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Resisting the Hard Sell – How to Say No to a Slick Sales Pitch

by Ryan Guina

My wife and I bought our house about two and a half years ago. Soon after moving in we began the standard home improvements, including redecorating, painting, landscaping, and all the fun things that come with home-ownership. We did all of the painting and most of the landscaping on our own. But after awhile, we decided there were a few things we wanted to do that were outside the scope of our own abilities.

The two big projects we wanted done were installing a water softener and house filtration system (additional plumbing required), and we wanted our basement finished (electric work and drywall – not thanks!). So we called a few contractors to obtain quotes. The sales pitches we experienced was eye opening.

After sitting through multiple sales pitches, I learned about how many companies make their sales pitch, and some of the things you can do to resist the hard sale.

The Bigger the Sales Pitch, the More they Will Charge

hard sales pitch

You don’t have to commit right away!

The first pitch we had was for a water softener and house filtration system. My wife and I knew we needed a water softener because we had a lot of hard water buildup around our sinks and appliances. We went to one of the big box home improvement stores and sent in a water sample for a free water assessment, and the results were not surprising: we had very hard water. So we scheduled a free, in-home water consultation.

The result was a two hour sales pitch, complete with a home chemistry kit, an interactive slideshow and video presentation on an iPad, and an estimate of how much money we would save over the course of our lives (by using fewer cleaning products and supplies). It was a slick presentation. But my personal takeaway wasn’t the product itself, it was the sales pitch.

Emotional Triggers Are Open Game

Powerful emotions make people take action. That’s why it was imperative for the water softener salesman to try and scare us into buying a system. OK, maybe he wasn’t trying to scare us. He just let us know that the public water systems had trace amounts of microorganisms, chlorine, hormones, birth control, antidepressants, and other unpleasant things. (We live in farm country; I’m surprised he didn’t mention pesticides).

We were also informed that our pipes would cake over with deposits, our water heater would stop working, all of our appliances would be ruined, and it would cost us thousands of dollars to replace everything.

Is all of this true? To some degree, maybe. But the tone of the sales pitch was designed to scare people into taking action now, versus taking action later.

Companies Don’t Sell Products, They Sell Solutions

Any good salesman will tell you they don’t sell a product, they sell a solution. And the water-softener representative that came to our home was well trained. After informing us our water would eventually stop flowing, our appliances would die, and we would turn into mutants from drinking the water, he offered an elegant solution.

The water softener and filtration system would remove the hard deposits from the water, and over time, it would actually remove buildup and damage to the pipes and appliances. In his words, over time, the hard water deposits would be dissolved back into the (now) soft water at a rate or about one month for each year the house was lived in. Our house is roughly 6 years old, so in 6 months, our pipes and appliances would be virtually brand new (in terms of hard water deposit buildup).

The water filtration system and reverse osmosis system would also remove those pesky hormones and other nasties from the water.

Bonus solution we didn’t even know we needed! Anyone with a water softener can tell you that you use less soap and cleaning products when you have soft water. Hard water requires more cleaning product. This goes for dish soap, hand soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, cleaning supplies, etc. The harder your water, the more cleaner you need to use. The larger your family, the more cleaning supplies and toiletries you need to use. See where this is going?

I have a family of four, and we go through what I consider a reasonable amount of soaps and other cleaning supplies (in other words, this has never stretched our budget).

But wouldn’t you know it – the water softener presentation included a math section that showed us how much money we would save over the course of or lifetime based on reducing he amount of cleaning supplies and toiletries we use. He also informed us we would never need to buy hand lotion again, because hard water removes the natural oils from your skin, but soft water leaves it on your skin, so you don’t need to moisturize. (Not completely true, by the way, but it makes for a great sales pitch).

To top it off, the water softener company was kind enough to offer us their own brand of soaps, shampoos, detergents, and cleaners so we wouldn’t have to buy anything for the next few years.

Over time, the water softener would pay or itself by reducing the amount of soap and cleaning supplies we buy (none for the next 5 years!), and by reducing our home maintenance costs.

Process: Scare You, Offer a Solution, Show You How It Pays for Itself

The sales pitch is designed to open your eyes to a problem you might have known about, make it sound worse than it is, show you how their product solves more than you thought it would, then show you how it really doesn’t cost that much money. In some cases it will even pay for itself! Even if it doesn’t pay for itself, it will make your life infinitely safer/easier/more convenient. And if you still aren’t convinced, you haven’t heard the closer…

Wait, There’s More! The 10% Buy it Now Discount (Today Only!)

Ahhh, the 10% buy-it-now discount! This is the tried and true closer.

Don’t buy it.

There are two main reasons companies use it. The first is to give you the sense of urgency to seal the deal today. The second reason is because it costs companies a lot of money to field a sales team. Selling a product at a 10% discount that day removes the need to send another salesman to your house or spend time with follow-up phone calls or marketing materials. In the long run, they know they will make up for any discount given by the time and money they save. Companies also bake those discounts into the price anyway, so it’s not hurting them.

Most salesman will tell you the 10% discount is only available that day. But don’t let that be your deciding factor for buying their product. You owe it to yourself to do your own price and product research, then make the decision on your own, without the pressure of sitting in front of a salesman who is waiting for you to respond. (And you can often get the discount later, just by asking – try it).

How to Resist the Sales Pitch

If the salesman has done a good job—and he probably has since they are usually well-trained—then you probably feel like you need to sign on the dotted line and buy whatever he is selling. Take a few moments before you take action, and follow these tips.

Your first line of defense starts before you ever meet the salesman. My wife and I always go into a sales meeting with the understanding that we are going to talk things over before deciding. And by talk things over, we don’t mean for 5 minutes while the salesman pretends not to be paying attention.

Sleep on it. This goes hand in hand with the first statement. My wife and I almost always talk over large purchases, then sleep on it before we make a final decision. If either of us doesn’t feel like it’s the right decision, we don’t do it.

Always get at least 2 or 3 quotes from similar companies. If you only do one of these recommendations, this one should be it. There are rarely any standards for most home improvement jobs. People use different products (often proprietary) and may offer different levels of service. Getting multiple quotes allows you to learn more about what actually needs to be accomplished, how the different companies recommend the installation, and what types of products or services they will provide. The variance will be eye opening.

Reevaluate what you have learned. Getting different quotes for our water softener and home water filtration system was a learning experience for me. I researched the different types of water softeners, the installation process, and more. This made the buying process easier when we made our decision. When going through this process, ask yourself if you still need this product, or if it will really impact your life as much as the salesman says it will. You may decide you don’t need it after all. Or you may decide you need it. Either way, you are more informed.

Always get it in writing. Always. If it isn’t in writing, then it never happened.

Our Water Softener Example

All of the above examples came from one salesperson. He was actually a very nice guy, and very low pressure. But the process was very slick and the product, in my opinion, was vastly overpriced. Here is an example from the two companies, Water-softer company A (slick presentation), and Water-softer company B (the company we purchased from).

Water-softer Company A:

  • Very slick sales-presentation (2 hours, home chemistry kit, iPad, scare tactics, etc.).
  • Water softener installation located where the water enters the house (across the basement from the drain hole), and a drain line snaking across our basement floor to the drain.
  • No additional plumbing.
  • Reverse Osmosis – 1 lines for drinking water to the fridge.
  • Included several years of “free” soap and cleaning products.
  • Multiple claims about the product I deemed to be “over the top”
  • Cost: $6,500 after all discounts (additional 10% savings if we opened a store credit card).

Water-softer Company B:

  • 40 minute sales presentation, 20 minutes talking about the product and comparing it to other products on the market, and another 20 minutes to discuss how the plumbing would work.
  • Water softener next to the drain hole on our basement with no obtrusive drain lines running across the floor. They rerouted plumbing to make it work.
  • Reverse Osmosis – 2 lines for drinking water. One to the fridge, one to the sink (required drilling through granite counter top).
  • Included one year of salt for the softener.
  • No “over the top” claims. In fact, the salesman debunked many claims other companies make (without any prompting by me).
  • Cost: $2,900, including plumbing and installation (we needed over 70 feet of pipe; the plumber informed me we had almost $1,000 worth of plumbing work included in our deal).

Which product was better? Well, let’s start with the cost, then go to the product. The cost of the product offered by Company B was not only more than 50% lower, but it included a better installation with the included plumbing.

Now for the product: researching water softeners is extremely difficult. Consumer Reports doesn’t even rate these products for several reasons: it is difficult to compare them in terms of effectiveness and efficiency, and there are many regional manufacturers and installers (often using the same product that has been rebranded, much like mattresses). To top it off, the technology behind water softeners hasn’t changed much in decades. The biggest advancements have come through efficiency (energy and salt use). I researched the brand offered by the respective companies and came to the conclusion that most customers who left reviews were happy with the end product, but the one consistent item that continually popped up for Company A was that many people felt it was overpriced.

With all the research we did, we went with Company B. The installation was fast, professional, and we haven’t had any problems since we made the purchase. And we don’t regret it one bit.

Next up is a finished basement… Wish us luck!


Published or updated November 15, 2013.
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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kostas @ Finance Zone

Good luck with the new home. I personally cannot stand the scare tactics used by sales people. That tends to turn me off; there are better ways to get a sale in my opinion.

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2 Ryan Guina

I agree, 100%. The salesman who received our business was actually the company owner. He said their franchise has a similar sales pitch with the iPad and chemistry set, but he said he never uses it. He prefers the personal approach. It was truly a no pressure presentation, and he respected my time, which I appreciated most of all. I would be happy to recommend his business to anyone in our area. Referrals are the best way to grow your business!

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3 Doug @ The-Military-Guide

This is the best post I’ve read on water conditioners in a long time. I’ll bet you’re glad that warmup is over so you can get to the fun part with general contractors!

Did either of the salesemen talk about how long the ion-exchange resin in the tank will last? Our tenants have a water conditioner going on its 16th year and changing out resin tanks is not a job I’m looking forward to.

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4 Ryan Guina

Great question, Doug. I believe Company A said their resin had a lifetime guarantee, but I may be mistaken. (Company A basically promised the world to us). Company B told us the resin came with a 10 year guarantee and would last at least that long, but could go 15-20 years. I believe it cost a couple hundred dollars to replace the resin. It didn’t seem too cost prohibitive compared to replacing the unit (we did buy a high-end water softener). The reverse-osmosis water filters were the biggest ongoing cost for our system, with a pair of filters that cost $75 to replace, which needs to be done once per year.

As for replacing the resin in your tank, I would just research it a little bit and see what you come up with. You can probably find something relatively inexpensive, or possibly purchase a reconditioned water softener for a reasonable price.

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5 Jarhead

Ryan great post even though I am not looking for a water softener, but I think the most important thing from this article is the information about getting multiple quotes. My wife and I recently had an additional room put in our house and we received multiple quotes ranging from $7,500 to more than $20,000 dollars. The $7,500 was too good to be true as the contractor had lost his license and I am not going to have an unlicensed contractor building a second story addition into my house. The 20 grand was thrown out because it was $6,000 more than the next closest. In all we got almost 200 more square feet of living area for right around $13,500. We felt this was a fair price and was pretty much in the middle of all the quotes. The contractor we went with made sure that everything was completed and that we were happy with our addition. I would definitely recommend him to anyone looking for work to be done to their house.

My mother-in-law also recently had some work done and they only got one quote and went with it. While it was more involved than what we had done I think they were ripped off as the product they got was not great quality. It was obvious that the “custom” cabinets were big box bought.

Research is the best thing that you can do to save money and still get quality.

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6 Ryan Guina

Agreed, Jarhead. Research is the best thing that you can do to save money and still get quality. When got multiple quotes for our basement and only one of the three contractors pointed out some extra things we would need to bring our basement up to local code (things two of the other contractors missed). The third contractor also mentioned that most contracts include a clause along the lines of “items necessary to bring the job up to code will be added at the buyer’s expense.” This makes sense, since you can’t expect people to work for free. But you can expect them to get the initial quote right in the first place, especially when it comes to getting the job up to code. I don’t think this was a malicious oversight by the other two contractors. I think they just deal with a wide service area and probably missed those items. But I would rather know about them up front and have them priced into the job so I can make an apples to apples comparison.

You also brought up a good point with the contractor who lost his license. It’s always a good idea to make sure the contractors are licensed and bonded or insured. There is too much potential for things to go wrong when you have people working in your home. I would rather pay more for the peace of mind of knowing that we are covered should something happen.

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7 Doug @ The-Military-Guide

Ah, good, thanks. I’ll wait until I see mineral deposits on the kitchen sink. I can probably bypass the resin, unscrew the tank, flush out the old, and shovel in the new.

Luckily our water is not hard enough to need reverse osmosis filters.

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