Hard Sell vs. Soft Sell

by georgetc

In a world where economies both large and small stand or fall on selling their goods and services, the way you sell can be just as important as what you sell to your bottom line.

For that reason, it’s essential that you hit the right notes when communicating what you have to offer, and it all comes down to how hard or soft your selling style is.

What is a hard sell?

A hard sell approach is one that uses direct and insistent language designed to persuade someone to buy goods or services in the short term, without giving them time to wait and evaluate their options. 

It usually involves aggressive tactics designed to put immediate pressure on a prospective purchaser. These can take the form of cajoling, bloated promises, playing on fears of missing out, and are often driven by a commission-inspired salesperson who has to meet sales goals. Hard sell can also refer to the act of cold calling, door-to-door sales, or unwanted pitches.

Hard selling techniques aren’t designed to educate or persuade with gentle reasoning. On the contrary they can leave a prospective buyer feeling resentful for being pressured, and make repeat sales less likely.

Many sales experts consider hard selling counterproductive because it can actually alienate buyers, and have the opposite effect to achieving a sale.

What is a soft sell?

Soft sell, by contrast, is a more thoughtful, low-pressure process that hopes to persuade someone to buy goods or services with a reasoned, conversational approach.

A soft sell sales strategy uses subtle and more far-sighted tactics to build a relationship with a buyer over time, discover what they need, then eventually persuade them to make a purchase that fulfils their needs.

One example of soft selling is when an online retailer finds that a shopper has abandoned a shopping cart with items in it, and will respond with an email to ask the shopper if they had a problem, or need advice in order to complete the purchase.

The soft selling approach is used in most of the popular sales strategies in today’s market; it provides a way for corporations to be more human and compassionate than their hard-selling competition.

What’s more, with increased competition and customers doing more online research, brands are forced to spend more time demonstrating that they are the experts in their field, and therefore worthy of buying from.

Differences between a hard sell and a soft sell.

A simple distinction between a hard sell and a soft sell? The first is a direct, short-term sell, while the second is an indirect, long-term sell. That said, and as noted above, everything depends on how you approach the actual selling.

While a soft sell is about finding out what people want, then making it easy for them to buy it, a hard sell is deciding what you want to sell them, then using high pressure means to get them to buy it, even if they neither want nor need it.

The soft sell is consultative, customer friendly and often aimed at encouraging repeat sales, whereas a hard sell makes use of more aggressive techniques aimed simply at achieving an immediate result regardless of the customer’s needs.

Naturally there can be varying degrees of softness and hardness to both approaches, and on occasion a mixture of both will work best. But in the end, it all comes down to making that sale.

The Alchemis Approach

One of the key concerns raised by prospective clients is that of representation by their Account Manager, i.e. the individual we select to work on their campaign. They are worried that business development callers will push or persuade marketing prospects to meet their clients when they don’t actually want to or don’t have a genuine need.

Our response to this is that a consultative approach to prospects is far more effective in the long term and that pushing a prospect into a meeting will almost certainly result in it either being cancelled or, even worse, a poor-quality meeting.

Thus, our offer is based on the quality of meetings that we set for our clients – this does mean however, that we don’t set that many, but in our experience marketing agencies prefer quality to quantity!

Selling is all about making it easy for people to buy; therefore, you have to find out what they want to buy rather than try and shove something down their throat that they don’t want and never have any intention of buying.

At this stage in the sales cycle this need may only be implied (e.g. ‘I’m slightly concerned that my current agency isn’t always giving me value for money’) but this doubt is nearly always sufficient reason to set an appointment. We then work with our clients to help them turn this implied need into an explicit need during the meeting itself (e.g. ‘I’d like you to come back in and show me how you would improve my customer retention rates’)

So… the hard sell (aka the transactional sell) does not and never will work in any service-based market. The hard sell can work in a product-based call or when there is a single transaction involved but a consultative or relationship based sell is the only way in our market.