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To Hard Sell or to Soft Sell? That is the Question

Right now I’m doing a lot of work with sales teams who want to take new messages to new people. Let’s call them by their good old-fashioned sales term, ‘Prospects’. Arguably we should call them Suspects but let’s not get into that debate! The key thing is that these are people the salespeople aren’t currently talking to but would like to.

What I’m experiencing is a salesperson’s desire to find the ‘killer’ question or statement that immediately commands the prospect’s attention and guarantees a conversation or meeting.

This seems to be driven by two things:

  • firstly, the current buzz in sales to ‘challenge’ and cause ‘disruption’
  • and secondly, that most salespeople still fear rejection

The danger is that a prospect then experiences a hard sell – when they shouldn’t be experiencing a sell at all. At this stage salespeople need to be in marketing mode, not selling mode – looking to create just enough interest or curiosity for the prospect to want to extend the conversation.

The good news is that the teams I’m working with also have some consistently successful salespeople who find this easy. Why? Because they do their homework. Through research or experience they know about the prospect’s business and know how their offering fits with this. This gives them the confidence to make a really soft approach along the lines of:

“There’s a lot of talk about X subject at the moment and I’d really like to understand your thoughts on it. Would you be up for a call or coffee?”


“We have customers who are saying they have a Y strategy on X now and I’d really like to understand your company’s position. Who should I talk to about it?”

If you were a prospect, which would you prefer – a hard sell or a soft sell?

On the subject of which, take a look at this website from Joe Coleman – genius!