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The Art of the Soft Sell

Updated: May 29, 2023

Written by Adrian Miller

When you come across the phrase the art of the soft sell, you might focus your attention on the word “soft.” You might not even do this consciously; many people don’t, and especially, individuals that never in their wildest imagination would consider themselves “in sales.”

And based on this unconscious focusing, you may lead yourself to believe that the difference between conventional selling and soft selling is . . . well, that you just do the latter softer.

Before we go on, let me state that I think everyone is in sales. Consider these situations:

You want to go to Norway for a vacation. Your partner wants to go to the Caribbean. You’re set on getting your way and so you start to SELL them on the idea (i.e., present benefits and value, show the competitive advantage, etc.)

Your 8-yr old wants a chocolate ice cream cone. They’re wearing a new light-colored shirt and you’re headed to a party. Of course, you want them to have vanilla so that drips are less visible. Yep, you start to sell them on your selection.

You get the idea, right? :)

That is, you do what you’ve always done, but you say please a bit more, or you say it’s really up to you, I’m not here to pressure you, I care more about you than the sale . . . and other things that, when we write them here in black and white, reveal themselves—perhaps a bit embarrassingly—to be what they are: “injected” politeness within a conventional sales approach. It’s similar to how aggressive, direct-speech people come across when they first try to be more diplomatic. Instead of telling you that you’re a total idiot, they say: please let me say that you’re a total idiot.

Not very diplomatic, is it?

Nor is the above-described approach to soft-selling very soft. The reason? It’s all about the unconscious focusing on the wrong word.

The word to care about here is art; because soft selling really is an art! Just as how you are allowed to look at art and derive your own, personal meaning—the artist EMPOWERS you to do that—true soft selling also has to follow the same path. Soft selling has to EMPOWER prospects to build their own meaning, assess their own value, and determine—on their own—if you’re selling the solution that they want.

Naturally, you can—and should—assist prospects on their journey of meaning-making. Just as painters don’t offer you a blank painting and say: go ahead and paint whatever you want, I’m easy, you have a variety of tools and techniques at your disposal to usher your prospect towards a favorable destination (a.k.a. doing business with you). These tools and techniques include:

  • Free, unbiased articles, newsletters, white papers, and other information sources that help your prospect become a better buyer (even if they don’t buy from you)

  • Providing a free assessment or evaluation that will be valuable to your prospect even if they decide to do business elsewhere (or perhaps not at all)

  • Paying careful attention to your prospect, and accurately interpreting non-verbal “busy signals” so you know to back off before they ask you to give them more time

  • While promoting the benefits of your solution, honestly and openly share the limitations too; your prospect KNOWS that limitations exist – fill in the blanks with reality, instead of leaving it up to your prospect's (potentially pessimistic) imagination

  • Ensure that your prospect “saves face” – don’t position your selling effort so that your prospect feels stupid or unclear if they don’t do business with you right now

Remember, the keyword in the art of soft-selling is the word art, and art is, by its very nature, EMPOWERING. As a “soft seller,” you must truly empower your prospect. Anything less isn’t merely not soft selling, but worse, it’s not artistic.

And crimes against art are hardly forgivable, in galleries or sales efforts alike.


Meet the Author

Adrian Miller is a mom, business owner (3 cos; 3 decades), theater fanatic, wife, museum nerd, grandma of three tiny kiddos, writer, avid reader, vegan, raving fan of NYC, networker on steroids, and lover of dive bars and tequila shots. She’s a master at business development, sales, and revenue growth and loves to spread best practices to every business owner.


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