Is Hard Sell Good Business? Ethical?

I'm wondering about business ethics, and good vs. bad business, related to the hard sell.

Here's a situation: you're using a script to sell to people something that is usually good for them, but relatively expensive. As you analyze results, you discover that some people who decline the offer will accept it if pressed; but if you press everybody who declines, you end up getting five people very angry at you for every one person who changes their mind and buys.

Is pressing, doing the hard sell, good business? Aside from business ethics, how many changed minds do you need to get to justify the angry people who didn't change their minds and don't like the way you pressed? Is it worth it?

What if the ratio is different. One changed mind for every one person angry? One changed mind for every 10 people alienated?

When is it a good idea to keep pushing, instead of backing down, easing off, and maintaining a friendly but unsuccessful close?

I think that's actually a math problem. How much damage do you cause by making a person very angry at your hard sell? Compare that to the benefit of the occasional changed mind, failed sales pitch turned into victory.

I don't think this kind of hard sell is good business. I don't think hard sell is okay even when we're selling something good for people. It leaves an ugly sticky negative residue. Sort of like the ring in the tub, after we played football, that my mom used to hate. You could also call it a bad aftertaste.

Selling Ice Cubes in a Snowfield

Is a good salesperson someone who sells people things they don't need? Like ice cubes in the arctic?

Okay, what if it's something they do need; something that's good for them? What about selling encyclopedias to families? Or business plan coaching to entrepreneurs? That's fine, right? Because what's being sold is good for the people we're selling it to?

What about hard sell, or even deception? Is that okay when it's something that's good for people? And what about the angry people who end up resenting the whole experience.

Years ago when I was consulting at Apple they used to say that a happy customer tells two or three people about it, and an angry, unhappy customer tells 20 people.

True Story, Long Ago

One of my more unpleasant true experiences was trying to sell encyclopedias door to door when I was 19 years old. I spent several weeks trying not to fail. But I failed.

I didn't follow the script.

It was 1967. We were supposed to get in the door by lying; we were doing an educational survey. "Do you have kids, sir? I'm doing an educational survey." Then we'd do the survey, establish that the parents cared about their children, establish that research showed having encyclopedias at home was essential to their children's success, pull out the brochures, and make the sale.

I didn't make any sales. Not one. It was all commission, so I made no money.

At weekly meetings, the successful sales people would brag. "He made me swear I wasn't selling encyclopedias, threatened me he'd beat me up, but I still made the sale." Ice cubes, arctic, and hard sell. Is that kind of selling desirable? I doubt it.

But that's just my opinion.


  • Ryan says:

    The hard sell is a style of selling that will typically only work on 10% of the population. Most of the time people only buy who they know like and trust. If you’re hard selling generally you are bypassing this process ad getting straight to value. Selling on value is good, but usually you won’t get the most you can in a sale situation that way. Ethical sure, best bet…no.

  • Patrick Byers says:

    What a great topic. So relevant, especially now with selling becoming so important.

    The flip-side of this is "Is soft-sell responsible when companies need to drive sales in this economy?"

    I think I'm going to have to stew on this one — maybe even explore it in the Responsible Marketing Blog.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post.


  • Click and Inc says:

    Its sad how selling has become more of a manipulations sometimes than anything else. People are naturally wired to reject everything right away after a lifetime of being pushed upon by sales. Sometimes people do need a bit of persuading.

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