Personal Selling: Definition, Real-Life Examples, and Strategies
It’s hard to give a personal selling definition when there are so many out there.
You can browse online for a minute — or ten — and it’s still very unclear.
Let’s look at the best answer plus real-life examples, processes, and how to get started.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What Is Personal Selling?
- Personal Selling Advantages & Disadvantages
- Types of Personal Selling
- The Opposite of Personal Selling
- Personal Selling Process
- How to Get Started with Personal Selling
- 5 Personal Selling Examples
What Is Personal Selling?
Personal selling is an approach where sellers humanize themselves and show they’re there to help prospects, not sell at them. The approach involves one-on-one interaction between buyer and seller and can be via email, phone, video, or in person (face-to-face).
So instead of taking a megaphone to share features far and wide, you take a step back and turn your head to listen.
This applies to both in-person and virtual meetings. When you don’t have your prospect there to tell you what they want, you can still take a first step.
Read on for 5 examples of personal selling that take place over email. All of them involve the action you need to take when you haven’t spoken yet: looking them up online.
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Personal Selling Advantages & Disadvantages
Although there are immense benefits of personal selling, there are some disadvantages to this type of selling. Let’s look at both the advantages and disadvantages below.
Personal Selling Advantages
- Creates two-way communication which helps you resolve objections easier
- Builds rapport and forms lasting business relationships
- Helps you convey more information and value
Personal Selling Disadvantages
- Takes more time, effort, and is ultimately more expensive
- Your reach is more limited and you talk to fewer prospects
- Contributes to a longer sales process
Types of Personal Selling
Personal selling can typically be categorized into three types of sellers: order takers, order creators, and order getters.
- Order Takers: Order takers serve as the point of contact for customers; they handle customer requests and inquiries. Their primary responsibility is to identify customer requirements and help fill their needs. An example of an order taker is a retail sales rep.
- Order Creators: Order creators don’t complete the transaction themselves; they persuade customers to promote the business’s offering. Examples of order creators include pharmaceutical reps and brand reps working with retailers.
- Order Getters: Order getters reach out to potential buyers directly in hopes of persuading them to buy their product/service. Examples include B2B sales, telemarketing, door-to-door sales, and consultative sales.
How to Piss People Off: The Opposite of Personal Selling
We’ve all been there.
Something that, by its nature, irks you happens again, and again, and again — but you brush it off because you can just focus on other things.
Until someone totally calls it out for you, and you’re like, “YES!”
The bad news: You might be the thing annoying your prospects right now (whoops). We get it, you have a quota. But there’s a person on the other end of that email, and your “respectful persistence” is actually pissing them off. To the point that you’re hurting your chances of getting them to take a meeting with you.
The good news: You can actually become the person who identifies what’s annoying them and shows them that there’s a way to totally eliminate it. More on this later.
What to Avoid When Personal Selling
For right now, just remember that you need to avoid these sources of frustration:
- Leading with who you are and what your company does instead of their situation.
- Telling them that you want to talk rather than asking them if they are interested.
- Personalizing a line to them while still being pushy — that’s just putting lipstick on a pig.
With each of the scenarios above, your recipient reads your email the same, no matter what it actually says: “Hi faceless prospect, I have a quota and am worried about me. Confirm a meeting time or else.”
Not the most appealing, right?
We already spend 35% of our workday in meetings that we schedule and we are required to attend. Why would we add another?
Getting to “yes” with a meeting request requires two things: 1) that they agree with you that their time is worth it, and 2) their preferred mode of communication to gather info is to have a call.
Studies show that introverts make up one-third to one-half of the population, and they dislike having meetings where they haven’t info-gathered on their own first. Booking a meeting just to tell them more is not their cup of tea.
What to do about it:
- Read over any professional email before you send it, and ask yourself: If I were the person receiving this email, would I say “yes” to this request?
- If you do ask for a meeting, be specific about what they would get out of that phone call that they can’t learn on their own.
- Think through your tendency to ask for a call. Is there a more engaging way to ask, or a better way to start a conversation that qualifies the match for both of you?
Personal Selling Process
The personal selling process consists of seven steps: prospecting, pre-approach, approach, presentation, handling objections, closing, and nurturing/following up. Let’s briefly discuss each of these steps below.
Prospecting involves identifying and qualifying ideal buyers for your product/service. This can be done through networking events, referrals, cold outreach, social media, and more. Lead qualification is essential here to narrow down your pool of leads to the prospects that are most likely to turn into paying customers.
Next, research is necessary before contacting/meeting with your leads. That way, you’re entering the conversation prepared with knowledge of their background, business, and market.
The goal of the approach stage is to understand the prospect’s wants, needs, and pain points. You should ask open-ended questions to gauge as much information as possible about the prospect so that you can tailor your pitch to their specific needs.
Now it’s time to show the prospect why you’re the right fit to solve their problems and help them succeed. This is where you show them your product/service and demonstrate its benefits and how it can help solve their specific pain points.
5. Handling Objections
Sales objections are inevitable. This is where you should be ready to alleviate any concerns they may have and address them head-on. This may include answering unresolved questions, providing further information, and offering tailored solutions.
If all has gone to plan, you’ve built rapport with this prospect and developed a relationship. Now, it’s time to close the mutually beneficial deal. This step involves finalizing contracts, payments, and invoices.
7. Nurturing/Following Up
Last but not least, always follow up with the customer. This is where you ensure the customer is happy, is receiving an effective onboarding process, and is satisfied with the product/service. This step is important to show the customer you still care, even after the sale has been closed.
How to Get Started with Personal Selling
How can you stop nagging your prospect and become a friendly, useful note in their inbox?
Use the PBR formula.
Personalization — Find an interest or need to create affinity bias and remove negativity bias.
Benefit — Show them the end picture; don’t just spell out your features.
Request — Doesn’t have to be their time. It could be a question to open up a conversation.
As emailing individuals, we’re trained to 1) have a disdain for sales emails and 2) like people who are similar to us.
Turn 1 into 2 by showing them that you aren’t just a seller; you’re a human being who is just like them, and you recognize their needs.
This brings us to 3: our brains are wired to love talking about ourselves. Use this to your advantage by focusing on them to start a conversation with your prospect.
Personal Selling Strategy: PBR Approach
How to get started with the PBR approach right now:
First — Write down the high-level value prop of your product/service. Think benefits for them, not features offered by you. Here’s an example of how to turn Yesware features into benefits: Second — Research your prospect. Find a unique interest, pain point, recent accomplishment, or job responsibility.
Third — Relate this back to your value prop.
Here’s how it works in an email:
- Start from where they are. (Ex. “I noticed XX” — where XX is where they are).
- Add context. (Why you bring it up)
- Connect the dots. (What’s in it for them?)
- Get to the point — make your ask.
Hint: It’s a waste of time (and sabotage to your email) to make an unwarranted request. Yes, your goal might be to book a meeting, but sometimes it’s worth nurturing with questions first. Because their silence to repeated requests to book time isn’t really silence, is it? It’s them saying “Nope, I’m good.”
To help you get started, below are five real personal selling emails that booked meetings.
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5 Personal Selling Examples That Are Endorsed by Prospects
1. The Candid Close — Give Them a Reason Why
Nothing’s worse than being invited to a meeting without an agenda that truly applies to us.
It’s estimated that we spend 31 hours in unproductive meetings every month. And in every meeting, 73% of people do other work because they don’t relate to the content.
When we’re in control of deciding whether or not to go, we’re going to say no.
Unless we’re given a good reason why it’s worth our time.
In the email below, a Yesware account executive adds two clear reasons for a meeting that help him transition from his Benefit to Request:
Email tracking revealed to this sender that this email was opened multiple times and the link was clicked. So he probably wasn’t surprised when he got this back:
Pro Tip: If your recipient published anything on LinkedIn recently, reference it, link to it, and show you read it with a connecting statement (all in the first paragraph above).
2. Crash My Calendar (Seller Turned Singer-Songwriter)
Hearing our favorite song makes us feel good. Neuroscientists at McGill University discovered that it releases dopamine, a chemical that controls our reward and pleasure centers.
“These findings provide neurochemical evidence that intense emotional responses to music involve ancient reward circuitry in the brain,” says Dr. Robert Zatorre, neuroscientist at The Neuro. “To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that an abstract reward such as music can lead to dopamine release.”
Which is why emailing a prospect with lyrics from a favorite song — adjusted to them and their business needs — puts a smile on their face and a reply in your inbox.
Here’s an example from one of our account executives:
And what Luke got back:
How to do it: Find their favorite band (try Facebook). Look up a song by said band, then tweak the chorus to your value prop.
3. Everyone Has the Same Achilles Heel: Competitors
We’re all constantly working to meet the needs of our target market and stay ahead of competitors at the same time.
It’s a difficult task, and it comes up on all teams across all industries.
Because it’s universal, you can use it for any prospect you’re emailing.
Give their pain point a nudge, then show them how you can fix it.
Here is a good example of personal selling from a Sr. Business Development Rep at Influitive:
There are two important things that Josh does well:
- Goes beyond simply naming a competitor by pointing out a very specific weak spot. This is what delivers true value, along with a very specific way to solve the problem.
- Asks a question instead of requesting my time. This is a good technique to use if you’re creating a drip campaign that you’ll automate. Work up to asking for a meeting.
How to do it on your own:
- Find their competitor.
- Identify one weak spot where you can help, and make it specific.
- Ask a question that is relevant, would likely be answered by a “no,” but should be a “yes.” If it’s clear you have the intel to get them to “yes,” boom – there’s their incentive to answer.
4. Connecting on a Human Level — What’s Bothering Them?
Some days, it can feel like the world is out to get you.
Personal selling lets you turn this around for someone by showing them you’re on their side.
Check out this email from our Account Executive Clare Durkin:
How to do it on your own: Find something that’s been bothering your prospect (ideally outside of work), then use a high-level connecting statement to tie it to a pain point on their team. Here, the connection is wasted time. In this case, it’s okay to ask for a meeting, because:
It’s the fastest way to help them solve the problem.
Here’s what Gloria replied back:
5. Bringing In Their Favorite Movie
What’s your favorite movie?
Think about it.
Now, how would you feel if someone acknowledged your love for this movie and geeked out with you about it?
You’d probably be impressed, and if it came through your inbox, it would be a welcome reprieve from typical business emails.
Here’s an email sent by our sales consultant Alex (and the reaction he got back):
How to do it: Find their favorite movie (try Facebook and Twitter). Identify a character and at least one well-known attribute that you can relate back to your own product or service (through metaphor). What end benefit do they both share?
Here’s how it works in Alex’s email:
Character: Jedi → Salespeople at JBX
Attribute 1: Lightsaber → Sales enablement tool
Attribute 2: Mind tricks → Engagement data
Shared end benefit: Success (whether it’s conquering the sith or scaling and growing a team).
Note: This technique works best for movies where there’s a clear protagonist and antagonist.
That’s all for now. Do you have any examples of emails that worked for you? We’d love to hear from you!
- “Personal selling” = Finding out who they are & what their needs are, then catering your initial outreach to that. Your first email should start a conversation where you listen.
- Move away from features and identify your value prop. What’s the end benefit?
- Lead with them, not you.
- Use a tool like email tracking to see when they’re opening your emails.
This guide was updated on October 10, 2023.
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