Marketing mag’s sales specialist Sue Barrett, founder of Barrett Consulting, dissects the “hard sell”, and tells salespeople not to make a habit of it.

We’ve all been the recipient of the “hard sell” at some point or another. It’s an age old selling tactic that has been around since the beginning and isn‟t a difficult selling technique for the salesperson either. It’s completely emotional. The “hard sell” relies on the recipient’s mood and emotional state to win and while easy for the salesperson, it makes the task of selling much more difficult in the longer term…especially in this day and age.
While there are many businesses stuck in the past, sticking hard and fast to the “hard sell” to quickly increase the bottom line, the majority of businesses have cottoned on to the fact that the “hard sell” is outdated and realise that in the longer term, their businesses benefit more from relationship selling and sustainable and honest selling strategies.
The “hard sell” however threatens to make a come back when times are tough and my advice to businesses considering this sales strategy is to step back and consider the damage the hard sell can potentially do to your reputation and your brand.
Sure, you may win a few, but how can you possibly ascertain how you’ve won and more to the point how you might have won if you avoided the hard sell altogether? You can’t. The “hard sell” relies on the customer “giving in”. There is no science or process to follow and therefore its impossible to monitor and evaluate the true value of your sales team.
I have long declared my opposition to the “hard sell” and one of my main concerns is that the “hard sell” is now the term that defines for many the entire sales profession, giving sales a bad name. It’s not a “dirty word” and shouldn’t be treated as such. Before you disregard my opinion about the “hard sell”, consider the definition of the “hard sell” given by Business Dictionary:

Hard Sell
Applying psychological pressure (by appealing to someone’s fears, greed, or vanity) to persuade the prospect to make a quick purchase decision. This approach is justified on the ground that most people are lazy and will postpone making a decision—even if it were in their best interest to make the commitment. This practice is, however, reviled when its sole purpose is the salesperson’s gain at the customer’s detriment. Also called high pressure selling.
I think the last sentence in this definition is key here. Of course, if a person is willing to be convinced and is happy to take part in a conversation, that’s fine. However, many people who may not know what they are getting themselves into or may feel intimidated and do not know how to say “No‟ may be caught up in the moment and buy something they do not want or need.
What does the “hard sell” do for your customer base? Will you have return customers, happy customers or word-of-mouth referrals? No. You might even have negative comments passed on about you and your company. The fact is that by
taking the option of the “hard sell” you are selling yourself and your business short and missing some great opportunities in the longer term; new business as well as a good reputation.
So, why is the “hard sell” on the way out? Well, customers are key. Customers are much more savvy these days and let‟s face it, who really wants to be bullied? By not listening to your customers, you are losing and ignoring your most important asset. For those who fall victim to the hard sell, my advice is this: walk away and think about it before you buy unless you are really certain and have done your homework. If the salesperson says you can’t walk away and think about it outside of the venue or call them the next day then in my opinion it‟s likely to be dodgy.
For those who want to avoid the “hard sell” but don‟t have other options, let’s look at Soft Selling.
By contrast, the term Soft Selling is to describe the opposite of Hard Selling and is often defined as where:
Sales philosophy oriented toward identifying the customer’s expressed and tacit needs and wants, through probing questions and careful listening. It contrasts with hard selling which promotes application of psychological pressure to generate a relatively quick sale.
I personally don‟t like the term “soft selling”. It should really be described as Consultative, Diagnostic or Solution Selling. To me, “soft” implies weak and insipid. Those who choose to engage in healthy, trust based, transparent and Consultative/ Diagnostic/ Solution Selling are assertive, positive and very helpful to customers. They understand that not everyone is in a position to buy now. By treating people with respect and working in partnership with them then you set yourself up for a better future.
While times are getting tougher for many businesses, desperate times do not call for desperate sales measures. While the “Hard Sell‟ has always been around and is likely to be around for some time in the future, I urge businesses and sales people to stick to what they know is right. If sticking to the “hard sell”, remember times will turn around and then where will you be?

Sue Barrett
BY Sue Barrett ON 29 July 2011
Sue Barrett is one of the leading female voices commenting on sales today. An experienced business speaker and adviser, facilitator, sales coach, training provider and entrepreneur and founder of Barrett Consulting, which provides sales assessments, sales consulting, sales coaching and sales training programs.

Visit Barrett Consulting's website,
Facebook page, or follow @SueBarrett on Twitter.
  • Matthew Miller

    I have heard Sales Managers describe people who manage the sales process for long-term customer value – or Relationship Selling – as being “unable to close.”

    Developing real value for customers and your business takes time. But with most sales Managers still not having more than a high-school education, let alone having spent any time being trained in management at a university, should we be surprised that they don’t have the ticker to wait for the fruit of sales professionals long labour?

    Shark-type salespeople don’t last and end up doing your business real and long-lasting damage.

    Do the right thing by your business and the industry by consigning these dinosaurs and their management sympathisers to the dust-bin of history!