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 his or her 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.


  • 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.

Despite the negative perception consumers have of hard sell tactics, they do 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.

Hard Sell Characteristics

Hard selling may be characterized by various techniques that provoke the consumer, flatter them, play off their fear or 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 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.

Hard Sell vs. Soft Sell

To better understand the hard sell it is helpful to consider the soft cell, 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. The goal is helping the consumer to decide on their own that they need 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 dictated to, not being respected, and that it is not really their decision that matters.