Direct personal selling - Marketing Management

Marketing communications can be classified into personal and impersonal methods, and in the context of direct marketing, selling is now discussed.

In the context of direct marketing, selling is personal and involves interaction with a prospect. This interaction can be at a distance e.g. over the telephone. However, most personal selling is carried out on a face-to-face basis and this dimension is a key strength of personal selling. Selling is more expensive on a cost-per-contact basis, but sometimes there is no substitute for a personal approach as building personal relationships is a key element in the context of customer care.

Consumers can benefit from direct selling because of the convenience and service it provides, as it includes personal communication, demonstration and explanation of products to a higher standard than in conventional retail outlets or through the printed media. The task of direct selling differs according to products or services being marketed. In some situations it is more a matter of keeping customers satisfied and the task then calls more for skills of personality and caring.

In other situations, contractual negotiations might be the main emphasis of selling where skills of prospecting, negotiating, demonstrating and closing a sale will be greater criteria for success. In organizational marketing, reliance is placed on personal communication, and in this context the proportion of selling within the total market budget can outweigh all other marketing expenditure. Owing to its personal nature, direct selling provides a channel of distribution for companies with innovative or distinctive products not readily available in traditional retail outlets.

It may be that products on offer are produced by a relatively small firm that cannot afford to compete through advertising and promotion, because of the costs associated with gaining space on retail shelves of major outlets. Hence, customers gain by being able to purchase products that would have been unavailable had the marketing company to operate through conventional retail outlets. Direct selling enhances the retail distribution infrastructure and can serve customers with a convenient source of products that may not be available elsewhere.

Direct selling is described as marketing products and services directly to consumers face to face generally in their homes, at their workplace and other places away from permanent retail locations. It typically occurs through explanation or personal demonstration by a direct salesperson, or direct seller.

Products and services sold by direct sellers are varied as are people involved in the direct selling industry: insurance, financial services, cosmetics, skin care products, personal care items, home appliances, household cleaning products, nutritional products, toys, books, clothing, jewellery, fashion accessories, etc.

Sometimes, such products are sold in the context of group presentations (party plan selling). We saw earlier how the Tupperware were one of the first companies to successfully use the idea of party plan selling with its range of kitchenware and food and drink storage boxes. The normal approach in party plan selling is for an appointed company demonstrator/ salesperson to persuade individuals to invite friends and relatives to a ‘party’ in their home with perhaps food and drink being provided. Invited guests are informed that products will be on sale and that a demonstrator will be present. During the party, the direct salesperson demonstrates products to the group of guests and afterwards they are invited to place orders which are then delivered to their homes, often by the party organizer.

The company sales agent receives commission on any orders and the party organizer usually receives a ‘free’ gift of some of the company’s products. Tupperware has now departed from this type of selling, but many companies find that party selling works for them including companies such as Virgin Vie (cosmetics) and Anne Summers (adult products).

By contrast other types of direct home selling often explain and demonstrate the products being offered to customers in the comfort of their homes at a time that is convenient for them on a personal one-to-one basis rather than in a party group. Avon Cosmetics uses freelance agents to visit people in their own homes and demonstrate and explain the use of a range of beauty products. Direct selling provides benefits to individuals who desire an opportunity to earn income and build their own business. It also offers an alternative to consumers who want something different from traditional shopping.

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