Remember that cool bike you wanted as a child? How about those shoes everyone was wearing as a teenager? And by the time you were old enough to drive, did you want a car so bad you could almost taste it? Probably so.
And when you asked your parents for the bicycle, you might have simply walked right up them and asked if you could have it (or pitched a fit in the department store while passing the bike aisle, whichever seemed more appropriate at the time).
But when it came to ask for the big-ticket item (the car), you were a little older, so your sales pitch was almost certainly more refined. As a result, you might have pulled out all the punches. You very likely knew in advance 1) which parent would be more open to the possibility of helping you buy it, 2) the best time of day to ask, and 3) the sales pitch you were going to use.
You probably talked about the many ways a car could help the family (e.g. picking up your brother or sister from school, running short errands, driving yourself to and from school, etc.).
You might have made some big promises, such as getting a job to cover gas and insurance costs. And if we’re being realistic, you probably threw in a hefty dose of emotion as well. I mean really, how in the world did the family even get by without you having a car?
When it comes down to it, the reality is that we sell our friends and family almost every day, whether we’re talking about a new movie we just saw, a product we tried, or a service we enjoyed. And when we’re really passionate about telling our friends and family about a new product, we use something called hard selling (also known as high pressure sales techniques).
But what is a “hard sell,” and why has it become such a dirty word within the consumer products and services industries? And ultimately, how can you insulate yourself from falling victim?
This is precisely what we’ll cover in this article. But first, let’s take a closer look at the different between hard and soft sales techniques.
The Difference Between Hard Selling and Soft Selling
According to Investopedia, soft sells are “advertising and sales practices denoted by subtle language and a non-aggressive technique. A soft sell is designed to avoid angering potential customers and pushing them away. Because soft selling is a low-pressure sales technique, it may not result in a sale the first time a product is presented.”
In contrast, hard selling is defined as, “Advertising and sales practices denoted by aggressive or forceful language. A hard sell is designed to get a consumer to purchase a good or service in the short-term, rather than evaluate his or her options and potentially decide to wait on the purchase. It is considered a high-pressure technique.”
In short, soft selling generally involves providing someone with all the information they need, and then leaving it up to them to make a decision. Whereas hard sales tactics use strong psychological pressure (playing on fears, greed, vanity, and so forth) to convince someone to buy, which we’ll talk more about in a moment.
But is there necessarily anything wrong with hard selling, high-pressure tactics in the first place?
Is There Anything Bad About High Pressure Sales Tactics?
It’s important to note here that there’s nothing inherently wrong with hard or soft selling techniques, as each has its usefulness when marketing a product or service. To help outline this, imagine the following scenario:
You know your sister has been looking for the perfect dress to wear to an upcoming event, but despite all her intent searching, she hasn’t been able to find one. One day, while walking through a department store, you see exactly what she wants, in her size—and on sale! The catch is that there’s only one left.
You immediately call her and use common hard sell tactics in your pitch. You begin by telling her about this perfect dress (playing to her desire), telling her that it’s well within her price range (appealing to her thriftiness), but that there’s only one left (scarcity mindset), and that she needs to hurry (creating a sense of urgency) if she’s going to take advantage of the opportunity (again, more scarcity).
By the time you get off the phone with your sister, her emotions are running high, and she’s out the door before you can even hang up.
High Pressure Selling and Negative Emotions
Here, you can clearly see that even though you used some high-pressure sales tactics on your sister, it was perfectly appropriate given the circumstances.
Despite the usefulness of hard selling though, high-pressure sales techniques often get a bad wrap because they’re associated with impulsive purchasing decisions, which most Americans have a problem resisting (and which is exactly what we’ll help you with in this article). And because impulse buys rarely represent good purchasing decisions, these types of products—and the tactics used to sell them—are closely associated with the negative emotions of regret and guilt. In other words, classic buyer’s remorse.
As you can see, it’s not necessarily hard selling that’s the problem, it’s the poor purchasing decisions they often represent, and the feelings of remorse they can engender, that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
With this said, how can you avoid falling under the spell of high-pressure sales tactics to begin with? Let’s take a look.
Common Hard Sell Tactics and How to Avoid Them
Although hard selling techniques are generally considered a recipe for customer dissatisfaction and for driving away more customers than they bring in, there are still numerous industries that use them. These include infomercial-based, ASOTV products, self-help and disaster preparedness products, anti-aging creams and serums, as well as weight loss supplements.
But instead of handing over your hard-earned money for one of these types of products—or the thousands of others sold through high pressure sales tactics—following these steps can go a long way toward helping you prevent buyer’s remorse:
1. Learn to Say No
If you recognize that you’re not in the proper frame of mind to make an informed purchase, it’s important that you feel comfortable saying “no,” whether you’re on the phone speaking to a representative, or sitting in front of your computer poised to press the Confirm Order button.
In fact, learning to say no doesn’t just help you avoid high-pressure hard selling tactics, but can even help you get ahead in other areas of your life as well, because it teaches you how to set boundaries.
2. Keep an Eye on your Emotions
When you experience a hard sell, it will often be “overt, direct, and forceful. It projects a clear message and avoids circumlocution, focusing on pushing the product to consumers to convince them that they need the product and want to buy it. Hard sells on television and radio may feature fast talking, high volume, and a generally blunt style.”
As this quote outlines, and as we mentioned above, the core of hard selling is to appeal to different emotions such as fear, greed, and more. And although emotion may be a necessary ingredient to almost all decisions (whether buying something or not), when we’re overly emotional (e.g. letting our emotions take complete control), we’re not thinking logically, so we’re much more prone to make poor purchasing decisions that we later regret.
Hard-selling techniques often elicit overwhelming emotions by appealing to base emotions such as fears, ego, and more. Image courtesy of SellerInsights.com
Because of this, if you’re in the midst of a high-pressure sales presentation, monitor your emotions carefully. Is your heart racing? Are you somewhat confused, and think the only way out is by making a purchase? Do you feel rushed, without the appropriate time needed to make an informed decision? If so, take a moment to separate yourself from the situation (by first saying no) until you’ve sufficiently calmed down, which can help prevent you from regretting the purchase in the morning.
Admittedly, learning to recognize your emotions (as well as to act on this recognition) takes a fair amount of emotional maturity, as does telling yourself no. However, when the time comes, there are several methods of controlling impulse buying that can help support your decision to politely decline.
3. See the Bigger Picture
If your emotions are on high and you’re having difficulty telling yourself no, take a deep breath and step back from the situation. In fact, if you simply take 10 deep, mindful breaths, any purchasing impulses you’re currently experiencing will likely pass.
Ultimately, this will temporarily clear your head and allow you to see the situation in the context of the bigger picture. Ask yourself:
What will happen if I make this purchase? You might waste money on a product you don’t really need.
What will happen if I don’t make this purchase? After you’ve made the decision and a few minutes have passed, you’ll probably realize that you worked yourself into a tizzy for no reason.
Will this purchase make me happy? Will it bring me fulfillment? Will it bring me closer to achieving my goals? If you’re being honest, this product probably doesn’t provide any of these things.
Will I actually use it? Imagine your daily routine with this new product in your life. Will it fit into your schedule? And after the initial excitement has worn off, will you be motivated to continue using it? A great example of this is exercise equipment, which often begins collecting dust after only a few uses. Instead, the buyer could have walked around their neighborhood a few times, removed the excitement of starting a new fitness routine from the equation, and then made a less emotional purchase at a later date.
Can I afford this product? How will this purchase impact my monthly expenses? Will I need to make sacrifices in order to come up with the extra money?
Do I understand the full terms (returns, warranty, etc.)? Are there additional costs that might not be immediately apparent (such as ongoing maintenance, parts that require replacement, etc.)?
Finally, one of the best ways to put a purchasing decision into perspective is by finding out what other consumers are saying about their experiences.
4. Do Your Research
The fact of the matter is that many consumer products sold using high-pressure sales tactics—especially those noted above—often have reputations for being low quality and/or not working as well as advertised.
But if you think about it, it totally makes sense. After all, since low quality products won’t sell themselves, and some of these manufacturers understand they won’t have repeat customers as a result, causing their customers to make ill-informed purchases is at the very core of their business model.
Enter consumer advocacy websites such as HighYa. We exist solely to help you avoid scams and become a more informed consumer. So if you’re thinking about purchasing a product sold through high-pressure tactics, be sure to check out online product reviews in order to get the skinny on what others are saying.
In the end, this could save you a ton of frustration and buyer’s remorse, not to mention your hard-earned money.
5. Lean on the Experience of Others
If you can’t find any online customer reviews for the product you’re thinking about purchasing (and even if you can), you’ll certainly want to ask your friends about their opinion as well.
According to a 2013 study conducted by Forrester Research, “seventy percent of consumers trust brand recommendations from friends.” But this makes sense, right? After all, we share many core similarities with our friends, so it certainly stands to reason that we’ll take their advice close to heart when we’re thinking about buying a new product.
At the very least, a co-worker, friend, relative, and/or spouse may be able to brainstorm with you in order to help you come to an agreeable decision.
Already Fallen Prey to High Pressure Tactics? What Can You Do?
Although the tips above can go a long way toward helping insulate you against hard selling tactics, what should you do if you’ve already handed over your money?
If you’re still within the manufacturer’s return period (generally between 30 and 60 days), be sure to inquire about how to obtain a refund. Granted, you may lose out on shipping and handling charges, but at least you’ll be able to recoup some of your expenses. And if this process proves to be difficult, check out our article How to Deal with Customer Service & Get Results.
Finally, keep in mind that just because a product is sold using high-pressure sales tactics, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a scam. However, the unfortunate reality is that most scams implement hard selling techniques in order to make the sale, so if you’ve recently purchased an item and feel it was a scam, be sure to read through our article titled How to Get Your Money Back If You Were Scammed Online.