Article

Hard sell vs. soft sell: Definition and examples

Learn how using a direct hard sell or an indirect soft sell can significantly impact sales growth and customer base building.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published November 15, 2021
Last updated November 15, 2021

There’s no perfect approach to sales psychology. Sales tactics are ever-changing based on the market, your products, your company, and your customers. That said, most sales tactics fall into either a hard or soft sell category, and understanding the difference between those categories is crucial to your sales success.

In this piece, we’ll discuss the differences between hard sales and soft sales, the pros and cons of both sales approaches, examples of both types of sales, and how a strong CRM can support your sales system.

Hard sell vs. soft sell

The simplest distinction between a hard sell and a soft sell is that a hard sell is a direct, short-term sell, and a soft sell is an indirect, long-term sell.

Most sales experts will recommend the soft sell. But the truth is, there’s room for both approaches depending on your situation.

Let’s take a closer look at both sales approaches.

What is a hard sell?

A hard sell is a sales strategy that uses direct and insistent arguments to get a buyer to purchase in a short amount of time. Hard sells are generally the opposite of most sales strategies suggested for today’s market, but they can be effective if used at the right time in the right place.

Hard sell can also refer to the act of cold calling, door-to-door sales, or unwanted pitches.

It’s worth noting that many sales experts view hard sales as high-pressure or aggressive, and don’t recommend them as a primary sales strategy. That said, there are some positives to using a hard sales approach that can help your company, which we’ll touch on later.

What is a soft sell?

A soft sell is a sales strategy that uses subtle and casual tactics to build a relationship with a buyer over time to eventually persuade them to make a purchase.

Soft selling makes up most of the popular sales strategies in the modern market. Not only does increased competition force brands to focus on areas other than product quality, but with customers doing more online research, brands need to take more time with customers to prove they are the experts in their field, and therefore worthy of buying from.

With only 4 percent of Americans believing the marketing industry behaves with integrity, soft selling provides a new way for corporations to be more human and compassionate than their hard-selling competition.

Advantages and disadvantages of a hard sell

Despite its negative connotations, the hard sell does have some strong advantages for both the salesperson and the consumer. Let’s dive into the pros and cons of the hard sell.

Advantages of a hard sell

  • The average customer tends to delay decision making when it comes to purchasing more expensive items, even if that item is a necessity. The hard sell works on immediacy and the regret theory to force the buyer into seeing that the positives of the product outweigh the expense.
  • Hard sells eliminate the risk of losing a customer to the competition during a longer-term soft sell. While a hard sell can drive a customer away, if it doesn’t, the immediacy of the sale prevents the customer from considering other options and brands.
  • Hard sales are extremely beneficial to sales workers in commission-based jobs. Commission-based workers don’t have time to nurture a sale that might never go through while ignoring other potential buyers. Hard sells allow them to get to the point and maximize their time and effort.

Disadvantages of a hard sell

  • The aggressive tactics of a hard sell can push customers away. Many consumers are overwhelmed by hard sells and will choose not to buy, even if the product perfectly suits their needs.
  • Hard sales are focused on the product, not the customer. Because of this, a hard sell can lose a buyer because the salesperson pushes the product so much that they miss what the customer is actually looking for. A buyer looking for a compact car isn’t going to be moved by a hard sell for an SUV, they’re just going to find another salesperson.
  • A customer-driven away by a hard sell can hurt your company’s reputation. Any customer with a negative experience can share that negative experience with others and drive potential buyers to less-aggressive competitors. Cold-calling is notorious for this. A customer who is offended by spam calls will see a logo for your brand and immediately turn away.

Can hard selling be unethical?

​​The line between ethical and unethical sales is somewhat subjective, but most hard sales are ethical, even if somewhat annoying to customers. That said, hard sales have more potential than soft sales to become unethical because of their direct nature. It’s much easier for a salesperson to be carried away by aggression in a hard sell than during a soft one.

The important note is that direct sales aren’t unethical just by being direct, and hard sales can have an extremely positive influence on certain companies.

If your company is considering implementing a hard sales tactic, it might be worth it to consider additional training for your sales people so you can avoid any aggression driving away potential customers.

Hard sell and soft sell examples

The key to implementing hard and soft sales is knowing when each is appropriate. Sometimes that can be hard to determine, so let’s look at a positive and negative example of both a hard sell and a soft sell.

Hard sell examples

Positive:

Food services is an excellent industry for hard sells. From the nicest restaurant to the smallest fast-food chain, customers need to be urged to make quick decisions from a large variety of options. Otherwise, the businesses suffer from not serving customers in a timely fashion, and they lose those customers to faster establishments.

Customers in food establishments may also ask for assistance in a hard sell by asking for a recommendation. Soft sales focuses on getting the customer to realize they want the product rather than telling them they want the product—a practice that would be detrimental to a sale where the customer just wants to know which soup they should order.

Negative:

Hard sales are almost always inappropriate when a customer doesn’t know whether or not they want to buy, or if a sale involves negotiation. For example, if your company is in the middle of a B2B (business-to-business) sale, your emphasis should be on coming across as an efficient and cooperative company to work with.

A hard selling tactic when dealing with a group of individuals on the same level of business as you is a huge risk, and unlikely to play out in your favor.

Soft sell examples

Positive:

Soft sales are extremely effective in creating long-lasting customer relationships. Companies who strive to create loyal followers or who want to brand themselves as family-oriented companies thrive on soft sales.

For example, the brand UPPAbaby sells high end, stylish, functional baby gear. A hard sell would absolutely push away a young parent looking for a welcoming product for their baby. Soft sales at UPPAbaby not only put worried parents at ease about picking the right products, but they also create brand loyalty as children grow and need additional items.

Negative:

As we discussed briefly above, soft sales are ineffective in most fast-paced sales. There are certainly customers who will appreciate aspects of a soft sale in those environments, but hard sales are more effective in getting a customer to make a choice so that the salesperson can move on to the next buyer.

Most of us have made hard sell purchases in this manner any time we’ve bought a box of Girl Scout Cookies™. The scouts and parents don’t need to take the time to get to know their potential buyers. We’re usually on our way out of the grocery store with other things to do, and we already know we’re going to buy. It’s much more effective to simply ask us which box we want rather than getting into what problems cookies might solve in our lives.

In fact, a soft sale in this case might cause a customer to get irritated because they just want to make their purchase and leave.

Hard-sell marketing

Hard sales isn’t just about the sales process, it’s also about marketing. As with any type of sale, the marketing for that product should support the sales style. If you’re a company that primarily uses hard sales, your marketing should indicate that to the customer.

Hard-sell marketing should be to the point, accurate, and attention-grabbing. Most of all, it should focus on the product.

Infomercial products are a great example of this. The majority of infomercials use hard sales tactics in their videos and then package their products in vibrant colors and large lettering. They are not about the consumer, but rather they’re all about the product.

A Slap Chop™ may help you in the kitchen, but chances are, you didn’t buy one because the company reached out to you on a personal level. You most likely made the purchase because it’s a slap-chop and you had to have one—or so the infomercial said.

Consistency across sales and marketing creates brand credibility no matter what sales tactics you use, while inconsistency can build distrust or suspicion.

Soft-sell marketing

Soft-sell marketing takes a very different approach from hard-sell marketing. If a company is focused on soft sales, their marketing won’t include a lot of phrases like “buy now!” or “limited edition!” Instead, soft-sell marketing is all about drawing the customer in of their own accord.

For instance, soft sales marketing is more likely to engage in social media ads and social selling than a direct email blast. This encourages potential customers to reach out to them, rather than the other way around.

This kind of marketing approach presents a consistent brand, ready and waiting for you whenever you need it.

Should you hard sell or soft sell?

The type of sales approach your company should use depends on several factors, and you may even want to employ both approaches in different situations. Here are a few questions to guide your sales approach decision:

  • Is your product single-purchase or repeat purchase?
  • Are your employees working on commission?
  • How expensive is your product?
  • Are you selling in person? Over the phone? Online?
  • Are there a lot of steps involved in your sales process?
  • What is the mission of your product and/or company?
  • What are your company’s current sales goals? Are you looking to increase revenue? Increase customer base?
  • What current sales tactics are you training your sales team in?

Inform your selling tactics with Zendesk

No matter what sales approach you’re working with, you need to be backed up by reliable software that keeps track of your clients and your sales.

Zendesk Sell is an all-encompassing CRM software and sales tracker that keeps your client information and sales numbers up to date so that you can focus on selling.

Whether you’re practicing soft selling tactics and need to track where clients are in the sales process, or focusing on hard sales and need a seamless way to view your metrics to make sure your efforts are working, Zendesk Sell makes it simple and straightforward.

Request your Zendesk demo today and see how our all-in-one, customizable platform can fortify your sales success.

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