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How to Increase Value & Profitability by Up-Selling

When it comes to selling appliances in retail stores I’m often told that upselling to higher-spec more expensive models and brands is almost impossible. Unless the customer asks for it by name, it’s a non-starter.

Obviously it depends where I go but in those places where staff are finding it genuinely difficult, the conversation I have with them goes a bit like this:

“It’s not easy,” I’m told. “We get customers coming in and all they want is the cheapest thing we have. They just want to replace like-for-like something they’ve had for years. So we take the order and at least we’ve got the sale.”

Yeah, that’s a lot of barriers right there, most of them from inside the head of the sales-person rather than the customer. Still, I get that it can seem difficult enough selling the basic models, let alone trying to persuade customers to pay a bit more for the expensive stuff. Competition is fierce and it’s a buyers’ market.

However, it needn’t be so tough. More often than not it’s simply a case of asking the right questions when your customer comes in to enquire and see what you have.

Here’s what I mean.

Almost everywhere I go I hear salespeople asking the same questions time and again: “How much are you looking to spend?”, “Are you looking for a fridge or a fridge freezer? “Built-in or free-standing?” “What brand do you like?”. For washing machines and tumble dryers it’s usually “How big a drum are you looking for?” or “What spin speed do you need?” and for TVs it’s “What screen size do you want?” and so on.

We send mystery shoppers out into the world and this is what they report. I hear it myself when I’m out there too. But there are so many problems associated with this linear line of questioning that it would take me all day to list them, so instead I’ll say this and let it sink in before I tell you what you can do to turn things around.

If somebody is shopping online they can filter their queries by those exact same fields to narrow their search. You’ve done it yourself I shouldn’t wonder. You click onto a website to buy a washing machine and there are millions of them. So where do you start? You move your mouse to the left-hand side of the screen and click how much you want to spend, the brands you like, the size, the colour and so on and gradually the choice reduces in size to something more manageable.

But in a shop, where you can discuss the problem you had with your last washing machine, the issues with defrosting your 20-year-old fridge-freezer or the fact that your TV seems too dark and too quiet on certain channels and you’re face-to-face with an actual person, an expert, is it enough as a customer to be presented with the verbal equivalent of a website search filter? You could have done that yourself from your mobile phone, sat on the sofa as your ancient tumble dryer attempts a vertical lift-off from the confines of your utility room.

And as a seller, why would you want to mimic a website product/price search filter anyway? If you think the internet is stealing your trade then offer your customers a different experience, a better experience, one that shows them the value of buying from a real shop with real people.

Be the difference, you’re not a piece of software.

You’re in a shop, you’re face-to-face with a potential buyer, you can look them in the eye and dig deeper, spark up a conversation from which you can discern their real-world aspirations. And then instead of regurgitating every piece of technical flim-flam about a fridge or a washing machine, a TV or whatever it is, you can show your customers benefits which stem from features that mean something to them. Importantly you can let them get hands-on with the thing, play around with the buttons, the remote control, the ice dispenser – not something you can yet achieve on the internet and I find it quite shocking when we visit stores and people don’t let their customers interact with the products. At all.

So, back to that list of questions. I would always argue that it’s the seller’s job to recommend the right drum size, spin speed. screen size and fridge vs freezer capacity split, not the customer’s job to know it. Sure, some of your customers may have an idea of what they believe they need and they may be basing that on what they had previously, so why not sell them the same thing if that’s what they want?

Well because the question is, is it what they need? Will it really suit their purposes?

Here’s an example.

What if the last time your customer bought a washing machine was fifteen years ago and it was very basic but it did the job. Now they need a new one because this old thing has just collapsed into a heap. So you ask them what brand they like, how much they want to spend, what drum size they want, spin speed and all of that. And they answer those questions based on the machine that’s just packed up, and you think well here’s the modern equivalent, it’s quieter, more economical to run and it’ll save them money. Brilliant!

Not quite. Let’s put some context on it.

Fifteen years ago that person lived on their own in a flat and worked part-time. Now they run their own successful business, they have a family with three kids who ride horses and play football every day and to top it all off the grandparents have just moved into the annexe. Would you still sell them that same machine?

Of course you wouldn’t. You’d sell them something that can cope with larger loads, something that’s maybe a little more robust, something that can reduce the number of loads a week and is still more economical to run and maybe that costs more than the basic model. Maybe the grandparents would want their own machine for the annexe?

Now it’s entirely possible that your customer will just tell you all that stuff from the off and you can sell them something to match. But more often they don’t. Why should they? They don’t know you. That stuff is personal.

As an aside let me just tell you that this is why retail sales trainers keep going on about rapport, because if you build one of those with your customers they’re more likely to trust you and open up. And if you ask them questions based not on the product but on their lifestyle instead, and if you try to understand their issues and pain-points from their perspective, in other words the context behind the thing they’re looking to buy, most people will tell you all that stuff even if they hadn’t planned to do so. It’ll just come out of their mouths.

So, my point is that context is everything in sales, and if you don’t try to see that context then at best you’re just taking an order. Like a waiter in a restaurant. And you’re massively reducing your chances of not only selling a higher-priced higher spec’d machine but potentially risking selling the wrong thing to your customer and making them wonder why they didn’t just buy it off the internet.

My Big Advice therefore would be to throw those rubbish questions out of the window and think about the ‘bigger picture’ instead. The context.

Here’s how.

The first thing – and this applies to all products but I’m using refrigeration as an example now – is to learn as much as you can about your customer. You need to discover what issues they have, what problems they encounter, what’s going in their kitchen, what their daily habits are and why they actually need a new fridge. Is it because the old one has packed up – if so, what happened to it? Oh my goodness, really? – or is this the first time they’ve bought a fridge? Are they re-designing their kitchen or moving into a new house, has their family grown or shrunk? Are their kids babies, toddlers or teenagers filling the fridge with God only knows what? What sort of things are going into it anyway? You might think that last one is a dumb question and maybe it is, but ask it anyway because at the very least it will make your customer start to think about what they’ll be storing inside it and begin visualising how that works with the fridge in their own kitchen, plus later on you can show them how best to store their food and bottles – showing them that you do have the knowledge and credibility of an expert.

Now I know you wouldn’t ask all those questions, but just a few well-chosen, well-placed open questions will prompt most people to tell you more than you ask them and I guarantee that if you get it right you will very quickly start to see everything you need in order to make an informed recommendation on the kind of fridge that will revolutionise the everyday chilled needs of this person eyeballing you.

The key is to learn from your customers, to change your questions so that you’re receiving information and giving yourself everything you need to create the best customer experience in your shop, to show your customer that the decision they made to get off their backside and drive to your lovely showroom really was worth the effort.

Finally, remember that people are more likely to buy solutions, which means that any benefits you show them have to be relevant to the information you’ve learned, the issues they currently have. This means that you can pick out the knowledge you’ve acquired from the manufacturers and make it specific to that particular customer. Because don’t forget, the manufacturers don’t know your customers, so the benefits they’ll give you will be relatively generic. It’s down to you to build the bridges between what you learn from the manufacturers and what you learn from your customers.

If you can do this, then you’ll change your sales approach from being product-centric to customer-centric and that’s the true value of buying from a real bricks and mortar store with real people on hand to advise, demonstrate and sell.

Does that help with ‘upselling’? Of course it does, but the question in a way becomes redundant because you’re not so much upselling as selling the solution which best matches your customer’s needs, and if that’s a higher-priced and more profitable product than the one they came in for, your work is done. The business is happy and stronger, and your customer is happy because they have something which will actually do the job they need it to do.

Happy selling.

A much shorter version of this article appeared in the February 2020 issue of Innovative Electrical Retailing Magazine

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