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Does Hard Sell Work on the Web?

April 3rd, 2006 by Bob Bly

A Web designer sent me an email the other day criticizing a long-copy promo I sent to my list.

“Some authors have not really grasped onto The Hard Sell Will Not Work on the Intenet,” she scolded me.

But wait a minute. Take a look at the money-making sites on the Internet. They are a broad mix: some soft sell, some hard sell, some short copy, some long copy.

Given the hundreds of hard-sell, long-copy Web and email promos that are making money hand over fist, how can this Web designer or anyone else possibly state as if it were a law of online marketing that “the hard sell won’t work on the Internet”?

What’s your experience in all this? Does hard-sell, long-copy work online? Or does the Web require a totally different approach: soft sell, informative, non-selling?


This entry was posted on Monday, April 3rd, 2006 at 8:03 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

86 responses about “Does Hard Sell Work on the Web?”

  1. Joel Heffner said:

    It seems to me that long copy, in an email or on paper, will work…if it is read. Most emails that I get that are in the form of newsletters provide short and to the point paragraphs of text…not long letters. Those of us used to such types of email may not want to be bothered with a long letter.


  2. Brian Clark said:

    Bob, I think you know the answer to this. What were your results with the letter that Allison complained about? 🙂

  3. Bill Henderson said:

    Maybe the principle of targeting applies, i.e. for instance, direct mail is all “junk,” until a piece comes in that engages your immediate needs or desires. Then THAT one is a keeper. So if you’re already in target range, it seems to me you’ll stop and read an Internet pitch that hits you where you live (I do)–and the longer and “harder” the better.

  4. Tim King said:

    Probably, it depends. Personally, sometimes I’m intrigued, but I need to know more before I’m ready to purchase. These are the times when I appreciate well constructed long copy.

    Other times, I know what is being sold, and I just need to know what I’d get and how much I’d need to pay. Then the long copy gets in the way.


  5. Steven Porcaro said:

    Bob, I agree with your mix. The long copy and hard copy will sell. I read long copy because I can sometimes read between the lines and get creative to understand what the person is trying to sell.

    That helps me make a better dcision whether or not it is really good information to purchase and unique and I would have trouble figuring it out myself.

    But I will only read long copy on topics I am interested in, and like any book I get on the subject it is about learning.

  6. Eric von Rothkirch said:

    How do you define ‘Hard Sell?’
    Like those long, breezy, chatty pages trying to sell copywriting course packages for hundreds of bucks? Sure, they probably work. Otherwise you guys (meaning pro copywriters) wouldn’t post those things all over the web. 😉

    Where they don’t work, is in the realization that information can be had for free, and if someone wanted to learn how to craft a long rambling sales page like that, they could just break down and analyze the sell page itself.

    This will be an obvious breakdown if the product you’re trying to sell is purely information. But I don’t know. What kind of numbers do guys like John Carlton make on their ‘copywriting lessons?’

  7. Erno said:

    Long copy’s tend to be skipped / zapped. So in these long emails I scroll down to the ‘bottom line’ and try to find out the catch. In my experience these long copy’s with great referal’s all have a catch..

  8. Richard Armstrong said:

    A website designer telling you that your copy is too long for the internet is like me telling Luciano Pavarotti that he sounds a little “pitchy.”

  9. Heather Cook said:

    Personally, I have purchased a lot of books, courses, technology and services over the internet. If there’s a ‘long, breezy, chatty’ page (you know, the ones with lots of different colours of text that you have to scroll down to read) then I click AWAY from that. I despise that type of selling.

    And I’m in sales.

    Personally, I have to first want the product. Then I have to be informed of the benefits. Then I will comparison shop. Then I will buy.

    The hard sell does not work for me. Not on the internet, not on the street. Unless it’s a Girl Guide holding a box of cookies and looking at me with doe-eyes. Then I’ll buy anything.

    The hard sell (anywhere) smacks of desperation. I want to be able to TRUST the seller. If it smells like he’s trying too hard to convince me to buy, then I don’t want it. At least not from him. But that’s just my personal experience. As a salesperson I am not good at ‘closing the sale’ or being too aggressive. This is probably why.

  10. Matt Spergel said:

    Yes, it’s true: hard sell doesn’t work on the Web. Oh yeah, and benefit headlines don’t work either. In fact, nothing works. We’re all screwed. =)

  11. Susanna K. Hutcheson said:

    I’ve found that really both are right. There is a large and growing group that is turned off by the hard sell. There is another group who responds to it. But the copy that pulls best for me is neither. It is copy that is very direct to the point of almost being insulting. It is honest and straight forward. People seem to respond to that.

    I use soft sell on one site and hard sell on another. The soft sell seems to outpull the hard sell. But in both cases the direct approach beats them all. People respond to honesty even when it’s not the nicest thing to hear. They know it when they hear it, read it or see it. And they tend to respect it.


  12. Jeanna Pool said:

    I think it totally depends on the prospect. Of course this is obvious, as some need a hard sell, some are completely turned off by it. I respond best when the author of the offer “speaks” to me and answers my “what’s in it for me?” question. I believe that is the true key to selling anything — answering the prospects burning question and speaking to their wants, needs and desires. I do think that too many internet marketers have gone completely over the top with the hard sell. But again, it depends on the prospect. I guess the bottom line is not so much “know thyself” as “know thy audience”.

  13. Andrew Hunter said:

    Yes, It’s completely dependent on your site and your product. Both have worked in the past for me. What really counts is an understanding of your audience and what they will respond to. Clear, digestable, succint messages have worked the best for me.

    Andrew Hunter

  14. Des Walsh said:

    A distinction I found useful in the ‘long vs short’ sales letter debate, and which is intrinsically about neither hard sell nor soft sell, was that a ‘long’ or longish letter is how you handle the fact that you can’t sit and talk directly with the person. So you can anticipate questions and objections and endeavour to deal with those systematically. This made some sense to me. The related observation was that when you are really interested in/looking for something, you won’t in fact notice that it’s long. As when someone is very fashion conscious they will spend what to another person will seem like an inordinate amount of time studying fashion mags, window-shopping, trying things on etc. I used to be very anti long sales letter, now I’m agnostic but willing to give them a go. I still hate the hard sell.

  15. Michael A Stelzner said:

    People hate being sold to, UNLESS they are looking to be sold (like on a car lot). The higher up the food chain you go at a company, the less hard sell approach should be taken. For example, a well-written white paper should be a soft sell document AND can be very effective.


  16. Ruth Stevens said:

    I’ve always throught your idea that a short email combined with longer sales copy on the landing page is the right mix. You grab their attention with a teaser (and no scrolling) and then use as much copy as you need to close the deal, once they have clicked through. I first heard this idea from you, Bob, and it still rings true for me.

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    Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with you sending a long-copy promo. As long as you are sending to the right list and not spamming, you’ll definitely start seeing results soon. Combining both soft sell and hard sell can bring more results in the long run.

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