Subtle Selling: How to Sell Without Being Pushy

We have all experienced ‘that guy’ – the person who just can’t take a hint and continues to follow up despite your continuous nos. While tenacity can be great in some settings, in sales there is a fine line to walk between pursuing a customer and just being overly aggressive. But selling doesn’t have to be this way. You can sell without being pushy, without dirty tactics, and without selling your soul. Here’s how.

  1. Make People Feel Special

There are so many ways to make people feel special so it’s all about finding a way that works for you. You could create a notification for when a new customer or subscriber signs up with your company so you can send them a personalized text message or write them a little note, make a specialized gift for people who have been loyal for a certain time, or create specialized offers to people targeted on their past purchasing history. The more creative you get the more likely you and your business will stick in someone’s head – which leads to future sales.

2. Be Transparent and Share Information

One of the biggest hits we tend to get comes from webinars that we host; people want to learn from the industry leaders how to do specific things. When you share information about how you operate people respond positively. Sharing secrets can help you gain a new audience and boost your authority.

When you tell people how to do something, you’re not undermining your position. You’re building trust. Many people don’t want to make an effort or don’t have the time to follow your instructions and instead will call you to do it for them instead. Sharing your secrets gives you an air of confidence and opens up the conversation for clients to call you and ask questions to help you with generating sales.

3. Revisit Your Why

Drew Eric Whitman lists 8 basic human desires you should tap into:

  • Survival, enjoyment of life, life extension
  • Enjoyment of food and beverages
  • Freedom from fear, pain, and danger
  • Sexual companionship
  • Comfortable living conditions
  • To be superior, winning, keeping up with the Joneses
  • Care and protection of loved ones
  • Social approval

To help boost sales rethink WHY you are selling. What does the product serve? Does it help people have further enjoyment, does it protect them, does it make them look cool? By reevaluating the product value that you are offering customers you can communicate that value instead of pushing another purchase on your clientele.

4. Use Psychology

The placement of products can serve as a strong subtle selling tool to let the item do the talking for you. Robert Levine, a professor of social psychology at California State University, Fresno, discussed the idea of the base rate fallacy. In his book Levine describes the fallacy saying “if a bunch of $200 espresso machines are sitting next to an overpriced $400 espresso machine, the $200 machines suddenly look like an obvious good deal.” Most of us probably have no idea how much an espresso machine should cost so it is easy to be talked into a high-priced machine because it looks less expensive next to the most expensive model.

5. Find Common Ground

You have probably heard of this one, it is the idea that we are more likely to buy something from someone that we see similarities with ourselves. Jerry Burger, a professor at Santa Clara University, studies how and when people are most likely to comply with requests that carry a personal cost. His findings have huge implications for understanding and manipulating selling techniques and buying behavior. In one series of experiments for example, Burger and his colleagues illustrated how perceived incidental coincidences – like having the same birthday or name as someone else – can change our behavior towards that person.

In the first study, undergraduate students were brought into the lab ostensibly to participate in a study on astrology. Over the course of the study, participants discovered that they had the same birthday as a research assistant posing as another participant. When the research assistant later asked participants to comply with a request – in this case to critique an eight-page paper – participants who thought they shared the same birthday as the assistant were nearly twice as likely to do so. This study demonstrates the value that small similarities can hold, building rapport with potential customers is one subtle way to potentially get more sales in your favor.

6. Keep an Eye on the Competition

Knowing what the other team is up to is a great way to be able to prepare yourself to perform better than them. We are not saying go steal their mascot but instead use whatever weaknesses you’ve learnt about your competition and incorporate it in your sales pitch without even mentioning their name. If you know that their company is consistently talking up a product that doesn’t offer all of the features that yours does, discuss the added features that your product has that they cannot offer.

One of the first steps of the buying process is researching different vendors. You can build your stature and diminish that of your top competitor by positioning them as yesterday’s news. There are subtle ways in implying certain competitors without directly referencing them, for example, First National Bank in South Africa had a clever marketing campaign where the audience could derive the competitor details without them having to spell it out.


For many organizations, creating sales can be a bit uncomfortable. So, if you find yourself in this bucket of not feeling good about asking for the sale, or putting off vital sales calls, use the techniques above to create more opportunities to interact and serve your clients. By being confident and thinking outside of the box on how to best serve your customers additional sales opportunities will be the natural byproduct.

Subtle Selling Tips

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