and techniques for building personal relationships with another party (e.g., those involved in a purchase decision) that results in both parties obtaining value. In most cases, the “value” for the salesperson is realized through the financial rewards of the sale while the customer’s “value” is realized from the benefits obtained by consuming the product.
However, getting a customer to purchase a product is not always the objective of personal selling. For instance, selling may be used for the purpose of simply delivering information.
As selling involves personal contact, this promotional method often occurs through face-to-face meetings or via a telephone conversation, though newer technologies allow contact to take place over the Internet including using video conferencing or text messaging (e.g., online chat).
OBJECTIVES OF PERSONAL SELLING
- Building Product Awareness
- Creating Interest
- Providing Information
- Stimulating demand
- Reinforcing the brand
QUALITIES OF A SUCCESSFUL SALESPERSON
- 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 has to gain the confidence of the customers. He should be able to understand their needs and guide them as 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 represents. 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. and he should be able to explain the business and service record of the company. He should also have knowledge of products of rival companies so that he can put across the superiority of his own products.
- Good behaviour: 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 cool 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 to in a conversation. He should be able to convince him and create the desire in his mind to possess the commodity.
PERSONAL SELLING PROCESS
Seven major stages have been identified in the personal selling process:
● Approaching the prospect
● Making the sales presentation
● Dealing with prospects objection
● Closing the sales
● Follow-up on the sales
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF PERSONAL SELLING
One key advantage personal selling has over other promotional methods is that it is a two-way form of communication. In selling situations the message sender (e.g., salesperson) can adjust the message as they gain feedback from message receivers (e.g., customer). So if a customer does not understand the initial message (e.g., doesn’t fully understand how the product works) the salesperson can make adjustments to address questions or concerns. Many non-personal forms of promotion, such as a radio advertisement, are inflexible, at least in the short term, and cannot be easily adjusted to address audience questions.
The interactive nature of personal selling also makes it the most effective promotional method for building relationships with customers, particularly in the business-to-business market. This is especially important for companies that either sell expensive products or sell lower cost but high volume products (i.e., the buyer must purchase in large quantities) that rely heavily on customers making repeat purchases. As such purchases may take a considerable amount of time to complete and may involve the input of many people at the purchasing company (i.e., buying center), sales success often requires the marketer to develop and maintain strong relationships with members of the purchasing company.
Finally, personal selling is the most practical promotional option for reaching customers who are not easily reached through other methods. The best an example is in selling to the business market where compared to the consumer market, advertising, public relations, and sales promotions are often not well received.
Disadvantages of Personal Selling
Possibly the biggest disadvantage of selling is the degree to which this promotional method is misunderstood. Most people have had some bad experiences with salespeople who they perceived were overly aggressive or even downright annoying. While there are certainly many salespeople who fall into this category, the truth is, salespeople are most successful when they focus their efforts on satisfying customers over the long term and not focus on their own selfish interests.
The second disadvantage of personal selling is the high cost of maintaining this type of promotional effort. Costs incurred in personal selling include:
● High cost-per-action (CPA): Promotion Decisions, CPA can be an important measure of the success of promotion spending. Since personal selling involves person-to-person contact, the money spent to support a sales staff (i.e., salesforce) can be steep. This cost is incurred whether a sale is made or not! These costs include compensation (e.g., salary, commission, and bonus), providing sales support materials, allowances for entertainment spending, office supplies, telecommunication, and much more. With such a high cost for maintaining a sales force, selling is often not a practical option for selling products that do not generate a large amount of revenue.
● Training Costs: Most forms of personal selling require the sales staff to be extensively trained on product knowledge, industry information and selling skills. For companies that require their salespeople attend formal training programs, the cost of training can be quite high and include such expenses as travel, hotel, meals, and training equipment while also paying the trainees’ salaries.
The third disadvantage is that personal selling is not for everyone. Job turnover in sales is often much higher than in other marketing positions. For companies that assign salespeople to handle certain customer groups (e.g., geographic territory), turnover may leave a company without representation in a customer group for an extended period of time while the company recruits and trains a replacement.
● Nowadays salesmanship is accepted as an essential service, as it is considered as assistance given to the customer to buy wisely. It is an important technique of promotion. Personal selling has a vital role to play in decision-making on the part of consumers.
● In the case of individual purchases, the salesman acts as a guide and friend to consumers. He informs him of new products and new uses of existing products. He assists him in selecting products that match his needs and income and guides him in purchasing products that will give him maximum satisfaction.
● Salesmen help businessmen in more than one way. They help the businessmen to locate prospective customers and thus to increase sales. They help in the creation of demands for new products as well as help to sustain demand for the existing products. This helps the businessmen in designing and developing the products according to the needs of the customers. Through large and rapid sales turnover, salesmen help in increased employment and income.
● Besides helping the customers and businessmen; the salesmen perform certain other functions such as after-sales service, meeting complaints, giving information about credit facilities, delivering goods, collecting payments, etc. They help in increasing the standard of living of the people by introducing new products.
Reference: Bowersox, Logistical Management: The Integrated Supply Chain Process, Calvin, Robert J. Sales Management, Chopra, Supply Chain Management, Ghoshal, World Class in India. Penguin India, Lamba, A.J. The Art of Retailing, Scheuing, Kurtz, Johnson. Sales Management: Concepts, Practices and
Cases, SCDL Books and various other sources.