“Hard Sales” and “Hard Sells”

By Maeve Maddox

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Lilach Alkony wonders about the difference between “hard sales” and “hard sells.”

The noun phrase hard sell is a U.S. coinage dating from the 1950s. It means “aggressive salesmanship or advertising.” An example is the late night “infomercial” that keeps pounding the viewer with “…and wait, there’s more!”

Hard sell can be used as an adjective and a verb, as well as a noun. The OED hyphenates the word as hard-sell and offers these examples:

1959 Times Lit. Suppl. 13 Nov. 662/3 One does not see any examples..of what is called ‘hard-sell’ advertising.

1961 Economist 14 Jan. 114/2 The need for the ‘hard sell’ is evident.

1963 Guardian 16 Nov. 14/7 It is difficult to hard-sell the honest song the way they do the contemporary counterfeit.

The phrase “hard sales,” on the other hand, can have various interpretations.

It can mean simply “sales transactions that are difficult to achieve,” as in this headline:

Making the Hard Sales, Your Career Depends on It

Some headline writers, however, confuse “hard sales” with “hard sell”:

Sales Training Tip – 10 Reasons Why Hard Sales Tactics Never Work

The wording of the first reason suggests that the headline was probably not written by the author:

People hate being sold to: hard sell will bring out the worst in people. When aggressive sales techniques are used this will prompt the prospective buyer to be aggressive as well and act negatively to the sales person. Pretty soon they are ready to argue with you and you know the sale is completely lost.

A web search does turn up many examples of “hard sales” used with the meaning of “hard sell.” It seems to me that if the intended meaning is “aggressive selling,” then the established, unambiguous term is to be preferred.

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4 Responses to ““Hard Sales” and “Hard Sells””

  • aelia


    Why I can’t download the Basic English Grammar?

    Thank you!

  • Yuval L.

    I was really surprised to see this, ’cause Lilach Alkony was my fifth-grade English teacher. O_O

  • Fatnork

    What about Presale and Presales? I saw both used, but don’t really know the difference. In Thailand, in the field of real estate where i’m in, people seem to use both to represent the period when a project is open for sale before it is officially launched.

  • JRG

    Why is “sell,” a verb used, as a noun? I’vd noticed that many people improperly use sell as a noun, like “The store had a big sell” and maybe the firs user of “hard sell” was likewise confused.

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