Advantages and Disadvantages of Personal Selling
The most significant strength of personal selling is its flexibility. Salespeople can tailor their presentations to fit the needs, motives, and behavior of individual customers. A salesperson can gauge the customer’s reaction to a sales approach and immediately adjust the message to facilitate better understanding.
Personal selling also minimizes wasted effort. Advertisers can spend a lot of time and money on a mass-marketing message that reaches many people outside the target market (but doesn’t result in additional sales). In personal selling, the sales force pinpoints the target market, makes a contact, and focuses effort that has a strong probability of leading to a sale.
As mentioned above, an additional strength of personal selling is that measuring marketing effectiveness and determining ROI are far more straightforward for personal selling than for other marketing communication tools—where recall or attitude change is often the only measurable effect.
Another advantage of personal selling is that a salesperson is in an excellent position to encourage the customer to act. The one-on-one interaction of personal selling means that a salesperson can effectively respond to and overcome objections—e.g., concerns or reservations about the product—so that the customer is more likely to buy. Salespeople can also offer many customized reasons that might spur a customer to buy, whereas an advertisement offers a limited set of reasons that may not persuade everyone in the target audience.
A final strength of personal selling is the multiple tasks that the sales force can perform. For example, in addition to selling, a salesperson can collect payments, service or repair products, return products, and collect product and marketing information. In fact, salespeople are often the best resources when it comes to disseminating positive word-of-mouth product information.
High cost is the primary disadvantage of personal selling. With increased competition, higher travel and lodging costs, and higher salaries, the cost per sales contract continues to rise. Many companies try to control sales costs by compensating sales representatives through commissions alone, thereby guaranteeing that salespeople are paid only if they generate sales. However, commission-only salespeople may become risk averse and only call on clients who have the highest potential return. These salespeople, then, may miss opportunities to develop a broad base of potential customers that could generate higher sales revenues in the long run.
Companies can also reduce sales costs by using complementary techniques, such as telemarketing, direct mail, toll-free numbers for interested customers, and online communication with qualified prospects. Telemarketing and online communication can further reduce costs by serving as an actual selling vehicle. Both technologies can deliver sales messages, respond to questions, take payment, and follow up.
A second disadvantage of personal selling is the problem of finding and retaining high-quality people. Experienced salespeople sometimes realize that the only way their income can outpace their cost-of-living increase is to change jobs. Also, because of the push for profitability, businesses try to hire experienced salespeople away from competitors rather than hiring college graduates, who take three to five years to reach the level of productivity of more experienced salespeople. These two staffing issues have caused high turnover in many sales forces.
Another weakness of personal selling is message inconsistency. Many salespeople view themselves as independent from the organization, so they design their own sales techniques, use their own message strategies, and engage in questionable ploys to generate sales. (You’ll recall our discussion in the ethics chapter about the unique challenges that B2B salespeople face.) As a result, it can be difficult to find a unified company or product message within a sales force or between the sales force and the rest of the marketing mix.
A final disadvantage of personal selling is that sales-force members have different levels of motivation. Salespeople may vary in their willingness to make the desired number of sales calls each day; to make service calls that do not lead directly to sales; or to take full advantage of the technologies available to them.