Have you ever felt pushed into buying a product or service? Most people dread the archetypal high-pressure salesperson. Instead of trying to push through a sale, try doing the opposite. This is the basis for anti-selling.

In communication there is an automatic need to balance things out. If the salesperson is negative, the client will be positive. If the salesperson downplays things, there will be less resistance. Below you will learn some anti-selling techniques. They are a great way of removing the pressure on the client. Doing the opposite of what is expected allows the client to the salesperson to relax a little and introduces an element of fun and playfulness into the process.

Reverse psychology and reactance

Anti–selling is based in part on reverse psychology: basically, you try to get someone to do the opposite of what you say. Reverse psychology is based on reactance, whereby a person who has a negative reaction to being persuaded would rather do the opposite of what is recommended. There is a fundamental paradox in the salesperson/client relationship in that the salesperson wants something from the client and the client can easily become stubborn or truculent just through the roles of the situation. Anti-selling seeks to redress the balance in the relationship. At its best, reverse psychology has a playful element in it, which is obvious to all involved. It can be used in all types of communication and because of its playful element is especially obvious in the context of children and children’s stories, so I am starting with a few examples of these first.

Examples with children and children’s stories

  • You want your four-year old to get into bed and your child is running around the room and hiding and has no intention of getting into bed. And with a twinkle in your eye, you put on a very stern voice, hands on your hips and pronounce: 'Hmmm I do NOT want to see a little boy that I know in bed tonight – that is absolutely forbidden!' Generally, your child will understand the game and jump into bed saying, ’Look at me - I’m in bed!’ And seeing your consternation, your child will laugh with glee.
  • The story of Br’er Rabbit who tricks Br’er Fox into setting him free by means of reverse psychology is an excellent one. ‘Now that Br’er Rabbit is stuck, Br’er Fox ponders how to dispose of him. The helpless but cunning Br’er Rabbit pleads, “Do anything you want with me – roas’ me, hang me, skin me, drown me – but please, Br’er Fox, don’t fling me in dat brier-patch,” prompting the sadistic Br’er Fox to do exactly that because he gullibly believes it will inflict the maximum pain on Br’er Rabbit. As rabbits are at home in thickets, however, the resourceful Br’er Rabbit escapes1.’ The fox is fooled, but we - as readers - understand that Br’er Rabbit is playing a game.

Examples in sales and business

  • Saying NO can be used with good effect. I have a photographer friend who uses reverse psychology for the effect of humor and surprise. When her subject is looking gloomy, she will say ’No – don’t smile!’ Inevitably, she gets the result of radiant laughter and a good shot.
  • I once saw a hilarious comedy show on television (an episode of the British sitcom, Are you Being Served?), whereby salespeople in a clothing shop were angry at the fact that they’d all been told to work one hour longer per day in order to up the sales quota. Determined to prove the management wrong, they did everything they could to not sell anything, even to the point of telling a female customer, in desperation to stop the sale, that the coat she had tried on made her look ugly. In spite of the insults and to their despair, she insisted on buying it.
  • Once, at a client meeting with a senior colleague of mine, when a client was very enthusiastic and wanted to sign up straight away for a rather complex product – my colleague said to him: ’Hang on, not so fast! First you will get everything in writing and once you’ve studied it, and if you still insist, then we can go ahead’.

Anti-selling techniques

At it’s best, with anti-selling, the pressure is completely off the client. You are advising the client to think twice before he jumps, and the client insists on doing the business despite your warnings. The advantage is that you are being completely transparent; all the negatives have been tackled upfront. There are no unpleasant surprises left, nothing lurking under the carpet, nothing left unsaid and the client feels in control. Here are some examples of such dialogue:

Salesperson: Your money is locked in for ten years.

Client: I can take it – I have enough liquidity elsewhere.

Salesperson: It’s the most expensive model on the market.

Client: I can afford a luxury car.

The following are variations of some anti-selling techniques.

DISSUADE instead of PERSUADE

Instead of only persuading the client to buy your product by listing all the benefits, try dissuading him too.

Salesperson: This product is not for everyone. In fact, I would advise most people not to do it:

  • unless they are happy to have a very secure investment with a low return that allows them to sleep well at night;
  • unless they are looking to buy a very high-quality fridge and are prepared to pay the higher cost.

Anti-selling is a good method for qualifying your client on the phone before a first meeting.

Salesperson: It doesn’t make sense for us to meet up:

  • unless you have 100K free to invest in the next 6 months;
  • unless you are planning on buying a new car in the next year.

DISADVANTAGES instead of ADVANTAGES

Instead of only pointing out the advantages of your product, try also pointing out the disadvantages.

Salesperson: This is a very sound product if you don’t mind:

  • being tied in for the next five years;
  • buying last season’s model;
  • going for a full check up at the doctor’s.

ONE BIG CATCH instead of all those BENEFITS

Instead of only pointing out all the benefits, try bringing out the problems too – or even better, one major problem.

Salesperson: Unfortunately, there is a major CATCH.

Client: Aha, I thought there would be – what is it?

Salesperson:

  • The product closes at the end of the month, which does not give us much time.
  • Once you get used to driving this car, you will never be satisfied with another type.

UNDERSELL instead of OVERSELL

Try downplaying the amazing properties of your product. If your client is already ‘sold’ you can afford to lower his expectations, show a little modesty.

Salesperson:

  • There are many similar products on the market; we are not the only ones.
  • Yes, it is tax-free, but of course we cannot guarantee that it remains that way in the future.

Try using the Double Negative:

  • This is not a bad product at all (instead of – this is a really excellent product).
  • This is not a disappointing technological innovation (instead of - this is an amazing technological breakthrough).

DISCOURAGE instead of ENCOURAGE

If you have made a good recommendation and your client seems positive so far, you can afford to warn your client not to close on the sale, thus clearing the air of any last-minute doubts.

Salesperson:

  • If you are not 100% sure, then it might be better to just leave it be.
  • If you do not have the necessary liquidity, then it’s not a good idea; you need to have enough reserves.
  • Your wife needs to be completely on board as well – otherwise it would be better not to go ahead.

Your goal is obviously to have the client reply: ’No, it’s fine – I’m ready to move ahead on this, I have enough reserves, my wife is the one who was convinced first’.

Is anti-selling just a fairytale?

Is it really possible to point out all the negatives and still expect a sale? If all this sounds like a fairytale, pay attention to the following points, which provide the architectural underpinning to the above anti-selling techniques.

1.TRANSPARENCY

Be completely transparent about your intentions from the start and right the way through. Tell your client at the very beginning that you want to do business with him; that you hope very much you can win him over as a client. Remind him that any decision he makes is his own free choice. Avoid any pressure from your end, give him as much time as he needs. Through the above anti-selling methods, you have put all the negatives out there and this creates trust. At its worst, reverse psychology can have the taint of manipulation – mainly if the person it is used upon does not know you are doing it. Therefore, it’s important to always make your real intent clear from the start, which is that you want to make a sale.

2. DON’T FORGET TO POINT OUT THE BENEFITS!

Do a good job of selling the benefits of your product as you go along – if you only point out the negatives, don’t expect a sale!

3. EMPHASIZE THE NEGATIVES THAT ARE REALLY POSITIVES

In an HR interview for a job, when asked what your weaknesses are, it’s not a good idea to say ‘Work tires me out and I tend to come in late to the office’. If, however, you say ‘My biggest weakness is that I tend to tire myself out working too much’– this goes down a treat.

If a politician is asked what his weaknesses are, he is unlikely to say, ‘I have a penchant for younger women’. But he might say ‘People say I have charisma and get along well with people and women voters like me’.

Before you zero in on the negatives of a product to your client, you should be very clear about what for him is a positive or a negative. Maybe he doesn’t care about an investment being locked up for ten years, because the yield outweighs that disadvantage. And if he doesn’t care, you can point it out as a negative. So, pay attention as to which negatives you are emphasizing (hopefully for the client they are at best a positive, at worst a neutral).

Salesperson: Unfortunately, this investment is really boring, but at least you can sleep well at night.

Client: That’s exactly what I want

Salesperson: Unfortunately, you are buying an outdated model from last season, but at least the costs are much lower.

Client: That’s exactly why I’m interested.

4. REFERENCES AND TESTIMONIALS

As cold calling has practically died a slow death, due to new customer protection laws, hopefully your clients are increasingly coming from a pool of good recommendations. Once this is the case, a hard sell is not only irrelevant but pointless. You want to look after your existing clients and your prospects equally well – they all know each other after all.

5. MAKE YOURSELF OR YOUR PRODUCT RARE

If you are in demand, you can call the shots about when and where appointments happen – preferably in your office and during office hours. Similarly, if your product has a limited availability (the offer closes in three months) or a limited accessibility (there are very few such luxury brands on the market), there is a natural rarity value making the person, product or brand more attractive.

There is a natural balance in our human communication and the over –positive salesperson can create a certain obstinacy in the client who thinks to himself, ‘Well it can’t be that good, I just don’t believe it’. Anti-selling tries to redress the balance of this communication and allows both people in a transaction to be more playful and more relaxed. It has the added benefit of addressing potential hitches in the road early on and increases trust through more transparency.

Footnotes / Bibliography / Legal basis
  1. Madelyn Jablon, Black Metafiction (1999) p. 100

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