Your Business: Upselling Strategies

April 10, 2014
Be sure your sales team understands the “why” and “how” of your customers’ decisions

I frequently have discussions with business owners and CEOs who are frustrated with the effectiveness of their sales teams. They generally have two complaints, either that their sales team just sells the quick and easy thing (and usually at a discount) or they don’t know how to close effectively. The former concern is commonly known as not being able to upsell.

It is no secret that the ability of a salesperson to effectively upsell can dramatically impact a company’s bottom line. For example, increasing your average RMR per location by just $1.00 can substantially impact the value of your company. Let’s say you have 10,000 customers and your average RMR is $35 — by selling something to every single customer at an increment of just $1 more, you have increased the value of your company by $400,000 to $500,000, assuming a valuation of between 40x and 50x RMR. With impact like that, it is critical to look at the sales team’s ability to sell more services when they have the opportunity.

No One Likes Being Sold More Than They Need

From a long-term perspective, it is damaging to strong-arm customers into buying what the salesperson wants them to buy just to increase the sale; in fact, if a salesperson follows a process intending to sell every single customer something more, he or she will likely have higher attrition rates and lower referral rates. The customer won’t feel great about all the bells and whistles they bought and won’t feel as if they are getting appropriate value for what they are paying. And why should they — the salesperson sold them on something they do not truly need.

Everyone benefits when salespeople refrain from selling a set base package, and then upselling additional services. Weak and lazy salespeople like to have a standard “go-to” package, because it makes them comfortable. They can describe everything in the package, and frankly they don’t have to think too much. They can just say “This is our most popular package,” and hope that the prospect buys. Often, companies are successful with this model, but when owners want increased RMR per location they require salespeople to upsell which can be counterproductive. The word alone seems to signify that it is outside the norm.

Why The Upsell is Difficult

There are several reasons why it is difficult for salespeople to upsell effectively. Here are three of the most common causes:

1. Need for Approval: This weakness causes salespeople to be reluctant to push a prospect and say or do anything that might make the prospect uncomfortable for fear they will lose the deal. So when they get the prospect to say “yes” to something, they take it and run, regardless of how much the prospect might actually need additional services. They are fearful of being pushy, offensive, or overtly “salesy.” These people will miss out on a tremendous amount of business.

2. Lack of Emotional Control: In a selling situation, a salesperson that lacks emotional control can get off track or easily derailed. When they hear that the prospect will actually buy something, they get excited, lose focus on the prospect and sales situation, and frequently do not stay in the moment long enough to ask questions that will enable them to “upsell” additional products and services.

3. Money Issues: Salespeople that are frugal, or very cost-conscious themselves may not be able to sell based on value, because they are always concerned with price. When salespeople suffer from these money issues, they have a tendency to sell the cheapest thing — the base package. They have difficulty selling anything but the base package because they themselves are always looking for the cheapest deal. They therefore believe everyone else buys the same way.

These three weaknesses cause salespeople to operate less effectively across the board and not only miss out on upselling opportunities, but also be less effective closing business in general.

So, what can you do?

Overcoming the Difficulties

When salespeople suffer from any of the weaknesses above, they tend not to be as inquisitive as they should be. They don’t sell based on value and they cannot easily differentiate their products and services from competitors. There are two simple abilities that will help combat these problems: The ability to understand why the prospect will buy; and the ability to understand how the prospect will make the decision.

If salespeople take the time to focus on the real reason behind why the person might buy (or might not), and uncover how compelling the reason really is, they will be more successful. All too often, salespeople forget to find out if the prospect even needs or should buy our product.

Start with the why: Salespeople who start with the “why” have far more success navigating the sales process and spend less time chasing people who aren’t going to buy, which frees up their time to focus on those that will. When the salesperson fully understands why someone will buy, then they can connect with them more easily and seamlessly make suggestions of additional services. Because they are more trusted, the prospect generally accepts their recommendations.

A salesperson needs to learn: Why the prospect willing to talk with them; Why they are interested now and weren’t before; and why they chose the providers they are considering.

Understand the how: Learning how the prospect will go about making a decision is the second skill that will support more robust upselling. For example:

  • Could there be a situation where the prospect won’t buy at all, and what would those situations be?
  • How did the prospect decide to use their current provider?
  • How will they know a provider is the right choice?
  • How will they go about deciding which provider?

While there are several core causes of poor upselling (or poor selling in general), a steady routine of asking “why” and “how” questions will help any salesperson navigate the sales process more effectively and produce far better results.

Upselling doesn't need to be pushy or result in creating a bad reputation. When done correctly, upselling will increase revenue from referral-generating new customers. Coach your team to listen to prospective customers, ask questions and be in tune with individual needs. They need to work on setting their insecurities aside and focus on being more inquisitive. Not all prospects want additional bells and whistles, while others can greatly benefit from added services. When upselling is approached smartly, salespeople can create happier customers, grow referrals, lower attrition and increase sales.

Gretchen Gordon is owner of Braveheart Sales Performance, and a renowned speaker and veteran of the security industry. Braveheart is a sales consulting firm that guarantees improvement in profitable sales for businesses with data-driven sales team evaluations, sales effectiveness training, salesperson recruitment and sales management outsourcing.

About the Author

Gretchen Gordon

Gretchen Gordon is founder and President of Braveheart Sales Performance ( Contact her at [email protected] or at (614) 396-6544. Braveheart works to improve the sales effectiveness of middle-market companies by transforming underperforming sales teams. Each salesperson and sales manager undergoes a data-driven diagnosis; then, the processes and pipeline are analyzed, and skills and processes are improved with coaching, training and counsel. The outcome: increased sales at higher profit.