Want To Lose A Customer? Go For The Hard Sell

We have all come across the hard sell business and salesperson. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t… and often it completely backfires. Case in point: one Mother’s Day a while back, my daughters and I went shopping in a tea store in a nearby mall. Rather than entering the Zen-like atmosphere one would expect, it was if we entered Glengarry Glen Ross.

You recall that great film from the 90s, don’t you? Originally a David Mamet play, the movie depicts a couple of days in the lives of some real estate salesmen. The corporate office sends in Alec Baldwin (definitely in his pre-Jack Donaghy days) and he has a peculiar motivational technique: He announces that everyone except the top two salesmen will be fired in the next week. Not surprisingly, the salesmen resort to heavy-handed, dishonest, and hard-sell tactics to get sales and save their jobs.


Well, that is what my daughter and I seemingly walked into in the tea shop. It was the boiler room of Earl Grey! “No, that sampler is not good enough, the $100 one is what you want! That tea you just chose will “spoil” in 10 days if you don’t buy this $40 tin to put it in!” It was a strange experience, and yes, we left without purchasing a thing. But plenty of others remained.

So Why Would a Business Ever Bother With the Hard Sell?

It’s actually easy to see why a manager would push hard-sell tactics on his or her minions. It’s easy and can get short-term results. Fear is a mighty motivator and instilling it in one’s sales staff can ensure that sales will get done.

However, in actuality it is a very shortsighted strategy. Consider all of the downsides to the hard sell:

Poorer quality sales:
When you try to force someone into buying something they may not really want, what you are really doing is setting the business up for failure. What often happens is that later, when the pressure is off and customers consider the interaction and the products they purchased, they decide that they do not really want or like the product. They will return it or even cancel their credit card authorization. What the company is left with then is a faux-sale and a disgruntled customer.

Disgruntled customers:
Indeed, this is potentially an even worse problem. Customers who get products or services crammed down their throat don’t usually stay customers for long. Feeling used and abused, they rightfully take their money elsewhere.

Unhappy employees:
The parade of bad outcomes keeps on rolling. Aside from fake sales and unhappy customers, forcing the hard sell strategy on your staff often leads to low morale and high turnover.

People will only work in a high-pressure sales environment for a few reasons:

  • They really need the job
  • They like the money
  • They thrive under pressure

Most people however, when forced to sell something they do not believe in, or to sell something to people who are only marginally interested, will look for a new job that is not so morally compromising.

Bad morale:
Between the high turnover rate, and selling stuff in questionable ways, the overall staff mood at the hard-sell workplace is typically very poor. Employees in such places don’t believe in the company or the product and they often conspire against management, whom they perceive to be the enemy. This all in turn creates:

A bad brand:
It is hard to create a positive brand and stellar reputation when your employees don’t like you and your customers resent you.

So please, do us all a favor and avoid the hard sell.

Steve Strauss is a senior small business columnist at USA TODAY and author of 15 books, including The Small Business Bible.

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