A hard sell is a sales tactic which is characterized by being forceful and aggressive. The term “hard sell” emerged in 1950s America, along with the tactic of hard selling. This technique is in marked contrast to a soft sell, in which the pitch for a product tends to be less direct, and the consumer is not pressured to make a purchase. Numerous studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of the hard sell, and conclusions seem to vary. Some consumers respond well, while others do not, and some cultural factors appear to play a role in whether or not someone feels comfortable with a hard sell.
In advertising, a hard sell is 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. In print, a hard sell goes for a simple, high impact message which gets the point across.
Salespeople also engage in hard selling. Car salesmen and real estate agents are especially notorious for their hard selling tactics, which include suggesting that an offer or promotion will end soon, pushing consumers into believing that they should make a purchase immediately or risk losing out. Salespeople of all kinds of products use similar tactics, which often focus on landing a sale quickly, before the consumer has a chance to consider the purchase fully. Consumers can sometimes use this to their advantage by leaving or threatening to leave, forcing the salesperson to drop the price or make other concessions to close the deal.
The hard sell can be offputting to some consumers. Some consumers prefer to research and do their due diligence, and may want to be able to talk to a salesperson without pressure while they explore their options. These consumers may not respond favorably to pressure, as they do not want to feel forced into making a purchase. Other consumers find this sales tactic less objectionable, and may be perfectly willing to go along with a hard sell; some very savvy consumers may even manipulate hard selling techniques to their advantage to get a better deal.
The term “hard sell” is also used in reference to consumers. If a consumer looks like she or he will be challenging and it may be hard to make a sale, the consumer may be referred to as a hard sell. For salespeople, hard sells are frustrating, because they often eat up a great deal of time before they buy anything, or sometimes without buying anything at all. This can expose a salesperson to a loss of commissions and bonuses.