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How to handle a pushy salesperson

What to do when salespeople try to stop you from walking away from a sale.

Woman receiving call from sales person skilled in objection handling
Last updated: 29 November 2018

Salespeople use a range of tactics including 'objection handling' to persuade you to buy a product or service you may not want or need.

But understanding how exactly salespeople convince consumers that their objections are unwarranted might save you from agreeing to a deal you'd rather avoid.

How to avoid the hard sell

No matter how attractive the offer or how insistent the salesperson, you should never agree to anything on the spot.

You can always say no, says the Australian Securities and Investment Commission. Here are their top tips on how to avoid the hard sell:

1. Tell them you need to think about it

Don't sign up until you've had time to consider the offer. Be polite, but firm and get their name and contact details so you can contact them if you want to go ahead with the sale. 

2. Check that the business is genuine

Before you part with your hard-earned money, ensure you're dealing with a licensed business. For financial services or products, ask for the salesperson's licence details and a financial services guide, and check these against the details on ASIC's list. For non-financial products, the ACCC has advice on identifying a genuine business.

3. Ask for and thoroughly review the contract

Read over the terms and conditions so you're aware of all fees and charges. (This should be done in all cases, but particularly when you've been contacted directly by a company you've never heard of.)

4. Get everything in writing

Ask for any verbal promises to be written into a contract to avoid future disputes. 

No matter how attractive the offer or how insistent the salesperson, you should never agree to anything on the spot

5. Ask about their cooling-off period

This is so you can cancel the contract if you change your mind. They can vary from state to state. 

6. Do your research

Find out how this product or offer compares to others. You could find a better deal or a product that has more of the features you're after.

7. Say it with a sticker

If you'd rather avoid door-to-door salespeople entirely, put a 'Do not knock sticker' on your door. 

8. Add your home or mobile number to the Do not call register

The Do not call register is a free service that reduces the number of unsolicited telemarketing and research calls you get.

What is objection handling?

Objection handling is a popular sales method that's used to thwart resistance from a potential buyer. Salespeople counter objections by highlighting the potential benefits that fit with a customer's needs, thus creating value for the customer.

Dr Kieran Tierney, from the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT University, says it's a negotiation method that's most commonly applied to selling high value products and services.

"It's primarily used in business-to-business (B2B) selling and higher value consumer sales, such as cars, electrical goods [and] personalised insurance products," he tells CHOICE.

Salespeople counter objections by highlighting the potential benefits ... thus creating value for the customer

Objection handling isn't just used by salespeople – it can also be used in politics to garner votes and by charities and nonprofit organisations to generate action or support. 

The technique itself isn't unethical, and when it's used to benefit both the consumer and the organisation it can be a valuable tool.

Common objection handling scripts

Objection handling has traditionally involved a selection of scripts that salespeople use when common customer objections are raised during a sales pitch.

According to Tierney, there are four main objection handling scripts:

1. Compensation method: used for valid objections

Acknowledge the objection, then show any compensating advantages. For example: "I agree that the price of our printer ink cartridge is higher than most competitors, but these are guaranteed to last for six months with heavy use rather than the usual three months of most other cartridges."

2. Referral – or 'feel, felt, found' – method: used to build trust as customers trust other customers' opinions

Relating how others found their initial opinions to be unfounded after they tried the product. For example: "I've had other customers say the same thing to me, but after using the cartridges they've come back to buy them again and tell me these are the best they've ever used."

3. Boomerang or reverse method: used if customer criticises product feature

Turns objection into a reason for buying. For example: "The fact these cartridges are a third more expensive than others is probably the very reason you should buy them. You'll only need to replace these cartridges twice a year at the most while other cartridges will need to be replaced up to four times a year, so you'll save money in the long run."

4. Postpone method: use when a price objection occurs early in the discussion

Seek permission to answer the objection after the discussion or speaking with boss, etc. For example: "That's an interesting point. Before discussing it fully, I would like to cover just two things that I think will help you better understand the product from a different perspective, OK?"

However, the days of one-size-fits-all sales scripts have passed. 

"Nowadays, it's more about customising the pitch than what we call 'canned sales scripts'," explains Tierney. 

"Customers are armed with information these days, they know what they're talking about in terms of the products and what the competitive offers are.

"So in order to get the best for the customer, [the salesperson] needs to take the time to work out who they are, what their needs are and how it's going to work for them."

When salespeople put profit over customers

A good salesperson, says Tierney, "is going to be someone who understands who they're going to be selling to ... [and] takes the time to ask questions, to shut up and listen to fully understand what their needs are."

Unfortunately, not all salespeople or companies take this modern 'customer service' approach to selling and instead prioritise greed over the customer. 

...to get the best for the customer, [the salesperson] needs to take the time to work out who they are, and what their needs are

This is currently being highlighted by the banking royal commission, which recently released an interim report detailing Commissioner Hayne's findings thus far on the conduct by financial services entities that's brought public attention and condemnation.

The interim report highlights issues in mortgage broking and insurance policies. For example, where salespeople sell or recommend products that may benefit the broker with higher commission rather than the customer's needs.

"The conduct identified by entities as misconduct or conduct falling short of community standards and expectations affects individuals. As the evidence adduced in the first round of hearings showed, the effects can be profound," the interim report reads.

"Much if not all of the conduct identified in the first round of hearings can be traced to entities preferring pursuit of profit to pursuit of any other purpose."

While not all of the cases where consumers lost out involved the use of objection handling tactics, ongoing banking royal commission hearings have shown they were used in a number of serious cases.