Doorstep selling needs a DM mindset

Nothing beats the sales opportunity of meeting your customers face to face and having the chance to explain your proposition. Direct selling on the doorstep offers this chance and is also direct marketing in a very real sense. The salesman represents the brand and can detail the product benefits, answer questions and generate leads.

However, the doorstep approach is a very tarnished technique that has attracted real venom from householders who perceive themselves harassed and harried by slick sales patter – and sometimes deceived. The most recent company to bring doorstep selling into disrepute is Scottish & Southern Energy, which was found guilty of mis-selling last week with misleading sales scripts.

The utilities companies have poor form in this regard and in 2008 were under threat of a ban on the practice. This latest case, which has received plenty of media coverage, won’t help their case.

It’s not just the gas and electricity companies who have direct sales teams. The telecoms and broadband providers have teams knocking on doors, as do charities, and others.

When done professionally, house calls can be of benefit to both homeowner and brand. Non-pressurised conversations can provide sellers with great insights into how customers view the brand, how they use the product and elicit useful information about price sensitivity, competitors and more. All-in-all, it’s a great chance to show off the product or service and to carry out market research.

To achieve this, the sales force needs to be trained in how to talk professionally to the customer, how to present and how to elicit useful information. That’s the ideal but the pressure is obviously on for the salesmen to sell above all else, while companies often seem to pay the most basic rates and this is reflected in the calibre of their recruits.

Better targeting would help as well. The salesman should know the demographic of the area in which they are operating, from average incomes to household size. Trying to sell the wrong product will only lead to frustration and a poor brand experience for the luckless householder. Firm, basic DM principles at work.

Some companies do approach the task with the right attitude and I quote a Sky salesperson who posted on the Marketing Week website last year

“I can build a tailored pack to help people make an informed decision about Sky TV. There is no pressure to buy and during training we are repeatedly told not to use pressure selling and if a customer is negative we simply say “thanks for your time” and walk away.”

If true, that sounds like a good place for direct sell teams to start.

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