5 Simple Steps to Successful Upselling

Not upselling? You’re leaving money on the table.
Relate items to the customers' shopping purpose, lifestyle and habits.  (Photo: Yvon Nguyen)
Relate items to the customers' shopping purpose, lifestyle and habits. (Photo: Yvon Nguyen)

Upselling can add hundreds of dollars to your business every week — if your staff is trained on how to do it. This guide simplifies training success in five steps.

1. Do your homework

Yvon Nguyen, chief executive officer at Vant4ge, a marketing and business consultancy that helps develop sales teams, recommends using training sessions to educate employees in these basics: product features and benefits, and ways to engage customers with qualifying questions that reveal needs. For example, “Are you looking for a coffee maker to match a specific decor?”

“Acquaint your staff with products and items that complement each other, based on your customers’ potential needs, such as convenience,” Nguyen said. “To understand specific customers’ needs, have associates practice asking what, where, when, why and what else. They should avoid yes or no questions, and listen to understand purchase purposes.”

Bob-Phibbs

“So many people fear upselling when all you are doing is helping the customer out. Assume they need it.”
–Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor® (Photo: Bob Phipps)

2. Create displays that maximize upselling

Would you display smartphone cases in a separate accessories area, or put your best-selling protective covers on companion phones? If you want to upsell, teach your staff to do both.

When you display companion items together (necklace/earrings) or bundle multiple items (a kit for first-time cat owners), you instantly avoid a la carte selling.

“For the consumer, the main downside of the double scoop is the additional expense,” said Bruce D. Sanders, a consumer psychologist and author of “Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers.” “Make it easy to choose two. Allow a small discount for the second item. Set a package price that results in a lower per-item cost, such as six pairs of socks, two of each in the three most popular colors.”

3. Show, don’t tell

Nguyen advises starting a cross-selling dialogue well before customers check out. If items are not displayed together, “walk customers to the complementary item with excitement,” she said. “Say, ‘Since time is a priority to you, this is a great solution.’”

Then, demonstrate how one product works with another to provide a tangible benefit, said Jennifer Cherry Foster, a senior vice president who focuses on retail at marketing agency Marx Layne & Company.

When Foster managed a luggage store, if a customer asked for a rolling suitcase, she would demonstrate how easy it was to attach a second bag, such as a cosmetic tote, to the upper handle.

“Then I’d ask the customer to try the pieces herself by rolling the two bags together,” Foster said. “A similar approach can be used in clothing retail. While a customer is trying on apparel, the associate should bring over accessories so the customer can see how they look with her outfit.”

The idea: Get the second item in the customer’s hands.

It’s easy to show and upsell in the restaurant business. Orlando-based restaurant writer Rona Gindin said a signature cocktail sells itself on sight.

“The Ocean Prime chain offers a cocktail with dry ice, and some Disney restaurants add glow cubes to bright blue ‘mocktails’ for kids,” Gindin said. “Once one table orders one, customers at other tables see it and everyone starts ordering it.”

Another way to upsell in restaurants is to offer “tastes,” Gindin said “If someone is on the fence about the corn chowder and decides to skip the appetizer, bring over a shot glass full of the chowder. Even if the guest doesn’t love it, he or she will usually order an additional item.”

Jennifer Cherry Foster

“Support upselling with social media. A boutique can use Instagram to show a model wearing a complete outfit. Caption that all items are available at XYZ retailer and use a summarizing hashtag like #fallstyle.” –Jennifer Cherry Foster (Photo: Jennifer Cherry Foster)

4. Suggest second items in terms of problem solving

Once you’ve discovered a customer need, suggest a second item by making a bridging statement that connects the relevant item to that need. It should add value to the first item or solve a problem.

“A woman who selects a handmade purse might be interested in the matching wallet, once the associate points out that now may be the time to start completely fresh,” Foster said. “As the conversation wraps up, the associate can ask whether the customer has ever had no place to hang her handbag in a restaurant — she certainly wouldn’t want to put it on the floor! This leads to showing and explaining the simple handbag caddy that hangs on the edge of a table.”

The “have you ever” approach anticipates future needs, and it’s one that Bob Phibbs, author of “The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business,” advocates.

“Ask your customers if they ever gave a child a gift that required batteries and discovered there were none,’ Phibbs said. “Then say, ‘We have the right ones here.’”

5. Put it all together with the ultimate upsell

If you understand your products and know why a customer wants to buy something, as well as who or what it is for, now you can suggest three items with incremental values and price points.

  • Start with your basic offering, such as a coffee maker.
  • Move up to a more expensive one with more specific benefits, such as a lifetime guarantee and safety features.
  • Finish with your most value-packed item in terms of the customer’s needs (latest technology, limited edition design, eco/feel-good) at the highest price point

Most consumers will upsell themselves to the middle item for an instant revenue increase. If you hit the perfect value for individuals, they’ll buy the highest-priced item.

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