November 28, 2023

Proactive versus Reactive Selling: Learn the Difference

With the modern speed of information these days, finding advice for your merch game is easy. With ease of information however the grey areas are growing and opinions overlap. When it comes to proactive and reactive selling, there are countless schools of thought.

Some experts recommend being proactive and staying ahead of trends is the most important thing you can do when selling anything. Others caution this guesswork is dangerous and suggest that the better approach is to react to your customers needs and let them dictate to you how you should build, market, and position your business.

Here is the key takeaway: Both schools of thought are right and wrong at the same time. SellMerch is here to shed some light on the situation.

Often these experts are referencing proactive selling and reactive selling as common terms for a traditional, old school sales approach, but with slight modifications we can use these tactics to better your e-commerce merchandising efforts.

Let’s bring these archaic sales tactics from old school to new school, and clear up the confusion.

What is What with Reactive Selling

Reactive selling is when we pitch something to a customer or potential customer and then we wait for them to reply to the statement. The reactive position is one we tend to take naturally with our customers. For example, you may call someone and say “last week I sent you our product catalogue and I am calling to see if you have received it.” We then wait for the person to respond before we proceed with our selling tactics. 

Traditionally, to be reactive with sales tactics would involve waiting for clients to come to you and simply create a sales process based on your customers needs.

Think of a used car sales rep sitting alone in their office waiting for eager customers to trickle in. They remain at the ready for when their customer arrives. Ready to answer questions and guide the customer toward decisions,. They are simply reacting to the customers needs and wants.

So let’s twist it for your use in selling merchandise.  Here are some habits you may develop and tactics you could employ to reactively sell your merchandise:

  • Practice Vigilance: Be on the watch for comments on your social promotions and feeds, and be sure to respond to all customers comments and adapt your business plan to those conversations. Do this for all comments whether the feedback is good or bad, or helpful or not. While managing this pseudo-customer service portal, you can learn from these customers and react to their needs with your merch shop strategies, offerings, and more.

For example, let’s say you’ve noticed that a customer has complained about one of your products on Twitter. Instead of ignoring these comments, you should address the customer. Be polite and say that you would like to help resolve their issue.

Find out what the problem is and offer a fair solution. Make sure you apologise if you have been at fault for something, for example, let’s say you have sent a damaged good. You can apologise and offer to send a replacement, as well as refunding their delivery cost. You may even want to go as far as offering them a discount on a subsequent purchase as a goodwill gesture too.

On the flip side, if a customer simply does not like your product and it’s for no ‘valid’ reason. Ask for their feedback and state that you are always looking for ways to better your business and offer more to your customers. This will benefit your business in two ways.

Firstly, you can convert an unhappy customer into a loyal customer with exchanges like this.

Secondly, it shows all of your other followers on Twitter that you care about your customers and that you provide an outstanding service.

  • Make Decisions Based on Need: With selling reactively, there may be situations where what you do is driven by an urgent need. It’s a bit of a definition within a definition, but to be reactive you must react. What I mean here, is sometimes things you want to do for your shop may have to take a back seat to the things you have to do for your shop. Rather than proactively planning and executing based on data, you are reacting to a need fast and effectively one urgent matter at a time.
  • Remain Flexible: With reactive selling, you’ll need to remain flexible and willing to adapt. It may seem obvious, but your willingness to evolve and respond to customer requests is important. Reprioritization, time management, shuffling of tasks, and bouncing from one focus to another will become important skills to develop if you are to be a successful reactive seller.

Reactive selling is not necessarily a bad tactic although it is often seen as a less effective way to sell. In some cases it is important to react to a situation as it arises, but to only react and never proactively adapt may stunt the grow of your merch game.

Proactive Selling Is Essentially the Yin to This Yang

Often seen as a more effective approach to selling, proactive selling is not waiting for customers to tell you want they need, but rather actively identifying your customers needs and wants and offering it to them often before they even realize their need for it.

Let’s revisit that same car sales rep scenario, but this time the sales associate is being proactive with their sales approach. This person is not sitting alone in their office, but rather walking the showroom floor and actively soliciting customers, questioning their desires, and trying to appeal to their needs. It seems easy, bur this sales rep needs to be more prepared and scripted in their approach than our previous reactive sales associate.

Now, turn the viewfinder again and look at proactive selling for someone selling merchandise like you. Habits and tactics of proactively selling your merchandise may be to:

  • Open the Discussion: Actively solicit comments and engagement with your social posts. Ask a question when sharing or promoting on social. Directly asking customers feedback can provide you with valuable information, but also show your follower-ship that you care enough to improve your shop and evolve with their needs.
  • Make Decisions Based on Data: Unlike reactive selling, with proactive selling you can afford to be more calculated in your decisions. It is important to choose a merchandising partner that gives you access to your own sales data so you can get a birds-eye-view of your business. For instance, you may see that one shirt is out selling another by looking at the data. A wise, proactive thing to do may be to make another shirt that targets a similar audience, design style, or another success variable. Proactively using data to build upon successes of your merch shop can better set you up to repeat those successes.
  • Plan and Research: A large part of proactive selling involves preparing, analyzing, and strategizing. For merchandising, take the time to research design trends, promotional options, and creative marketing strategies. Use the data you see from your own shop and information you glean from the internet and other sources to make educated guesses to plan and prioritize your sales plan for your merch shop.

Proactive or Reactive Selling? Who is the Winner?

Welp, this is a dud because it’s a tie. I’m not going to say which method is better. In fact, no one can say for sure. Different situations will call for different approaches to how you want to sell your merchandise.

One thing is for certain. You should not aim to just be a reactive nor just be proactive in your sales approach. A blend of proactive and reactive selling may be the best path to success.

So what is all of this about? How can this education help you now?

What you can do now, is be mindful. Be aware of these methods and actively practice and remind yourself of the little things you can do to be both proactive and reactive with your merchandising business. You will eventually find your leveling out point: your sweet spot where it all makes sense. Start simple. Start with mindfulness, and the rest will follow.

Weigh in with your own opinion. Which method, proactive or reactive selling, in your opinion is more effective? Which habits and tactics do you see yourself using more? Leave a comment. Start the discussion.

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