I’ve read lots of blog posts with titles like, “How to Sell Without Being Icky.” I agree that selling and sales tactics can often feel sleazy, or “icky,” and it doesn’t always have to. But I’ve also drawn a line at what I will and will not do, morality aside.
I had someone refer to my business persona as a “soft sell” and I kind of like that phrasing. I’m not on Facebook posting in groups every day about my super special deal, available for a limited time only! I’m there to get to know people and I post when the topic interests me or I know the answer to someone’s question.
Honestly? I’m much more active in my graphic design group than any others because I personally have more fun there. It’s a side benefit that I learn a ton about how to more efficiently run my business.
So when I make decisions about how to promote myself, I always ask, “What would I, as a consumer, think of this if someone else did it?” It’s simple, but having that small check before I try out some kind of promotional tactic makes me feel more confident in my business’ integrity.
Sales Tactics I DON’T Use
1. Hiding Prices
I’ve read a few times that you shouldn’t make your prices readily available on your website. It’s thought to encourage price shoppers and deter potential customers who would be willing to pay after getting to know you.
But, as a customer, I always use people who have prices available on their website and I have a strong mistrust of anyone who makes me inquire. It makes me wonder if they’re changing the pricing for each customer and if I’m expected to negotiate.
I don’t like negotiating, and I’m not going to do it. So I make my prices available and I make sure everyone who works with me knows they’re getting the same deal everyone else is.
I get so tired of seeing, “BUY NOW!” and “DEAL ENDS IN 2 HOURS!” I do run promos and ads (or at least I should) but I don’t instill a fake sense of urgency. I’m not a car dealership, I don’t use red/black/yellow/the danger colors, and I don’t pretend my deals are in danger of melting away.
I made the promo, it’s going to run for a month, if you buy it that’s great and if not, that’s ok too.
3. False Options
Think car salesmen and telemarketers. They don’t ask if you’re interested in their product – they jump right in to telling you details and then ask, “Which payment plan would you prefer?” As if it’s a foregone conclusion that you’ll buy right here, right now and your only options are to pay cash or take a loan.
No, just no. Sure, maybe I’d get more customers if I steamrolled over them, but would they be people who actually wanted to work with me? I’m not in business to make millions of dollars, I’m in business because I enjoy it and I want to work with people who will genuinely appreciate what I do.
Sales Tactics I DO Use
1. Content Creation
It’s a subtle tactic and it often feels thankless, but content creation is something I enjoy, that showcases my abilities, and that builds trust. Every Wednesday you get to see what I’m working on. On Fridays you can see fun facts about my field or scoff at the fact that I think fonts and colors are entertaining.
Obviously the downside to content creation is the sheer amount of time it entails, and the competition. But I have a handful of people I follow because they create genuinely good content and I’m hoping to follow their example.
2. Networking, On and Offline
Thus far, getting to know people online has been more fun than anything. I’ve found business friends, and learned a lot of tricks for business optimization and customer management. Offline has been more lucrative as far as clients, but even in that arena I don’t go in thinking of each event as a sales opportunity.
Networking events only started working for me when I stopped thinking of them as a hunt for clients. Now I go in just to make friends and build my referral network. Referrals have been by far the most powerful tool I have and it wouldn’t have come about if I hadn’t gone out and met them.
3. Making Myself Available
I’ve begun making a point of asking people how they found me. The answer I’ve heard the most astounded me. “Oh, well actually I called a couple of other people and you’re the first one who actually called me back.” WHAT?!
I’ll be honest, I’m not even that good at picking up the phone. But yes, I do call people back because why wouldn’t you? That’s just rude not to. I’m not sure if other designers are so busy they can’t keep up with calls or if some of the highest ranking sites are businesses that are no longer in existence, but apparently I stand out by simply responding to customers.
In addition to actually answering the phone, I continually work on improving my SEO and making sure my name is updated on all the different listings of graphic designers. I’ve had someone find me on Yelp, someone else from a list of “graphic design freelancers in Delaware” and a few find my website directly.
It works for me. Something else entirely might work for you, but I think the takeaway here is that you don’t have to follow traditional sales advice. Some consumers will fall prey to psychological tricks, but others are just looking for a business they feel comfortable with. In my case, I hope to always provide the kind of service I’m looking for in others.
What sales tactics do you feel comfortable using? Are you a soft sell person or do you prefer more direct strategies?