Companies try a number of different ways to reach potential customers to make sales. Among them are personal selling and direct marketing, two different communication tactics. Personal selling requires a salesperson to communicate directly with a potential customer, whereas direct marketing occurs when companies send information directly to consumers. Some companies employ both tactics, along with other advertising and marketing strategies.


Personal selling occurs when an employee or salesperson has a conversation with a potential customer. Direct marketing involves using campaign materials like emails, text messages, fliers, catalogs, letters and postcards, and does not involve interacting directly with customers.

What Are the Differences Between Personal Selling And Direct Marketing?

Alhough personal selling and direct marketing are both attempts to reach potential customers directly, there are some differences to consider. Personal selling occurs when a company employee, typically a salesperson, has a conversation with a potential customer. This may occur face-to-face in a retail setting, over the phone or on social media platforms. No matter the medium, the distinctive characteristic of personal selling is the direct line of communication between a company representative and a consumer.

With direct marketing, companies are also reaching consumers directly, but instead of speaking with them, they send emails, text messages, fliers, catalogs, letters and postcards. Though direct marketing campaigns can be tailored and customized for different groups of recipients, they typically do not involve forming personal relationships with customers. Instead, direct marketing materials are generally mass-produced and sent to large audiences.

How Personal Selling Works

The theory behind personal selling is that a customer is more likely to buy something from a person that he has a positive relationship with, and whom he trusts to provide accurate information. Though personal selling often occurs in person or by phone, many companies today are experimenting with other means of communication. Some companies use social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as email, to build personal relationships with customers that can ultimately lead to sales.

There are many real-life examples of personal selling that people encounter everyday. Real estate agents often generate business by establishing personal relationships with friends, family members and acquaintances. Multi-level marketing companies, such as those that sell health supplements and makeup, establish personal relationships with their customers on social media and by hosting local events. Door-to-door salespersons, who sell an array of products, also engage in personal selling tactics.

How Companies Use Direct Marketing

With direct marketing, there is no middleman, such as a radio station or a TV network. Instead, companies give information directly to consumers in the form of mailers, fliers and catalogs. In recent years, direct marketing has also expanded to include emails, text messages and even social media platforms like Facebook.

For example, a local landscaping company sends a flier in the mail to all residents of a particular neighborhood within the company's service area. To encourage repeat business, a shoe company sends a free catalog in the mail to people who have purchased items from them in the past. A new fitness gym may send promotional information or coupons in the mail to customers within driving distance of the facility.

Online, companies send out targeted emails alerting customers to an upcoming sale, using data from customers' past online purchases to determine which specific products to highlight in the email. Similarly, a retailer sends emails with a specific coupon code that can be used for a discount on an online purchase.

The history of direct marketing has been traced back to Benjamin Franklin, who was drumming up business for Poor Richard's Almanac in the 1730s. Many popular department stores have found success through direct marketing using catalogs, including Sears and J. C.Penney.

Direct marketing is a marketing tool used by some companies because it allows them to target specific groups of consumers, like an entire neighborhood. By incorporating a specific coupon or a unique phone number, companies can track and measure the success of their direct-marketing campaign. This feedback allows them to tweak future campaigns to result in additional sales or inquiries. Direct marketing can also reach very large numbers of people at one time.