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"Soft Selling in a Hard World"
— by Jerry Vass

Business Proposal Writing Reference Library

You'll read my review of the book Soft Selling in a Hard World in a minute, but before let me tell you the story of its discovery.

Soft Selling in a Hard World by Jerry Vass

"Soft Selling in a Hard World
is packed with tons of examples
from the sales field."

 How I Was "Soft" Sold  

The first time I met that guy, Ron, he was working for my Internet service provider as our account representative. He visited us to upgrade our subscription to a level of contract that would better fit our needs. His speech was clear, concise, and persuasive, so that we obviously upgraded our contract.

I don't remember the exact course of our discussion but before ending the meeting we started talking about books and we both found out that we had pretty much the same library, in other words, the same interests in a variety of fields like philosophy (Marcus-Aurelius, Epitectus, all the Stoics), motivation (Tony Robins, Ken Blanchard), and self-improvement (Miyamoto Mushahi, Stephen Covey, Dale Carnegie), to name a few. Then Ron mentioned a book I had never heard about: Soft Selling in a Hard World. He told me I should absolutely read it.

Few days later. We met for the standard signature exercise. At my greatest surprise, he handed me out a copy of the book and wished me good reading as he kind padded me on the shoulder before leaving.

Few days later. A new account manager told me Ron has left their company to pursue other endeavors. I've never heard from him since then (Ron, if you get a chance call me).

Many years later. I still remember this guy, he offered me the book which reading represents the tipping point of my business life. Eastern philosophies call this event enlightenment. From darkness to light.

So let's review the book...

"Soft Selling in a Hard World" Summary

Selling Probes

How to master the Art of Soft Selling?

Jerry Vaas astutely dissects in the easiest accessible style the emotional side of purchase decisions, that is, decision makers care first about themselves (the famous "what's in it for me" [WIIFM]) setting aside features, capabilities, and other functionalities, at least at the screening step ("Is it the right solution for my problem?"). The author shows you how to craft particular moves he calls "probes" to overcome the customer's defense.

Vendor Tactics Showdown

The section about puffery, fluff, and marketing hype is the cleverest indictment I've ever read against misrepresentation that you may find in pretty much any vendor marketing collateral. Just make the same simple exercise that I did. Go read the "About us" page on the site of any vendor you know. You will be blown away, as I was, by how easily you can now decode, dismantle their language and find out that they say nothing, in fact. At the same time, as you read that tiny but loaded section, you will discover all the simple but highly effective tools to write—or rewrite (Go rush!)—the "About us" page of your own website. From then on, you will master—like any good accountant—the techniques of persuasion by numbers. Guaranteed.

State, Prove, and Apply

What steps sales manager can take to avoid puffery and misrepresentation in selling?

One of my favorite sections of the book is the Proof Statement, which I reproduce an excerpt below. Let me tell you that the demonstration is so crystal clear, judge by yourself. I use it since then on every of my presentations, reports, and business emails. Coupled with the techniques of persuasion by numbers learned in the Puffery and Representation section aforementioned, the proof statement is the strongest weapon you can use in any piece of content that is supposed to convince people to any extent (e.g., proposal executive summary, report, resume).

The Laws of Soft Selling

What are the different Soft Selling techniques? Any soft sell examples?

Soft Selling in a Hard World is packed with tons of soft sell examples from the sales field that help you, for instance:

  • page 24 — "stay centered on your customer",
  • page 27 — "build your credibility",
  • page 34 — "focus on benefits vs. features",
  • page 40 — "write proof statements as differentiators",
  • page 52 — "understand the 5 laws of soft selling",
  • page 58 — "craft flanking probes vs. frontal probes to uncover real needs",
  • page 93 — "isolate and reply to price objections",
  • page 110 — "write you 90-second close",
  • page 154 — "build your own cold call script",
  • page 167 — "avoid language traps",
  • page 190 — "sell the decision maker".

In his book Soft Selling in a Hard World, Jerry Vass, my reference from now on for all things related to sales persuasion, shares his battle-tested laws of credibility, clarity, and price that support you to close the sale with soft selling techniques.

I've benefited from this book, so will you. It provides you with tons of soft sell examples from the sales field. As you read it, I think you will see the world differently and, more important, people you write and talk to will read and listen to you differently.

You have a chance to overcome years of going the wrong way by getting an edge on your sales practice—I don't know actually any job that doesn't involves selling at some point. It's a mere return to the basics we've all forgotten.

My turn to kind pad you on the shoulder before letting you read.

Rating: *****
The book Soft Selling in a Hard World was reviewed
by The One Business Proposal, 2024-04-23.

This excerpt of the book Soft Selling in a Hard World by Jerry Vass
is reproduced with the author's permission

Copyright © Jerry Vass


Soft Selling in a Hard World

Plain Talk on the Art of Persuasion

An Essential Handbook for
Professionals & Small Business Owners

By Jerry Vass


People waste their lives trying to sell. They get confused between persuasion as a belief system ("You have to believe in what you sell.") and persuasion as a natural talent ("You can't teach anyone how to sell."). Soft Selling in a Hard WorldTM is designed to clear up that confusion.

If you aren't selling up to your potential, you probably don't understand that selling is a game. Most people don't. Those who do make 85% of the money, become executives, or run their own successful businesses. This book is about that game—how to play it, when to play it, where to play it, and with whom.

This book is about fulfilling your potential without resorting to "motivational" and "inspirational" beliefs. As in sports, you'll find that certain mechanical moves need to be mastered before your inspiration or genius can shine. A dog can become inspired to chase a car but doesn't know what to do with the car once it`s caught it. This knowledge is about what you do when you caught the car, that thin slice of face-to-face time with the Buyer when persuasion actually occurs.

This is a handbook. There is little theory—it is nearly all mechanics. While there is a certain primitive logic in the way this story is told, you can begin to read on any page and profit.

This is a perfect book for the bathroom. Studied and practices in small bites over time, the culturally awkward acts required to persuade others will become automatic. The selling trade takes practice. Everything worthwhile does. Sex and selling are the only endeavors that the human being is expected to perform perfectly the first time without practice. By now, you know the fallacy of the first illusion. The second illusion is even more embarrassing.

Read gently. Enjoy your profession, for the selling profession is really about making more trusting friends than you ever thought possible.


A heartfelt thanks to my loyal clients. they paid me well and kept me alive long enough to learn the stuff I pass on to you. Their high expectations and uncompromising performance standards made me good.

And thanks to the brightest people in the country, those super-salespeople, the front-line street-soldiers who were my students through the years. This book is for them. They taught me how to sell. They made me laugh.


Part I — How We Got This Way

  1. How To Get Rich Quick. It's just around the corner...
  2. How Selling Got Tacky. It's a dirty game...
  3. Why the Soft Sell Works. Living well is the best revenge...
  4. What Is a Salesperson? If you can't get a regular job...
  5. The Cultural Contract. Made to be broken...
  6. What Do You Sell First? Illusion to the death...
  7. The "I" Chart. Stealing back the spotlight...
  8. Puffery and Representation. The expensive, warm wind...
  9. Features and Benefits. Sell the right thing...
  10. The Proof Statement. The ultimate soft sell technique...
  11. Market Differentiation. Sounding like the Joneses...

Part II — Building Your Presentation

  1. The Seven Selling Moves.
    The basic structure of the Soft Sell...
    • Mission Statement
    • Probes
    • Listening
    • Problem/Solution
    • Supporting Statements
    • Isolate
    • Close
    Additional Tactics
    • The Cross-Sell
    • The 90-Second Close
  2. Understanding The Seven Moves. Fewer disguises than you think...
  3. Using The Seven Selling Moves. To know and not to do...

Part III — Survival Skills for the Street Soldier

  1. Selling by Objective. Picking the goal...
  2. The Cold Call. Staying cool in Hell...
  3. Building a Cold Call Presentation. A matter of tactics...
  4. The Price Objection. Price = Panic...
  5. The Language Traps. How to trash yourself...
  6. About Motivation. It's wonderful and it ain't persuasion...
  7. Relationship Selling. When translated, means...
  8. Mechanics of Empathy. On the right side...
  9. Time Accounting. Working for the money...
  10. The Disease. From poverty to largess...
  11. Perceived Value. It's all in the point-of-view...
  12. Profits in Solving Problems. Worry about the right thing...
  13. Self-Talk. Be nice...
  14. The Decision-Maker. As elusive as true love...

Part IV —  Building Your Selling Playbook

  1. Building Your Selling Playbook. The devil is in the details...
  2. Prepare a Tactical Selling Presentation. From the sidewalk up...
  3. Practice. On the playing field...
  4. Postscript.


The Proof Statement—The Ultimate Soft Sell Technique

Looking good, sounding honest...

Use a Proof Statement whenever the Buyer expresses doubt about your product or service.

A Proof Statement is a statement containing facts, figures, testimonials, parallel circumstances, and anything else that is tangible, quantifiable, or real. It is good to use expert opinions from someone who does not have a direct involvement in your transaction. A Proof Statement is a material representation and the opposite of puffery.

When the Buyer expresses doubt about your presentation, program, benefits, company or math, you are compelled to use facts. The Buyer is directing you to deliver a Proof Statement. It can be used as part of your answer to a Buyer's objection to prove the Benefit you are selling.

The Proof Statement is constructed in the following fashion. First, state the Benefit (not the Feature) you are about to prove. Then prove that Benefit using facts, figures, opinion of experts in the field, testimonials of others in the industry, or other tangible information that is quantifiable and real. Using those facts, apply the Benefit to the Buyer (personally, if possible).

Proof Statement components:

  • State the Benefit you are going to prove.
  • Prove the Benefit for the Buyer.
  • Apply the Benefit to the Buyer.

A Proof Statement example: 

Say only what you can prove. Be ready to prove everything you say.

"PanDowdy Computer can save you 65% of your computer support costs (State the Benefit) according to an Iris & Company survey of 62 use firms (Prove the Benefit). In your firm, that can mean a time saving of 1,160 man-hours every year or about $45,000." (Apply the Benefit to the Buyer.)

Proof Statements make you sound honest and competent as few other things can.

Using the Proof Statement as a soft sell technique helps you persuade in several ways. It makes you look honest. it also makes you look prepared and competent. Honesty, preparation, and competence—these traits take salespeople to the top. There is no way to stop them. On this level of sales, there is little competition.

The Proof Statement is such an obvious selling move one would think that most folks have their Proof Statement together. And of course they don't. Their Proof Statements are in the file cabinet back at the office hiding under last week's moldy lunch bag in a ragged envelope labeled "Industry Stuff"


The soft sell techniques in a nutshell:

  • Don't talk — Listen
  • Don't tell — Ask
  • Don't sell — Solve
  • Don't pitch — Probe
  • Don't leave — Close


Business Proposal Writing Reference Library

"Soft Selling in a Hard World", Jerry Vass
"Handbook for Writing Proposals", Robert J. hamper & L. Sue Baugh
"Proposal Guide for Business and Sales Professionals", Larry Newman, Shipley Associates
"The One-page Proposal", Patrick G. Riley
"Persuasive Business Proposals", Tom Sant
"Writing Killer Sales Proposals", Bud Porter-Roth

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