If “high-pressure sales” sounds a lot like high blood pressure, maybe that’s not a coincidence. High-pressure sales tactics are a way for salespeople to inject stress (definition: “a state of emotional strain or tension”) into the selling conversation in an effort to prompt a buying decision. And stress, according to the Mayo Clinic, “can cause your blood pressure to spike, temporarily.”
As home improvement selling has evolved in the course of the last five or six decades, some of the tried-and-true techniques it uses aim to secure the transaction in one visit. And though the techniques employed during this visit may not result in cardiac arrest, the prospect of experiencing such a stressful situation is about as welcome as a heart attack for many homeowners. That’s especially true for those under 40, who often don’t want to deal with it.
For many home improvement companies, on the other hand, these methods are so routine that they may not even think of them as high stress. The sales reps are just doing what they’ve always done. But, increasingly, there are consequences.
So is it high stress to ask for the sale? Not necessarily. It’s all in the when and how. If everything else that goes on in the appointment is calculated to bring pressure to bear, the final result may be to leave homeowners feeling trapped and anxious to have the salesperson gone and the call over with. That’s deliberate. “High-pressure sales tactics make saying ‘yes’ to a sale the easiest way to end a stressful interaction,” says Van Thompson at eHow.com.
If you think that sacrificing the comfort and convenience of your prospect is a small price to pay for getting a contract—and the risk of rescission that ensues—there's something else to consider. Increasingly, companies that have walked away from high-pressure sales tactics (or never used them to begin with) find this to be a potent way to differentiate themselves from high-pressure competitors.
Take a quick tour of websites operated by home improvement companies in your area and you’re certain to find several that promise prospects a “no-pressure sales visit.” That promise is there in response to market conditions. Plenty of people want to know there won’t be high pressure.
“We know some people dread calling home improvement companies to get a quote,” notes the website of Windows R Us South, a Brownsville, Pa., company. “That’s why we reject sales pressure. When you call us for a consultation and quote, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how easy we make it.”
Windows R Us South is by no means alone. Disowning high-pressure sales tactics is now part of many companies’ appeal. “Hard selling tactics are selling strategies that are aggressive and put pressure on potential customers to buy,” notes Eric Novotny in a blog at Windows on Washington, a window replacement company. “Many exterior home improvement companies apply these tactics.”
Hard-Sell Tactics Defined
That these tactics are part of the sales approach of many home improvement companies is no longer proprietary information. But what exactly are these tactics? Home improvement companies whose competitors use them are happy to spell it out:
Tactic 1: The endless sales appointment. S&K Roofing, in Maryland, defines that for website visitors as “asking you to allow 2-4 hours for the estimate.” That multi-hour pitch is designed to overwhelm the homeowner with information and induce a “guilt-trip purchase”—the rep’s been there for hours, the least you can do is sign this contract.
Once experienced, it also induces in certain people a dread of ever having to repeat the process. “Seemingly endless product options, features, and benefits of the products you’re looking at, and copious amounts of installation information can take a lot of time,” notes the S&K website. “Some sales people will have videos, presentations, and samples to show. They will walk you around the home and show you various items and issues. By the time they are finished, you can’t fathom the prospect of doing this over again 2 or 3 more times while shopping. You’re just done and can’t wait to get this over with!”
Tactic 2. Discounts galore. How many ways can you discount the cost of a project? If you haven’t come up with a half-dozen already, think harder. “One of the most popular hard-selling techniques that other window and door companies may use is the ‘on-the-spot’ discount,” notes the Windows on Washington blog. “After investing 3 hours discussing their product and installation techniques, a sales representative will present a seriously inflated price. Then, discount after discount is applied until they reach a price that seems like a great deal–sometimes up to 50% off! At Windows on Washington, we don’t play those pricing games.”
The blog at The Window Dog, a window and door retailer, presents a list of about a dozen of these discounts, including “Buy 2 get 1 free window,” “window trade-in program,” and “the model home program.”
Tactic 3. All buying parties. The requirement that all homeowners be present for a sales presentation is a red flag for some homeowners, thanks in part to what competitors are saying about it. It particularly rankles The Window Dog, who points out the reasons companies give for insisting on “all homeowners” being there, and goes on to dismiss them by pointing out that “… it might not seem so obvious if you don’t have much experience with home improvements. To make it short, they want you both to be there so they can try to talk you into buying on the spot without taking any time to think it over.”
Of course there are other methods that qualify as high-pressure sales tactics, but these three are widely deployed by home improvement companies. And in a world where most homeowners now thoroughly vet any contractor they call, these tactics are likely to be cited somewhere, such as on review sites, the BBB site, or complaint sites such as Pissed Consumer, where homeowners go for the full-on venting.
Our Advice: Wait
Ten or 15 years ago, the damage resulting from high-pressure sales tactics took the form of cancelled sales ranging from 5 percent of volume to as much as 50 percent with high-ticket discretionary items such as sunrooms. Enough to put a company out of business? Not exactly. Cancellations as a percentage of sales were built into the business model.
Today the effect on a company’s online reputation is probably far more damaging even than rescission rates. For one thing, it’s invisible. You have no idea how many people turned away from calling your company because they heard or read that they’d be subjected to high-pressure sales tactics if they did.
What some financial experts advise homeowners to do in the face of high-pressure sales tactics is the one thing these tactics are designed to forestall: wait before making a decision. “Dealing with high-pressure sales tactics can be challenging and even stressful,” notes investor website Investopedia. “Just remember that it’s your house and your money, and you don’t have to make a decision immediately. Make sure that you only buy what you really want, not what someone else wants to sell you.”
For several reasons—demographics and the now omnipresent online search—the pushback against high-pressure sales extends across the world of selling. Hard sales tactics are losing ground to soft-selling techniques, which are characterized by a rational, level-headed approach. No one, it seems, wants to be made uncomfortable as part of the price of buying something from someone else.
That makes the alternative—soft selling—increasingly appealing, with its low-pressure, conversational, questioning, and respectful approach to the prospect’s space and time. “Typically beginning with more questions from the salesperson, soft selling is a process,” writes marketing/sales expert Neil Kokemuller in The Arizona Republic. “Sellers make conversation and ask questions to get a good sense of the buyer's needs. Based on those needs, the salesperson can more effectively make a recommendation for a product or service. Rather than rushing a prospect through agreement, soft sellers take the time to draw out concerns and address them with more information or a product demonstration. The close only takes place once all concerns are effectively managed.”