Theories of Selling

Selling is a key element of a company’s promotional mix. It is one-on-one interaction between a salesperson and a prospect. In the early 21st century relationship-oriented consultative style approach to personal selling, salespeople get to know prospects, find out their needs and make honest recommendations about product or service solutions. A number of theories help sellers better understand the role they play in selling to customers.

  1. Maslow’s Hierarchy

One of the foundational need theories in psychology is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow introduced his five levels of human need in a 1943 paper. He indicated that people have five basic needs, which they address in order of priority. Physiological needs are first, followed by safety and security, social belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization. This theory has huge value in selling in that salespeople get to know prospects and ask questions to discover their needs in a buying situation. Realizing where people are coming from on the Maslow pyramid is a part of a seller’s emotional intelligence. For instance, car buyers may be most concerned with basic survival or security and want an economic, dependable vehicle. Others buy cars for social or esteem reasons.

  1. Buyer Resolution Theory

The buyer resolution theory, also known as the 5 W’s, provides a simple framework of questions salespeople must address to get a prospect to buy. The questions are “Why should I buy?”, “What should I buy?”, “Who should I buy from?”, “What’s a fair price?”, and “When is a good time to buy?” These questions also relate to the five common categories of buyer concern. In essence, if a salesperson can effectively answer all of these questions in an optimal way for a prospect, he should be able to close a sale.

  1. Consumer Decision-Making Process

The consumer decision-making process is the common steps buyers go through en route to a purchase. The process begins with need recognition, which is the through that triggers a buyer to consider a purchase. He then moves to information search and development of a consideration set. After evaluating options on critical criteria, he purchases what he believes is the best value solution. After experience the product or services, he assesses the value relative to expectations. Understanding this systematic approach buyers use, sellers can help from the beginning by suggesting needs or desires buyers may not even recognize yet. During the information search, a seller needs to present his solution as a good value. During and after purchase, customer service for an ongoing relationship becomes key.

  1. Dominant Buying Motives

Two comparisons of buying motives offer insight into where a particular prospect is coming from in a buying scenario. Emotional versus rational buying motives is a comparison of purchases driven by emotion and sentiment or rational thought processes. Patronage versus product motivation is an assessment of a buyer’s interest in a product or in buying from a given firm. Knowing whether a buyer is more emotionally or rationally involved helps salespeople organization their persuasive efforts. In general, though, emotional appeals tend to carry more weight even with rational buyers. While sellers want to sell quality products, they also want to develop relationships with buyers to encourage long-term relationships and patronage motivations.

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