Being perceived as “salesy” or sleazy or pushy ranks high on the list of Things Entrepreneurs Fear In Sales and Marketing.
To me, it’s pretty simple: We don’t want to make others feel bad.
I’m sure you can recall the last time you felt like someone was pushing or manipulating you into a sale. It feels shitty. Because it’s clear that…
- They don’t care about you at all — only your money
- They think you’re too stupid to realize what they’re doing
- They think they know better than you do about what you need
It’s no wonder that business owners who truly care about their clients or customers don’t want to create these kinds of feelings.
Nonetheless, avoiding the sleaze can be challenging.
Why it’s so tough to avoid being salesy in your copy
Simply having the intention to not be salesy isn’t always enough to avoid it.
This is because there’s a ton of copywriting advice out there that actually guides you toward being salesy (yep).
And without copywriting know-how to separate the good advice from the sleazy “hacks”… you could end up pretty confused. Ultimately, despite your best intentions, you might find yourself resorting to salesy hacks because that’s what people have told you good copywriting is, period. (I’ve been there!)
So here’s why I’m writing this article: To help you recognize some common salesy copywriting hacks being peddled around the internet.
So you can run like hell from them.
Let’s jump in.
Salesy tactic #1: Telling people what they “need” or “have to do”
I know, I know… You’ve been told zero in on your target’s pain points and then swoop in with the solution they absolutely, absolutely need in order to escape their pain point hell.
Is your offer really the only thing that can help them? Is there no one else doing what you do? Is there no other alternative solution?
In most cases: No.
So pretending that your solution is, without a doubt, what someone else “needs,” is a lie. Which makes it sleazy.
Not to mention, no one likes to be told what’s “good for them.” It feels disempowering and disrespectful. For example, take a look at the following copy for a personal growth app called GrowthDay:
To me, this copy reads like, “You have potential, kid, but only if you do what I tell you to do. You have to track your habits, etc, in order to get where you want to go.”
It’s the “have to” language, combined with the superior, I-know-better-than-you vibe that feels sleazy.
What to do instead: Empathize, make a case for how your solution can help (without claiming it’s a “must”), and then trust them to make their own decision.
Salesy tactic #2: Using urgency, scarcity, or massive discounts to “encourage” quick action
I am not a fan of using urgency or scarcity tactics, even if they are legitimate (such as when you really do have limited spots for an event).
If your value proposition isn’t strong enough on its own to get people wanting to buy, then you need to adjust your offer… not try to manipulate people into saying yes by using hacks to increase the perceived value.
Urgency, scarcity, and discounting hacks include stuff like…
- Using countdown timers on checkout pages
- Inflating the cost just so you can offer massive discounts (e.g. “Normally $500,000 but you can get it for $5 today”)
- Highlighting time constraints or scarcity over the value (e.g. “Today only,” “Cart closes in one hour,” “5 spots left!”)
Note: I’m not against using these sorts of tactics completely. But I am against using them if they are your main way of attracting customers.
For instance, mentioning you have only one spot left in your program can be genuinely helpful for people who think they have lots of time to make the purchase and are planning to join later. But the “one spot left” announcement should be a tiny piece of your marketing. You should never try to get people to buy something from you just because it’s scarce or urgent or there’s a discount.
Also, it should go without saying that if you do use any urgency, scarcity, or discounting, it must be done with integrity. In other words, the urgency and scarcity must be real, and the discounting must be in good faith (i.e. a discount off the normal price, not off a fake price that no one has ever paid).
Let’s take a look at an example from a sales expert’s website (lol, the irony):
So… this training was almost $1,000? And now it’s… $0? (Ummm….)
This screams too-good-to-be-true. It makes me think that they invented the $997 price to make it seem more valuable than it is.
Moreover, the discount is the biggest part of their copy, the main persuasive strategy. Clearly, the value proposition for this webinar isn’t strong enough on its own to get people to download it. Even though it’s free. Even though people once paid $997 for it (so they claim). Something seems fishy here…
What to do instead: Lean into the real reasons someone would want to act on your offer quickly – not just because they won’t have another chance to or because there’s an insane discount.
Salesy tactic #3: Talking about how amazing your offer is
When you propose to your significant other, you don’t start with a long, trumped-up speech about how amazing you are. Even though, in theory, that would be a logical thing to do — If you can convince your partner that you are amazing, surely they will want to marry you, yes?
But intuitively, we know that talking about how great we are is not the way to connect with others. This especially applies when you need to connect enough that someone is willing to invest in you.
However, with all the advice to “share our value” in our copy, it’s easy to think that this means “state how amazing we are” — and our human intuition goes out the window.
This leads to copy like the opening paragraph on this famous therapist’s website:
“30 years in the making…” “World-class experience…” “Multi-award-winning training…”
This copy is akin to getting down on one knee and saying, “I’m a six-figure-earner, I was voted ‘Most Beautiful Eyes’ in high school, I work out three times a week. You’d be lucky to have me as a spouse. Will you marry me?”
Ech. Not a very compelling offer, is it?
What to do instead: Focus on connecting with your target audience by showing you understand their experience. Then “share your value” and expertise through stories, results, and testimonials rather than explicitly talking yourself up.
Bonus: Salesy design techniques to avoid
So far, I’ve been talking about writing hacks to avoid. But there are also some design strategies that just seem pushy, and I recommend you avoid:
- Lots of all caps for emphasis (okay occasionally)
- Title case headlines (reduces conversational feel)
- Red buttons or red font (“Look at me! Look at me!”)
- Giant arrows pointing to your CTA button (the internet version of a guy on the street waving a big sign to get you into a car dealership lot)
- Huge CTA buttons (“Nothing else matters but this button”)
- Multiple exclamation points (feels shouty and intense)
A final word on copy advice: If it doesn’t feel right to you, don’t take it.
When our good intentions accidentally end up in sleazy salesperson territory, it’s usually because we didn’t trust our own intuition.
We thought: “This feels icky, but it’s what [sales expert] said to do! And others are doing it and finding success, so my feelings must be wrong.”
But just because you’re not an expert copywriter, doesn’t mean all your instincts are wrong, even if they contrast with common copywriting advice. And ultimately, it’s crucial that you feel good about your copy so that you can share it freely, without ickiness.
Interested in working with me on your website messaging?
I offer two services for turning your website into a lead-gen machine (through powerfully articulating your vision + value… not through “salesy hacks”): From-scratch website copy or strategic editing of your existing copy. To explore, start by heading to my home page: