Do You Need to be Aggressive to Get Sales?

I once had a prospective customer call me up and demand a sales pitch. He said “Sell me what you’ve got”. I was caught off guard. I’m used to people calling to ask me questions, not calling to demand I sell them something.

I said, uh, well, have you looked through the website? Yes. Did you have any questions? Then he got really mad and said “What, do you not even want me to buy your product then!?!” I stumbled around and said uh…it’s your choice right? I mean, if it’s what you are looking for, I’d be delighted if you signed up. If not, I wish you well in finding what you are looking for. I’ll even give you a recommendation if I can. I’m here to help you understand if it’s a good fit, not to convince you that it is.

He was really not happy with that answer. He seemed to want a more aggressive sales pitch than I even know how to do, let alone feel comfortable with.

I ended up asking him about his project (when in doubt, ask questions!), and talked about how our service fit in with what he was doing. I thought all in all that I recovered OK.

Then he posted a ticket to our helpdesk saying that whoever the ditz on the phone was, she should be fired. I think he might have used the word “mealy-mouthed”. Sigh.

The last thing you want to do is convince your worst customer to hire you.

This is not the kind of customer I want anyway. And before you say “sour grapes!”, let me explain. I have paid attention to which customers end up being the most demanding, and often they were the most demanding prospective customers as well. So I don’t mind if people are unsatisfied with my sales technique or something else I offer and go somewhere else. Chances are they’d be unsatisfied with a lot of other things too. In the long run, I want happy customers more than I want any particular sale.

The best customers are those that find your stuff and say “Aaah, now this is what I was looking for”. They don’t need to be “sold”. They just need to be able to clearly see who you are. That way, they’ll know that who you are is what they want.

Marketing is about clear communication.

I’ve heard people say, in the “you don’t have to be aggressive” crowd, that “marketing is about relationships”. Sure, OK. But I also think it is about clarity of message and resonance. When you form those relationships, in whatever form, even “website visitor”, those people need to be able to understand who you actually are! That’s the only way the will get that “Aaah” feeling of “this is a good fit”.

Sometimes it seems like traditional sales techniques are predicated on the idea that folks are just wandering around not sure what they want. So they need to be told to buy your product.

Is that really true? In today’s consumer society with a billion choices, it seems to me like people are out there hunting for what they really want. I certainly am. And I might not have a name or specific picture in my head of what it is, but when I find it, I know. Because of – you guessed it – that “Aaah” feeling. I get excited inside, and I want to tell people about it. And those are the kinds of customers you want!

The way to get those customers is for your marketing to be a shining beacon of Who You Are. Whatever the medium – website, how you interact with folks at networking events – it can communicate clearly your unique style and what you bring to your service.

You also want your marketing to be honest, so people get exactly what you said they would – exactly what they wanted. That’s the best way to get and keep more happy customers.

We’re always better at being who we are than being somebody else.

I don’t do sales pitches or aggressive marketing. And, I have no problem paying my rent. Perhaps I could be making more money if I used different techniques – but who knows? Maybe I’d suck at them because they aren’t really me. Yeah, that sounds true.

So if you need some evidence that making a living does not require aggression, I’ll be the poster child. And I think there are a lot of folks out there like me. I believe authenticity creates success more than sales techniques do. The most important thing is doing what you feel comfortable with and believe in.

There are lots of ways to market. Explore the options and learn about different techniques to see which ones fit you. Keep the faith that you’ll find the ones that are right for you AND that work to create the income you’d like to have.

Lastly, when you develop your perfect-for-you non-aggressive way of marketing and doing business, tell people about it! I write about my business philosophy on my “about” pages, and a lot of the folks who find me say that reading that resonated with them. I think it’s important, if you are committed to non-violent marketing, to let people know. It’s one more thing that will attract the right people to you.

PS I was inspired to write this article after stumbling upon Havi Brooks’ take on the subject, Kosher marketing — it’s not what you think. You might want to check that article out too.


  1. Yeah, so for someone who was once identified as a mealy-mouthed ditz you sure have a lot of smart things to say.

    Yay, smartnesses. This piece is great. Also: resonance. I am with you on that.

    What I really like is how you completely know where you are on the sleaze-non-sleaze continuum, without second-guessing it. Being able to model it *and* explain it = awesomeness.

  2. Jah, not second-guessing is important. I think wherever you are on the continuum, confidence in yourself and your product is key.

  3. Hi Emma; I really enjoyed reading this. I recently told someone that I feel more passionate working on websites for people whose product I judge is creating good in the World– more than other websites.

    That person asked me point-blank if I was willing to focus my business on this kind of work. At first I was taken aback, had fear about it and wasn’t ready to commit. But I’ve realized this is truly the kind of work I want to do, and it is OK for me to ask the Universe to support me in my path.

    As a result I re-designed my website and message. And it feels more aligned with the truth of who I am– which means I feel more comfortable when talking with potential customers.

    The ‘having faith’ component comes in as I wait to see if I can be my authentic self and have a thriving business at the same time. Yet my experience has shown that things inevitably come together for me when I do…


  4. @North:

    Excellent! Your focus will not only make you feel more comfortable talking about what you do, but it will help your ideal customers recognize you as a kindred spirit. And your business is now a clearer channel for Spirit to manifest through you. Yay! I want to know how things progress!


  5. Sanjay Nambiar says:

    Quite useful…gives a different perspective to the world of sellers & buyers. Most often we think of only push & pull but now we see there’s more to it than that…

  6. @Sanjay

    Doesn’t it? Sometimes it seems like the whole world of commerce is backwards. Not wrong, just…turned backside front somehow. =)

  7. Hi Emma,

    So, speaking as someone who was just on the receiving end of your sales technique, I have to say:

    I agree with you 100%, and,

    it worked quite well for me. You were honest and clear, answered my questions to my satisfaction, didn’t try to convince me of anything, and clearly stated where your service might not be a perfect fit (I think we can work around that). That’s the sort of attitude I want in a provider, and you really don’t want the sort of customer who _doesn’t_ want that sort of attitude!

    I’m not quite ready to go through the pain of switching hosts yet, but when I am I’m switching to you. Well done.

    Also, this is an awesome blog. Thanks for the insight, you’ve brightened my day!

  8. @freejung
    Hey, I guess I couldn’t ask for a better endorsement than that! I’m glad I could brighten your day. =)

  9. You’re welcome.

    Only now, after reading some of your other stuff, I feel guilty about having bothered you to ask you silly trivial questions that you hate having to answer. I’m sorry about that.

    So I want to share something that may help a bit with your perspective on that.

    I asked you questions not so much because I care about the answers (any half decent webhost is faster than anobody’s home connection, nobody’s going to tell you that their uptime is lousy, you just have to find out for yourself, and your website clearly states your policy on bandwidth overages). I asked because I wanted to know how you would answer. That mattered to me a lot more than the actual content of the answers.

    Maybe I’m unusual in that respect, but I doubt it. I think that when people ask you questions about your service, they’re really asking, “who are you, what are you like, what’s it going to be like having a professional relationship with you?”

    I don’t know if that will make answering dumb questions like mine more tolerable or not. I hope it does. And if not, then my apologies for asking.

    I think, however, that you’ll find me to be an ideal customer — I need no help or support whatsoever, all I need is an FTP connection, a site that’s always up, and email that always gets through. If you can do that, I promise I won’t bug you at all, except maybe to post random thoughts on your blog.


  10. @freejung
    Oh, not at all! I get that, I do the same thing when I’m shopping around and I completely understand wanting to see what kind of response you get.

    I think you are referring to my post about inner resistance where I am talking to my “inner teenager” who is complaining about answering tickets. I was afraid a potential customer might see that and get the wrong idea. It points more to needing to get some help (and I have since I wrote that), especially with billing tickets – the repetitiveness of it sometimes gets to me – I think it does with any business owner, the time comes to delegate and I had just let it go too long without paying attention to my needs for support in running things and having creative-work time.

    But I like to answer the sales questions myself still a lot of the time because of just the things you mention – it’s an important part of my philosophy to be honest and genuine in the sales process and not just try to “make the sale”. I want that to come across. Occasionally I end up giving people tips or pointing them in a direction around related topics like web design or e-commerce, and I like that. I want people to know me and know that I’m there and that they can talk to me. That’s one of the benefits of going with a small company.

    So yes, that is a good way of framing it and thanks for the reminder. =)

  11. Yes, that was exactly the post I was referring to, and I read it because I struggle with that a lot myself. To be honest, I rarely even check the contact email for my site any more. I can afford not to, because I’m not charging anyone for anything. Everything on my site is free and if they don’t like it they can go elsewhere. Still, it must be frustrating to be the thousandth person who has contacted me to ask if you can get my pictures without the logo (no, you can’t), and I don’t bother to answer.

    I don’t much like tedious work either, I get enough of that in my day job, so when it’s just me I tend not to do it. Trouble is, sometimes it has to be done if you’re going to get anywhere.

    I’ll have to try having a little chat with the guy who’d rather hang around playing computer games than put up yet another page of tiger pictures or answer the same questions in email for the thousandth time. Maybe if we can reach some sort of truce, I can get to the point where I can quit my day job and only have to do tedious work for myself!