What is a Hard Sell?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Car salesmen are well known for using hard sell tactics.
Car salesmen are well known for using hard sell tactics.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I hate going to car dealerships just because I know I'm going to get the hard sell. It's always some add-on that I don't really need, like extra rust proofing or an extended warranty. If I say no, the salesman reminds me that Ohio weather is rough on cars, or I'm going to wish I had that extended warranty when the transmission starts wearing out. They also like to push for extra features that aren't worth the cost, like seat warmers and rear spoilers.

I understand that salesmen have to overcome a lot of resistance from potential customers, but I wish they'd understand that no means no. I want a reliable car at a fair price, and I'm not having a midlife crisis. A rear spoiler might look nice, but I'm not planning on racing at Daytona.


I once entered a drawing for a free vacation, and I got a letter inviting me to a meeting at a local hotel. Someone in the audience was guaranteed to win that trip, but we had to agree to stay for the entire meeting to be eligible. It turned to be a sales pitch for a timeshare in the Bahamas. Some people left right away, but I stayed to hear the pitch. I thought I could sit through the meeting, say no to everything and still win the trip.

These salesmen were masters at the hard sell. They started off easy, with a slide show about the timeshare condos and beautiful shots of the beach next door. But then they started getting more and more aggressive. They went from person to person, grilling him or her on things like income and lifestyle and employment. Everybody deserved a vacation, so why not invest in something they could visit every year? If we could afford a nice house and a nice car, why not get a nice vacation home as well?

The problem was, these condominiums would only be available to the investors on the same week every year. If they couldn't get the vacation time off work, the money was not refundable. The contract was also designed to keep people locked into a multi-year lease agreement. They'd still have to pay for the week's rent even if they could no longer afford it. It wasn't exactly a scam, but it was not a great deal for investors. I felt pressured into signing the contract, but I didn't do it.

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