Sales Techniques and Processes

Negative Reverse Selling: You’re Not Ready to Read This Article

No seriously, you’re not ready to read this. Don’t worry, we see this all the time.

You’re still reading? Well, okay. Maybe you are ready.

This article is about telling people something that goes against your intended goal. This article is about negative reverse selling.

  • What is negative reverse selling?
  • Where did negative reverse selling come from?
  • Why does negative reverse selling work?
  • How can you use the negative reverse selling tactic?
  • What is negative reverse selling?

Negative reverse selling is a “reverse psychology” selling technique that helps to direct a conversation and test your prospect’s resolve. It’s done by asking questions and making statements contrary to the goal of closing a sale.

Reverse psychology is defined as “a technique involving the assertion of a belief or behavior that is opposite to the one desired, with the expectation that this approach will encourage the subject of the persuasion to do what actually is desired.”

In other words,

Tell someone to do the opposite of what you want them to do

Do something that would normally result in the opposite of what you want

Negative reverse selling takes reverse psychology and applies it to sales. Potential customers have concerns, objections, and questions in the sales process. Sales reps have to push past these and get to the sale.

‘Normal’ sales situations require a sales rep to:

Explain away a concern

Overcome objections

Pivot from a difficult question

Often, potential customers expect to be sold to. They’re prepared to resist a salesperson’s tactics. They think of sales reps as the classic used-car-salesman stereotype and will not be swindled no matter how good the sales rep makes it sound.

And they push back.

In a negative reverse selling scenario, the sales rep agrees with the prospect or continues to ask them to elaborate without trying to overcome or convince them otherwise.

This is done in two parts:

A ‘softener statement’ to agree with the customer and clarify that their concern is valid and understood

A negative statement expressed in a way that’s opposite to the position you want to take or the direction you want to steer the conversation (reverse psychology).

The softening statement is used to lower the prospect’s defenses and disarm them. This is so the negative statement doesn’t provoke, offend, or anger them. Examples of softening statements include:

“I see what you mean”

“I understand”

“Which means…?”


“That’s a completely valid concern”

“You’re absolutely right”

The unexpected negative statement leans into the prospect’s objection or concern. Because the prospect is geared up to disagree with the sales rep, the prospect ends up defending the product!

“People will fight to the death to preserve their right to say “No,” so give them that right and the negotiating environment becomes more constructive and collaborative almost immediately.” – Chris Voss in Never Split The Difference

Negative reverse selling helps you keep the sales conversation in your control

The intended result of negative reverse selling is to make the prospect to reconsider or explain the reasons behind their objections. It’s the art of making them sell to themselves.

Where did negative reverse selling come from?

Negative reverse selling was created by David H. Sandler in 1967 as part of the Sandler Selling System. The goal of the system is to convince the prospect that they are pursuing the deal and in need of the product, rather than sales representatives ‘selling’ them.

The system begins with a fit assessment or sales discovery call. What happens on that call?

The sales rep dives into the prospect’s pain points and learns about the prospect’s business

Ideally, sales reps listen more than they talk and ask plenty of questions

When the rep understands the prospect’s problems, they explain how their product/service solves them

Negative reverse selling fits into the system if/when a prospect begins to ask questions, express concerns, or wants to ‘think on it’.

The negative reverse isn’t a concrete step in the process for every deal, but a strategy to use when the situation is difficult to overcome.

Negative reverse selling pushes the prospect and tests their reaction to an idea rather than jumping at the first opportunity to close the sale. Sandler compares this to fishing and many recommend a strategy called ‘stripping line’:

When you’re fishing and you feel a bite, don’t set the hook right away (or you’ll lose the fish). Instead give the fish some line to run, let it take the bait and catch itself. All you’ve got to do is reel it in and take a picture with it.

The same applies to sales. If the prospect shows interest and you ‘set the hook’ (go for the close) too early, chances are they’ll become suspicious and be put off. Instead, do the opposite of what you want, and give them some space to sell themselves!

Dale Carnegie summed it up when he said, “…when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: ‘Wouldn’t you like to have that?’”

Why does negative reverse selling work?

Negative reverse selling works because trying to convince people doesn’t work. You can’t convince people of anything. They will resist. Prospects want to buy but they don’t want to be sold.

They have to discover the solution themselves. Negative reverse selling helps to make your potential buyer think it’s their idea.

“Something in each of us is resistant to the idea of closing. We all like to think something is our idea. This is the beauty of negative reverse selling. Remember, the most powerful close is when a client is doing the closing.” – Pete Oliver, President at Sandler Training

When you tell your prospect:

  • “It’s probably not a good idea”
  • “You’re not ready”
  • “I don’t think you have what we need”

They will start to defend themselves, and your product! They craft their own arguments about why it is a good idea, why they are ready, and why they have what is needed.

Prospects expect sales reps to respond when they object or have a concern. They expect the sales rep to convince them otherwise and they’re ready to push back. Negative reverse selling uses this to the sales rep’s advantage.

Negative reverse selling is like a pendulum – if you pull in one direction and let it go it swings back in the opposite direction.

Don’t push them in the direction you want – pull them in the opposite direction! Their tendency to ‘pull away’ from sales reps will move them in the direction you want them to go.

This is where the negative reverse sell shines. It’s about taking a step backward to draw the prospect forward.

How can you use the negative reverse selling tactic?

You can use negative reverse selling in tough sales scenarios. When the prospect:

  • Expresses a “deal-breaker”
  • Is dragging their feet
  • Wants to think it over
  • Objects to price, timeline, or delivery

Sandler’s negative reverse selling shouldn’t be relied upon as a primary sales strategy, but a method to break a stalemate. It’s a challenge that tests your lead’s interest and cuts through the formality.

“Every person loves the chance for self-expression and the opportunity to prove his or her worth, to excel, to win. So if you want to win people to your way of thinking, when all else fails, Throw down a challenge.” – Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

If you choose to use negative reverse tactic, you have to be willing to accept ‘no.’

Hearing ‘no’ isn’t a bad thing. It’s part of a sales job to determine the potential customer’s fit. Not every prospect will be a closed sale. And if you’re going to get a ‘no’ you might as well save time and get to it as soon as possible.

Let’s look at some specific use cases

You might try the negative reverse selling technique when a potential client is concerned about pricing.

  • “The price is too high.” – many of your prospects

Here you have a few options. You can leave it open ended and let them elaborate:

  • “Which means…?”
  • “Say more.”
  • “So…?”

This approach requires the prospect to explain themselves. Is their budget too low? Do they not see the value? Are they trying to get a discount? You might have to ask for clarification a few times before you get to the real reason. Let them sell themselves by telling you everything they need.

“An attempt to get people to change their choice (e.g. away from a currently used brand) could lead them to defend that current choice—otherwise they might look irrational. Instead of asking customers to make a choice, ask them to first think about the benefits or features they desire, and then consider how the available options meet their criteria.” – Professor J. Scott Armstrong in Persuasive Advertising

Or you can soften them up first and then hit them with a negative reverse haymaker:

  • “I completely understand. I don’t think you’re ready to make this investment.”
  • “That’s a valid concern. I guess we’re done here.”

There’s definitely some risk involved in this response. But in the right situation the prospect will defend their readiness and sell themselves on your product.

Another common situation to apply the negative reverse is the stalled prospect.

“I’ll have to think about it and get back to you.” – every prospect ever!!

Many deals fall through the cracks because the prospect went dark or ‘ghosts’ the sales rep. Potential customers love to “think about it and get back to you” and never get back to you.

The ‘scale of 1-10’ strategy with a negative reverse reduces the chances of that happening.

“With 1 being ‘not at all’ and 10 being ‘ready to purchase today’, where are you on a scale of 1-10?”

This question is a perfect set up for the negative reverse because whatever their answer, you can use it to your advantage. Respond that their level of interest is higher or lower than you thought in order to push or pull them in a particular direction.

Conclusion: Use the negative reverse with caution!

The negative reverse is high-reward, but comes with a significant risk. The deal could blow up in your face, the sales lead could get angry, or worse. The last thing you want to do as a sales rep is fight with your prospects.

Using psychology as a sales tactic works in some scenarios, but should never be your primary strategy. The negative reverse must be calculated and thoughtful, not an every-time-you-face-an-objection tactic.

That said, Sandler’s negative reverse selling strategy can be an effective way to resurrect a deal that seems to have flatlined. It’s also a strategy that helps you get to the real reasons behind a sales prospect’s concerns or objections, and that is valuable information for a sales representative to have.

7 Ways To Perfect Your Negative Reverse Selling Strategy

Negative reverse selling has been around for some time now and is often used to perfect marketing campaigns.

If you are a salesperson or marketer, using the negative reverse selling technique can help you streamline the sales process and increase the profits of your business.

Hence, here’s everything you need to know about reverse psychology and how to use negative reverse selling.

A Reminder - What Is Negative Reverse Selling?

Negative reverse selling is a sales technique that uses a completely opposite approach to the one used in regular selling strategies.

Instead of trying to convince potential customers that they need to purchase your products, you let them try to convince you that they are worthy of buying your products.

Of course, this sounds like an impossible situation, but the negative reverse selling technique has been used for decades now – and quite successfully.

With a combination of asking questions about the prospect’s problems and using softening statements, you will be able to guide your potential client in the direction you want them to take.

Who Was David H. Sandler?

The term negative reverse selling was coined by David H. Sandler as a part of the Sandler Selling System (also known as the Sandler sales system) created in 1967.

At the moment, Sandler Training is a leading company specializing in sales training and helping both regular salespeople and leaders to take control of their sales.

Sandler was the one who came up with the idea and developed it.

More and more companies started adopting it, and now his methodology is considered to be one of the most important elements of any marketing strategy.

Sandler believed that selling is like fishing

“While fishing, you need to be patient. You shouldn’t hook right away when you feel the first nibble. Resist your urge and give the fish some line to run. Let it get serious about the bait and bite it; then, you can set the hook and reel it in.”

By using Sandler’s negative reverse selling technique, you will be able to follow up on your customers and get great results.

By marketing in the opposite direction, you have a chance of being successful and find a new approach and increase your profits.

  • #1. Understand What The Technique Actually Is
  • #2. Get Acquainted With The Process
  • #3. Listen And Ask Questions
  • #4. Exercise Patience
  • #5. Consider Alternative Content (e.g. A Podcast)
  • #6. Use A Template For Consistency
  • #7. Proceed With Caution

#1. Understand What The Technique Actually Is

First and foremost, it’s crucial that you understand what negative reverse selling really is.

To put it simply, it is a reverse psychology technique meaning that it takes the opposite approach than what you would expect.

As a salesperson, you will be asking questions and making statements that would seem to discourage your customer from buying your products while in reality doing the opposite.

The key here is to make the person do the opposite of what you are telling them, but the problem is that not everyone will have this kind of response.

In some cases, people will be turned away from your offer, but in others, this reverse psychology will actually work.

This is why the negative reverse psychology technique needs to be used cautiously to avoid making the situation worse by overusing it.

Potential customers expect to be sold to, so they resist this as best as they can by voicing their concerns and objections and asking questions. But that’s exactly why the reverse psychology method works.

Normally, a sales rep would need to get through all of those concerns, objections, and questions, but with reverse psychology, the rep would agree with the prospect and continue asking them to explain what they mean without convincing them otherwise.

#2. Get Acquainted With The Process

So, how is the negative reverse selling actually happen? There are two main parts of the process:

Softening Statement

The softening (or softener) statement is the one where the rep clarifies what the customer’s concern is and ensures them that they are heard and understood. The softening statement is meant to disarm your potential customer while also making sure that the negative statement doesn’t anger or provoke them. Some examples of the softening statement include “I understand what you mean”, “You’re absolutely right”, and “That is a valid concern.”

Negative Statement

The negative statement is the opposite of the statement you would usually make or the opposite of the position you want to take. The negative statement leans into the concern of your potential client and makes them start defending the product instead of objecting to it.

The negative reverse selling technique is about making your customer sell your products to themselves.

Most of the time, people tend to argue, so you just need to take the right position to guide their argument in the direction you need. Negative reverse selling helps you be in control of the conversation.

#3. Listen And Ask Questions

Ideally, the sales rep needs to be listening more than talking while also asking many questions.

These two tactics are at the foundation of the entire method of negative reverse selling, so you should definitely take time to properly learn how to use them and perfect your skills as time goes by and you get more practice.

Once you have found out all the problems the prospect has and their relation to the products, you will be able to explain why your product or service will solve their particular problems.

The technique works when the prospect starts asking the right questions, voicing their concerns, and considering to “think about it”.

It’s worth remembering that the negative reverse selling approach is not something that fits any situation. In fact, it’s best used in difficult situations when you can’t get through to the customer.

It needs to be used carefully and smartly with some practice done before you actually start using it to know what you are doing.

#4. Exercise Patience

One thing you should never forget about the negative reverse selling technique is that you need to be exercising patience at all times.

It’s not about jumping right in and pulling your fish (the customer) out of the water once you can feel it on the hook. If you do so, you can lose them just as quickly as or even faster than you hooked them.

Patience is key when using the negative reverse selling technique. Undoubtedly, you need to listen a lot and ask many questions, but you can’t do that if you don’t have patience.

In fact, patience might just be the most important personality trait that a good sales rep needs to truly succeed. If you possess it, treasure it. If you don’t, develop it.

#5. Consider Alternative Content (e.g. A Podcast)

Though it’s obvious that the potential client will be doing all the selling (to themselves), you can still use some additional content to prepare them and make the process faster.

This is especially true for potential customers that were first exposed to your online marketing campaigns and saw some of your content that could have already convinced them to an extent.

All of your social media marketing, PPC ad campaigns and podcasts will need to prepare your customers without pushing them to make the purchase too much.

This way, it will be easier to convince them with the reverse psychology technique (or perhaps even your regular selling technique).

#6. Use A Template For Consistency

Another thing to consider is using a template that can help you with consistency making your negative reverse selling strategy more straightforward to your audience and less difficult for you to execute.

In other words, you need to outline what you do during every step when you do decide to implement the negative reverse selling technique.

First, you will need to assess the situation and consider whether there are any other sales techniques that could work. Next, you need to start with the softening statements.

After that, you have to use negative statements. And finally, you’ll have to guide your customer to make the purchase.

#7. Proceed With Caution

Last but not least, it’s worth repeating again that you need to proceed with caution.

You should always remember that the negative reverse selling technique is not a magical solution for any situation.

It should be used cautiously and only when you are certain that you know what you are doing. Only when the situation calls for it, this technique can and will be very effective and fruitful.

Always analyze the situation before jumping into it and starting to use the technique. Don’t use it every single time because that could be counterproductive. Practice, test, experiment, and try again.

Negative Reverse Selling – Tips, Power Phrases and Examples

If you’re working in sales, receiving a definite “no” from a customer can feel like the worst thing. But in truth, your worst customers aren’t those that tell you “no”, but those who remain ambiguous.

As a sales rep, your leads and your time are your most important assets. Perseverance is crucial for success, but equally important is the ability to accurately judge which leads are worth your time – and which are not.

Negative reverse sales is a way to turn up the pressure, helping you close deals faster, make clients chase you, and stop wasting time on leads who are never going to convert.

The benefits of negative reverse selling

There are plenty of reasons to implement negative reverse selling. Consider the following:

It moves the sales process along. Does a lead keep rescheduling demos? Do they keep giving you responses like “I’ll get back to you,” or “I’ll have a chat with my team and let you know” ? These are classic dodging tactics, and when you encounter them, you can use negative reverse selling to get prospects on your desired path: closing the sale or removing them from the pipeline.

It strengthens your position. Much like in the dating world, confidence is sexy, while being desperate sends people packing. Negative reverse selling puts you in a position of confidence and strength, which in turn attracts buyers to take a closer look.

It makes customers realize that they need your product or service. There’s a lot of truth to the line “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” People naturally want something more if they can’t have it. Negative reverse selling brings the scarcity principle into practice. When you take the offer off the table –or hint at doing so– you trigger a sense of loss (“FOMO”), making the prospect realize that they actually want or need what you’re selling.

It gets prospects to admit that they’re not interested, so you can move on. Sometimes, your product or service simply isn’t a good fit. And that’s ok. What’s not ok is being stuck in no man’s land, unsure of whether to move on or not.

Negative reverse selling can get you unstuck. When you’re dealing with someone who’s a slow-mover or has trouble saying “no,” you can give them an out by saying something along the lines of “Maybe now isn’t the right time” or “Perhaps we’re not a good fit.”

These statements make it easier for the prospect to say no, so you can move on to the next deal. In some cases, the customer may even give you reasons why they are not interested. That’s valuable intel for the sales team.

How to implement negative reverse selling properly

Negative reverse selling shouldn’t be used on everyone, and it doesn’t work in all sales situations. It’s not a primary sales method; rather it should be a secondary tactic — and it should only be implemented when necessary.

Recognize the right situations that call for negative reverse selling

These may include:

  • When prospects keep canceling or rescheduling demos or calls.
  • When they take too long to respond.
  • When customers say that they have to think about it or discuss it with another stakeholder.
  • When they question your pricing, value, process, delivery, etc.
  • When prospects give a “maybe” response.
  • When prospects ignore you.

In all of these scenarios, you are yet to get a definite yes or no from your customers, because they are being evasive. Giving them the push in the opposite direction may save you time and possibly pull them towards your products or services.

A word of caution: don’t go all negative just because of one missed appointment or cancellation. The key here is to look for repeated behavior. Someone who cancels a demo once may have a good reason for doing so. And in some instances, the customer actually needs to speak to their boss, partner or spouse before saying yes.

But if they keep making excuses or always seem to be unavailable, take that as your cue to implement negative reverse selling.

Know your target audience

Understand each prospect and recognize the types of people to use the technique on. Agreeable and passive people who go with the flow are not the best fit for this sales technique, because they may just “agree” with your negative statement without putting up much of a fight.

Power phrases for negative reverse sales

Negative reverse selling comes in many forms. In some cases, it’s about asking questions that challenge the prospects. Other times, you need to make a statement that seems to prod them to do the opposite of what you want.

  • “Are you sure this falls within your budget range?”
  • “It could be that our product/service is too expensive for you.”
  • “Can you decide on that or do you have to discuss that with your manager?”
  • “Is this truly an area you wish to focus on?”
  • “Our product isn’t for everyone.”
  • “Is it fair to assume that [solution/outcome] isn’t a priority for you?”
  • “Since I haven’t heard from you, I will assume that you are not interested anymore.”
  • “It might make sense to reconsider whether you really need a [category] solution.”
  • “Do I have the right impression that X isn’t a priority for you at the moment?”
  • “Since it seems like you’re not interested in my offer, I will drop it for now.”
  • “This is the last email I'll be sending you.”

Each situation and customer is different, so there aren’t any hard and fast rules about when to use these statements.

It’s also a good practice to add softening phrases or questions before negative statements. For example, you could say “You’re right,” or “I understand” before “our solution may not be the best fit.”

No matter what you decide to tell the prospect, always be respectful. While it’s important to come from a place of confidence and authority, you don’t want to come off as arrogant.

Don’t overdo it

Negative reverse selling doesn’t mean underselling your offerings. It’s one thing to drop hints that your product isn’t a good fit, but it’s a whole other thing if you list your product’s shortcomings or actively give customers reasons not to buy.

You should also know when to stop negative reverse selling. When the customer starts being more responsive, don’t push them away. Gently reel them back in (without being too eager).

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