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Sales Bro vs. Sales Pro: Hard Sell or Soft Sell Test

Hard sell vs. soft sell - what works best for sales emails
Sales DevelopmentSales Research

The hard sell vs. soft sell debate is an old one, full of subjective opinions, anecdotes… and not a whole lot of data.

So it’s no surprise there are still two, widely divided camps – each thinking their own approach to sales is the best. (Actually, there are three camps. Some folks argue that neither a “soft sell” nor a “hard sell” are the right way to think of selling. But that’s for another day.)

Two Sides Of The Debate

In general, hard sell advocates believe that a good sales strategy is to straightforwardly make a strong sales pitch to get a prospect to make a buying decision. There is no B.S. involved here, which can lead to faster deals.

But because the hard sell approach tends to be more aggressive, it can make some prospects uncomfortable. A DiscoverOrg study found that 44% of B2B prospects don’t enjoy meeting with salespeople because “they have their own agenda and I can feel pressured.”

Soft sellers use a less aggressive approach to decrease that pressure, instead focusing on understanding their prospect and making them feel more at ease. The downside is that they also may take longer to develop the deal, waste time speaking to unqualified prospects, or lose control of deals more easily.

This isn’t a purely philosophical debate, either. When you’re communicating with prospects at a large scale, small differences in messaging can mean big changes in revenue.

So how do you figure out which approach is best? Outreach designed an email experiment to determine whether a hard sell or soft sell approach made for the most effective B2B emails.

Hard Sell vs. Soft Sell: The Results

The Sales Bro and Sales Pro debate what works best in email: a hard-sell approach, or a soft-sell approach. A look at the data shows it's not quite so simple.

Video Transcript:

Sales Bro: Man, I am going to kill it this quarter. These emails are banging. They’re super aggressive. Nobody is saying no to me. What’s your problem, bro?

Sales Pro: Am I in some kind of macho deodorant commercial? I think you’re laying it on a little thick.

Sales Bro: Hate all you want, man. The more aggressive emails work. People like to be steered with this powerful, authoritative, manly tone.

Sales Pro: Whatever you say, man.

Sales Bro: Okay, well, you can say whatever you want, but quit hating and just tell me what you think will work.

Sales Pro: I just send a few emails that highlight the value of my product without being over the top. Like, my mama raised me right. I still believe people appreciate manners and courtesy. I’m from the South, man!

Sales Bro: You know what’s going south? It’s your deals, man, with that pathetic messaging. There’s no way that your emails are going to outperform mine.

Both: Data Desk!

Yifei H.: The idea that you have to be aggressive to sell is a tale as old as Madame Curie’s beaker. But is it true, or does politeness pay off? The answer may surprise you.

Yifei H.: In our analysis of 4,500 emails, we found that the more aggressive email got a 1.9 percent response rate, while the softer, more polite approach only got a 1.1 response rate.

Sales Bro: Boom! That’s what’s up, y’all. Guess my deodorant smells pretty good, now.

Sales Pro: That’s a weird thing to say, man.

Sales Bro: Whatever, dude. You’re just mad because my aggressive emails worked, and yours didn’t. You’ve got to break through that noise. You’ve got to make them listen. Shh. Back to the Data Desk.

Pavel D.: While it is tempting to just look at reply rates to draw your conclusions, all replies are not created equal.

Pavel D.: What we found is that although the aggressive email has more responses, a large percent were negative. The reply data shows that the aggressive email has a 25 percent unsubscribe rate, while the softer email has 10 percent. Additionally, the softer email has a 31 percent positive response rate, while the negative one has only 13 percent.

Yifei H.: In other words, the aggressive email got more responses, but a lot of them were telling Sales Bro to go away. A quarter of the people of the Sales Bro emailed hit him with unsubscribe. Like a black hole, you cannot come back from that.

Sales Bro: I can’t believe I was just wrong for the first time in my entire life.

Sales Pro: There’s a first time for everything, buddy. Data always wins.

Sales Bro: Yep. Data always wins.


Colin Campbell

Colin is the Director of Marketing at Sales Hacker. Before that, he led the strategy team at a marketing agency, and worked with hundreds of B2B brands to build winning inbound strategies. Outside of work, Colin is the world's biggest dog lover, and spends as much time as possible outside.