What Is a Hard Sell? Definition Vs. Soft Sell and Characteristics

What Is a Hard Sell?

A hard sell refers to an advertising or sales approach that features especially direct and insistent language. A hard sell is designed to get a consumer to purchase a good or service in the short-term, rather than evaluate their options and potentially decide to wait on the purchase. It is considered a high-pressure, aggressive technique that has fallen out of favor according to some sales experts.

Key Takeaways

  • A hard sell is a sales strategy that is direct and pushy.
  • It is designed to get a consumer to purchase a good or service immediately without time to contemplate.
  • Hard sell tactics have a negative connotation and are considered unscrupulous.
  • A hard sell stands in contrast to a soft sell that is gentle and low-pressure.
  • It is considered a counterproductive sales tactic as it typically results in negative feelings and a small chance of repeat business.

Understanding a Hard Sell

"Hard sell" as a term saw its first use in the United States in the 1950s to describe sales and advertising practices that are aggressive in nature. Hard-sell tactics put immediate pressure on a prospective client. They can include abrupt language, cold calls, or unwanted pitches. They're intended to keep pushing a client to buy even if the client has said, "no." The accepted standard practice is to keep pushing until the client has said "no" three times.

Hard Sell Characteristics

Hard selling may be characterized by various techniques that provoke the consumer, flatter them, play on their fear of missing out, and attempt to convince them that buying a product will be a smart decision that will improve their lives.

A soft sell is the alternative sales approach where urgency is not a factor and the salesperson focuses more on the emotional aspect of the sale.

A hard sell technique used to sell a car, for example, might focus on the limited availability of the particular model, how other people are waiting to purchase the vehicle, and how prices might increase if the consumer walks off the lot. Hard selling is often associated with unscrupulous salespeople, who may attempt to misinform the consumer, withhold information from them, or even lie to them.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Hard Sell

Despite the negative perception consumers have of hard-sell tactics, they provide some advantages. For example, the immediacy of the hard sell can be an advantage in dealing with the fact that most people tend to delay purchases and will postpone making decisions even if it involves something that would immediately improve their lives.

For the salesperson, hard sells provide immediate rewards, especially for 100% commission-based jobs. The seller avoids wasting time following up with customers, who will likely decline the sale as time passes. Also, with a shortened sales cycle, the salesperson has more time to focus on other sales and has a better ability to meet sales goals.

Hard-sell tactics are also effective at shutting out competition as customers have little to no time to compare.

However, hard sells, especially when done aggressively, may overwhelm the buyer and prevent prospective buyers from considering the brand. For the overwhelmed buyer, the experience may be so distasteful that they share their negative experience with others, which can adversely affect the company's reputation. It may also push them to competitors who do not employ hard-sell tactics.

Hard sells often ignore the needs of the customer as the salesperson is focused more on the sale, rather than the customer. This could result in a mismatch between the customer and the product or service sold.

  • Rewards the salesperson immediately

  • Fulfills an urgent need

  • Shuts out competitors

  • Pushes customers away

  • Repels prospective customers

  • Tarnishes the company's reputation

Hard Sell vs. Soft Sell

To better understand the hard sell, it is helpful to consider the soft sell, which features more subtle language, a consultative tone, and a non-aggressive technique. A soft sell is designed to avoid angering potential customers and pushing them away. It appeals to the emotions of the consumer, attempting to trigger feelings that compel them to make a purchase.

Because soft selling is a low-pressure sales technique, it may not result in a sale the first time a product is presented. A soft sell may be better for certain goods and services, or certain types of consumers.

Hard Sell Debate

Many sales experts contend that hard selling is counterproductive. It can alienate buyers or make them respond to aggressive tactics with their own aggression. It can also intimidate and scare off prospective buyers, creating negative feelings that make repeat sales less likely.

Hard selling allows no time for education and persuasion and, therefore, leaves a prospective buyer thinking that they are being told what to do and that their thought-process doesn't matter.

Hard Sell FAQs 

Should I Use a Hard Sell or a Soft Sell? 

Employing a hard-sell tactic could be beneficial when the customer has a need for an immediate solution, such as a flat tire needing replacement. When there is no immediate customer need and building a relationship is more important, a soft sell should be employed. The soft seller needs to exercise patience and be consistent to secure the sale, understanding that it may not occur during the first encounter.

Is a Hard Sell Unethical?

Not all hard sales are unethical, and for some industries, it is necessary. However, a hard sell can be unethical when the salesperson is aggressive or threatening, when the needs of the customer are ignored, and when it forces the customer to comply.

Does a Hard Sell Lead to More Sales?

When the customer's needs are met and when done respectfully, a hard sell can lead to more sales. The sales cycle is shortened, allowing the salesperson more time to secure sales from other customers.

When poorly executed, a hard sell will, in the long term, reduce overall sales. Also, it will negatively affect the reputation of the salesperson and the company.

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