How to Sell to An Audience that Doesn't Want to Be Sold To

Patti Fabrick
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"I hope I know how to sell this."

I took a deep breath, butterflies fluttering in my stomach. Looking around my audience, I could see I was in for a challenge. Many were distracted and fidgeting. By the expressions on their faces, I was pretty sure most of them didn’t really want to be here.

Stepping up, I cleared my throat. A wave of shushes went through the crowd, but many were still talking. Suddenly an idea occurred to me. I grabbed the demonstration I had planned for later and started setting it up. Slowly, the quiet descended, as one by one my audience had become enthralled with what I was doing.

“Today,” I announced. “Today, we are talking about ROCKETS!” Then I pushed the button and launched the rocket into the air. Certainly, the group of 4-year olds was hooked, and my entire lesson was a success.

Every marketer should have to, at least once, command the attention of preschoolers.

And once you’ve gotten their attention, now convince them to take action. If it’s something fun, like watching rockets, it won’t be very hard. But now convince them to do something less eating broccoli!

Why is it so hard to persuade people to do something, regardless of age? In looking for the answer to that question, I discovered that how to sell all boils down to human psychology. And it’s easiest to understand how to sell by looking, again, at children.

How To Sell Persuasively - Providing Choice Is Key

Human beings have a deep-seated desire for freedom. As many parents have experienced, children become aware of this desire around the age of two. And thus is born the “terrible twos” where every other word is “NO!”

Psychologists have even given this a name—reactance. It refers to the way we think or behave when we perceive a threat to our freedom.

For instance, if we insist that a child wears a jacket on a cold day, they may resist. They see a choice (between wearing or not wearing) and yet they are not allowed to make that choice for themselves. Savvy mothers worldwide have learned the art of offering choices. “Would you like to wear your tan or blue jacket?”

Although more subtle in adults, reactance is still very much an issue.

And this explains why typical “hard sell” or pushy sales techniques often fail to deliver the desired results. Feeling pressured, most people will react negatively to a perceived restriction of their freedom.

The good news is, just as in children, there are ways to reduce reactance. A study by behavioral scientists N Guéguen and A. Pascual found ways to counteract reactance when making an appeal for money.

They placed panhandlers at a busy mall. And found a 400% increase in compliance when they added a phrase that the person was “free to accept or refuse.”

So what does this all mean to the marketer when considering how to sell our products and/or services without triggering the reactance emotion? One solution is by giving our audience choices using a technique called a “soft sell.”

Use Soft Selling to Reduce Reactance

The term “soft sell” describes a method of selling that is low-pressure, persuasive, and subtle. Its non-aggressive approach may need more customer touchpoints to lead to a sale. But it encourages a long-term relationship for repeat sales.

Let’s go into some practical examples of what soft selling actually looks like. But before we go into the techniques, we should cover a few basic requirements of successful soft selling.

  • Believe 100% in your product and/or service. Authentic passion is contagious and will come through your marketing message without much effort.

  • Know your market. Get to know your market beyond traditional demographics. Discover their wants, needs, and deepest desires. Use your messaging to target your ideal customer.

  • Be open to building relationships with everyone. Relationship marketing should be the core of your marketing activities. You never know when a connection will become a customer.

  • Use a quiet approach. Don’t use pushy, aggressive tactics. When you make a pitch, use a gentle call-to-action that’s conversational.

So, now that we have the proper foundation for how to sell using this method, let’s go over some standard soft selling techniques.

How to Sell Using Education and Authority

Soft sell advertising involves offering tremendous value to your target market. If you can create content that helps them overcome their problems, you will be the expert they can trust. This sets the stage for a successful customer relationship.

Some good examples of educational content:

  • Case studies are a detailed analysis. How has your product or service been used successfully? They help your potential clients relate to your business. And meanwhile, decide if you can help them with their problems.

  • White papers are essentially a mix of a brochure and an informational article. The purpose is to educate and sell (softly) to the reader.

  • Articles and videos can be directly related to your products and/or services. Also, they can be supportive to your audience, offering valuable information to help them be successful.

  • Training courses are the ultimate project for educational content. Giving your prospects and customers all the information they need to be successful is a win-win situation. As a result, you are positioned as an authority and as a benevolent partner in their success.


HubSpot is an example of educational marketing at its finest - offering a blog, numerous case studies, and insightful research. They also create free courses and certification programs for a large number of business skills. HubSpot knows successful customers are happy customers who stay with their company for the long haul.

How to Sell Using Stories

“What people will keep coming back for – what will draw them in and make them miss you if you’re gone – are the stories that you tell.” - Kindra Hall, storytelling advisor

Stories—good stories—are powerful. We all want to be the hero, fight against the enemy, face down our fears, and achieve our dreams in the process.

​Also, properly written stories have been proven to trigger a particular hormone (oxytocin) which increases trust between the listener and the storyteller. Dr. Paul Zak studied oxytocin in 2015 and found that participating in a good story increased charitable giving. The higher the emotional impact of the story, the more likely participants would donate money to an unrelated cause.

​See, when people know, like, and trust you, they are more open to hearing about the products and/or services you have to offer. Stories can bypass all logic and directly appeal to emotions, where 85% of our decisions are actually made.


No one tells a story better than The J. Peterman Company. They say a jacket is not just a jacket, it’s an adventure into the jungle of a boardroom. It's phenomenal storytelling in a product description.

If you’re having trouble writing your stories, we can help. Our copywriters are master storytellers. We write emotional and memorable stories, inspiring customers to do business with you.

Using Consistency and Commitment in Sales

How many times have you finished a movie, even though you weren’t really enjoying it? Or you kept reading a book with a weird plot thinking it must get better? We all have a tendency to continue a behavior if we have invested time and/or resources into it.

As human beings, we are driven to be consistent. Once we have made a commitment, we will strive to justify that decision with future behaviors. The more public the commitment, the stronger the justification.

Marketers can tap into this tendency by offering free versions of products or services, in-home trials, etc.


Purple Mattress offers a 100 night trial period. Sleep on it for 100 nights, and if you’re not happy, they will pick it up and give you a full refund. This kind of guarantee reduces fear during the sales process (What if I don’t like it?). And once the mattress is in your home, it’s far more likely you’ll keep it.

Google is the king of freemium software. They have email, online storage, productivity software, etc. Sometimes the free version isn’t quite enough space. Or you might want a business-level solution. So, you can always upgrade to a paid subscription.

How to Sell Using Loss Aversion

People feel losses more intently than they feel gains - it’s just how we’re wired. Imagine your boss or client saying that he’s cutting your pay by 10%. You’d be pretty upset, right? But, a raise of 10% wouldn’t get you equally as excited (even though it’s nice and we’ll take it).

That’s why loss aversion, or the fear of missing out (FOMO), is such a powerful motivator. We tend to think our losses will have a greater impact than they actually will.

Marketers can tap into this emotion by focusing on what the customer might lose if they don’t take action. For example, free trials of SaaS businesses are excellent at loss aversion. After all, the customer has spent a lot of time and effort to set up the system—they won’t want to lose their work.

Using scarcity is another FOMO technique. But be careful: scarcity must be authentic. Marketers in the past have used FOMO for shady reasons. You want to use FOMO for genuine reasons.


Online shopping cart service Shopify has a free 14 day trial for any of their plans. You set up all your products in the system, make your site look amazing, and feel the excitement of finally being “in business". Who’s not going to stick around?

How to Sell Using Reciprocity

“You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”— Zig Ziglar

Obligation. It’s what compels us to wave to complete strangers who mistake us for someone else. We feel a need to return even slight favors to people who have done something nice for us. Reciprocity is a human characteristic essential for us to live as a society.

Studies have shown that the favor doesn’t have to be “equal.” For instance, small free meals were given by pharmaceutical companies to doctors. This subconsciously increased the likelihood of physicians prescribing those name-brand drugs to patients. Quite the ROI for a slice of pizza!

Reciprocity is the ultimate goal of content marketing. We read blog articles, watch videos on YouTube, and download free eBooks. However, marketers must beat expectations to be perceived as a favor. And the gift must be freely given with no strings attached. Even the request of an email for a free newsletter will not trigger reciprocity.


Manychat is a messenger bot service that understands the nature of messaging apps. We feel obligated to send something back whenever we get a message, even if it’s just a “thumbs up.”

How to Sell Using Social Proof

Humans are pack animals. Our societal bonds are powerful and have been shown to influence behavior to a great extent...from buying an iPhone to forming a mob. This is particularly powerful when we are unsure of what to do.

Some forms of social proof to try in your marketing:

  • Testimonials - Don’t ignore the tried and true testimonial. Quotes from happy customers are a very persuasive form of social proof. To increase authenticity and credibility, include a high-quality photo.

  • Video testimonials - If a picture is worth 1,000 words, remember that a video is thousands of images. Seeing and hearing someone say amazing things about your business builds trust with potential clients.

  • Customer case studies - This technique combines testimonials with storytelling. Write an in-depth story of how a customer uses your product and/or the difference it has made in their businesses or lives. Popular in the B2B space, case studies help your prospects understand how to use your product or service.


Dan Lok, an online educator and mentor, has one of the most effective social proof marketing methods on the internet. For example, he has devoted an entire YouTube channel exclusively to sharing video testimonials from his students. It's overwhelming proof and a hugely successful example of how to sell.


Understanding how to sell using psychological triggers is essential when selling to an audience that doesn’t want to be sold to. In the end, we want to attract customers, educate, and encourage them to make their own choices. We want to set ourselves up as a partner, investing in their success as much as they are. It’s through authentic, persuasive marketing that we have the best chance of creating loyal customers who not only return, but refer others as well.

Creating the materials to educate and inform your audience is a large project critical to your marketing success. If you need help developing customer-centric materials for your campaigns, get in touch with us here at

Patti Fabrick

Patti Fabrick is an experienced storyteller passionately forming connections between businesses and their prospects. She loves to connect with people on a personal level - inspiring them to take action through email and social media campaigns. When she isn’t writing, you can find Patti enjoying her ducks, chickens, and cows on her small hobby farm.

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