Trying to Close a Sale? Try Backing Off


When I got on the New York subway on a recent Saturday afternoon, I squeezed into the car along with a woman with a stroller. As the train sped away, her little boy, of course surrounded by passengers’ knees at his eye level, looked up and smiled engagingly at me when I winked at him. I had his attention for most of the 10-minute ride.

“His eyes are so beautiful,” I said to his mother. “And he’s got such a personality.”

“Ironic,” she said with a laugh. “We just left my grandmother and her friends and he didn’t take to them much. I think they were too on top of him.”

I smiled knowingly. Ah, yes, the 18-month-old boy likes his space. I never liked to be crowded or encroached upon either and my mother tells stories that indicate this was true at a very early age for me.

You know how that translates into adulthood for those of us who prefer some distance? We cannot deal with aggression in sales. We seriously dislike heavy-handed persuasion. Sometimes that kind of behavior, even though it can be textbook technique, completely shuts us down. Crowding me and my ilk can actually cost you the sale even when we set out to buy what you’re selling.

A few weeks ago I picked up a book on my shelf and re-read a particular section. I had interviewed the author a few years ago and something prompted me to go back into her book. It had a whole new meaning for me in that moment, so I wrote her to share the experience and tell her it had given me an a-ha moment. The email I received in response literally went from “great to hear from you” to here’s what else I can sell you.

It so set me back on my heels.

Arguably, it is smart marketing and diligent follow-up to mention an upcoming course or book in that situation. But how about some personal connection first? Some acknowledgement that a reader got something truly meaningful from your work? Even when I wrote back again inquiring about another book she’s working on, she tried to enroll me in a course.

I respect her work immensely, but it’s safe to say I won’t be engaging her again. The hard sell makes me sprint in the other direction.

Breathe, people. Be flexible. Gauge the situation. Human interaction is enhanced when we pay attention to what people are saying and how they receive us.

I’ve been on both sides of this. I know it’s not always easy to sell your idea, product, service. But know that sometimes it’s not about being aggressive. Go ahead. Put your product on my radar. Buy a billboard. Sky write it. Be clever. Be creative.

But to bring nothing but sales pitch? To pounce and hold people captive? Does that actually work on some people?

This doesn’t go over well with a lot of us in social media either. Who wants to read Facebook posts of people who pop up once a week to sell something? Or Tweets that hard sell on a Saturday afternoon? Can’t you show your ability to relax instead? I’d be more inclined to buy what you’re selling if I knew that occasionally you go apple picking or you caught the latest movie.

Maybe the guy at the networking event I attended last week who sells cars, or actually brokers car relationships, does really well with everyone but the likes of me. His shtick turned me off in less than two minutes because of his one-dimensional, very much in-your-face way of talking. I was somewhat amused, but not at all tempted to take his business card.

Perhaps this is about what moves us through the world and stimulates us. Different things -- genuine interaction, art, beauty, justice, just to name a few -- for you and me and the guy down the street probably. There is a certain energy that draws us in or repels us or something in between.

I walked into Diane von Furstenberg’s store in the Meatpacking District last week and a saleswoman named Jennifer greeted me almost immediately. She asked if I was looking for something in particular and I told her I was just browsing. Then she let me do just that, in utter peace among the beautifully made frocks.

When I found something that intrigued me, Jennifer guided me through, paying attention when I explained my wardrobe and lifestyle and color palate. I made a purchase that delighted me. Had she watched my every move as I made my way through the racks, I would have left in discomfort. Had she suggested items that completely disregarded what I had just told her about my preferences, there would have been no sale.

If you truly want to sell someone on something, it may be wise to take a step back. See how they move and react. It can make all the difference.

Recently I ran into a neighbor I hadn’t seen in a while. He was walking his dog, heading to the park in our neighborhood. I stopped to chat and, even though I rarely pet dogs because of an allergy, I was moved by this cutie to reach down and stroke his head. He withdrew and barked a bit.

“It was cool at first because you kept back a little,” my neighbor said. “But he gets nervous when people get too close.”

Ah, another kindred spirit. Say no more, doggie. And enjoy your walk.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to