Don’t Mistake Selling for the Hard Sell

I know the hard sell. I have done the hard sell myself. I have seen it done by others. I have had it done to me. I have had it attempted on me. And I have studied it. The pendulum has swung too far from hard selling, in part because we are really confused about what a hard sell is and what it isn’t. The hard sell has been gone for so long, apparently buyers would no longer even recognize it.

This article by Steve Strauss in the USA Today proves my point perfectly.

Up Selling is Not Hard Selling

I didn’t visit Teavana with Mr. Strauss, so I wasn’t there to experience what he experienced. But his retelling of his experience doesn’t make me think it is a hard sell. First, the person helping him tried to up-sell him on a sampler pack.

“No, that sampler is not good enough, the $100 one is what you want!”

If this retailer has a good, solid retail sales training program, then they are surely teaching their associates to try to up sell their customers, especially their transactional customers (the kind who buy a sampler pack). If they’re program is really good, then their salespeople are compensated for their efforts with a commission or a bonus plan.

Guess what they do at Teavana? They sell tea! And what is better than selling tea? Selling a lot of tea! You don’t choose to occupy expensive shopping mall real estate without some plan to pay for your space and to profit by doing so; that means trying hard to sell tea.

Selling Ancillary Products

Mr. Strauss also took offense to the salesperson’s attempt to sell him a tin in which to keep his tea.

“That tea you just chose will ‘spoil’ in 10 days if you don’t buy this $40 tin to put it in!”

Perhaps the tea would in fact spoil if it wasn’t kept fresh. Maybe the tin is the very best method for keeping the expensive tea fresh. And maybe Teavana knows that when they sell you $100 worth of tea, that it is a good idea to sell you some method for keeping it fresh. lest your tea spoil and you believe they sell a poor product.

More likely, Tupperware is equal to the task of keeping the tea fresh for a fraction of the cost. The tin is probably a high margin sale, it looks nice and adds to the brand experience (you are buying something more than tea), and it prevents them from making unhappy customers by allowing the tea they just spent $100 on to spoil quickly.

Most of all of these though is the profit potential, I am certain. Which still doesn’t at all indicate that this is a hard sell.

The Hard Sell Requires Some Leverage

The fact of the matter is, you can’t even do a hard sell on tea. There isn’t any leverage. Let’s imagine a hard sell that would make Steve’s skin crawl and, with a little luck, will help some readers understand just how far away from the hard sell most of us in B2B sales really are.

Let’s imagine we sell something like Life Insurance. Let’s imagine that the prospect doesn’t want to buy the life insurance. The hard sell looks like this:

“Well, Mr. Prospect, you do have a lovely family. How are they going to survive without you and your income should something happen to you?”

“What kind of work might your children have to do without a college education? Do you think that will be able to do more than simply scrape by, fatherless, and without an education?”

“Where would they live if they couldn’t afford this house that you provide for them?”

“I know that you would never do anything to hurt your family, would you?”

“I don’t think that either you or I believe that you can go without this insurance, and I for one am not going to allow you to put your family at jeopardy over $74 per month.”

“What wouldn’t you sacrifice for your wife and children? I imagine if you had to, you’d lay down your life to keep them safe, wouldn’t you?”

“You would feel better knowing that should something happen to you that your family would be taken care of, wouldn’t you, Mr. Prospect?”

“Mr. Prospect, I am not going to leave your home without you having taken care of this for your family and for your piece of mind.”

THAT is the hard sell (and as hard a sell as that is, I promise it could be made much, much harder).

Even the hardest of the hardcore readers of this humble blog will have never seen, heard, or experienced anything that even remotely resembles this example. For most of us in sales, we have nothing that resembles the leverage that salespeople had and used in the past.

Don’t mistake asking for the sale, up selling, and selling high-margin ancillary, products or services for the hard sell.


Too many salespeople mistakenly believe that asking for commitments that either advance or close a sale are hard sell tactics. Most salespeople have never been exposed to hard sell tactics, and neither have their clients. The hard sell requires an emotional leverage that you rarely find in business-to-business sales.


  1. What are the differences between simply asking for an obtaining commitments and the hard sell?

  2. Have you ever been exposed to hard sell tactics?

  3. Do you believe it would even possible to develop the kind of leverage in your sale to employ true hard sell tactics?

  4. If the emotional leverage to hard sell did exist, what would it do to your relationship after the contract was signed?

  5. Do you mistake simple commitment-obtaining language for the hard sell? Could this be because you are unfamiliar with real hard sell tactics?

  6. Do you have a hard sell story?

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  • Juan

    Hi Anthony,
    I totally agree with you, I am in sales where my focus is to bring value to my customers. I am not sure if Mr. Strauss is some capacity involved in selling, if he does I am not sure if he is really successful.
    my take is when you know exactly of the value you bring to your customers/clients, when you feel good about what you do, when you can quantify the benefits, my job is to make sure my customers/clients make the best decision for them which MOST of the times are my services/products.
    it is human nature to always say NO to things, we say No to a Home and we still buy it, we say NO to a car and still buy it, my goal is to turn those NOs into YESes.

  • Dave

    A Hard Sell is when you are working on your own agenda not the prospects. A Hard Sell is when you mentally open up your “1000 Sales Objections and How to Overcome Them” book to deal with your prospect instead of understanding that your prospect simply does not yet see sufficient value in your product or service – and that’s YOUR failing, not his.

  • Bruce Weddel

    You are stone-cold right when you say the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Too many “Sales People” have become “Presenters” and they hope that the prospect says ‘yes’ without having to try to close the sale.
    I believe that the following factors will make the difference between a Hard Sell and a Closing Sale…
    1. Before you go to the appointment, let the prospect know what the expectations are – if this is a long drawn out sales process, like trying to sell a medical Cat Scan machine, let them know you are on a fact-finding mission so that you can help pick the best model for their use. But if you are selling Stethoscopes to a doctor, let the doctor know that you will only take a few minutes to give them all of the information they need to make an intelligent decision and that all he has to do at the end is…if he doen’t like your stethoscopes, say ‘no’ and if he does, say ‘yes’. If he agrees to do so over the phone, then you have a viable prospect who understands the “Rules of Engagement” and knows you are going to try to close the sale. The reason the prospect feels less pressure (Hard Sales) if because you have given him the right to say ‘no’ before you even got there.
    2. Even after all of this, the prospect may still feel pressure when it comes right down to saying ‘yes’ and writing the check. The easiest way to kill the stress and pressure the prospect is feeling is to remind them they can say ‘no’. “Bob, I can tell you’re feeling a little pressure to make a decision here. The pressure’s not on you, Bob, the pressure’s on me. I HAVE to sell these stethoscopes – that’s why I say the pressure’s on me. The reason there’s no pressure on you is because YOU CAN STILL SAY ‘NO’. Most salespeople are scared to death to give their prospects the right to say ‘no’, and once in a while, they will. But the truth is that if they are feeling pressure they WILL say ‘no’ anyways because it’s human nature to not make a decision when you feel pressure. By relieving their pressure they are inclined to feel more comfortable with you and, again with the human nature, they like to buy from people they feel comfortable with. If the value of your product is as good as the competition and they feel comfortable with you, they’ll buy.

    If any of your readers are interested in closing more deals with fewer appointments, they can log in to and read the first 8 pages of the book for free to see if they like it.