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?

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

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

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

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

  1. Do you have a hard sell story?

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