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The Key to Suggestive Selling is "Repeat"

Aug 17, 2007
Are your employees promoting your best items--the ones that are both profitable and crowd-pleasing? Or, do they leave it all up to the customer and miss opportunities for greater sales, customer satisfaction and profit?

If they're not employing suggestive selling, then you're not fulfilling your profit potential. The good news? Effective customer service training can make all the difference.

Your employees are the key to just how profitable your company can be. When you provide customer service training in the techniques of suggestive selling, employees will help you increase profits and give your customers a better experience. After all, it's in their best interests to increase their tips, commissions, and careers too! And, if you're thinking, "Customers don't want to feel hustled to spend more money," you're wrong. It's all in the way you do it.

Give your employees the tools they need and they will improve both your sales and your customers' satisfaction.

One Word Can Increase Your Bottom Line. That word is "repeat."

It's amazing what happened to a shampoo company that changed one word on their product. They added the word "Repeat" to the directions. It almost doubled their nation-wide sales! Who says this couldn't happen to you? If your sales associate suggests a perfect accessory for the shirt the customer has selected, it is likely that other customers standing in line may see the item, too. If a server offers one table the beer-battered shrimp appetizer, it is likely that a nearby table overheard the suggestion. And, even if the first customer doesn't accept the offer, the patrons who overheard just might have been thinking, "Oh, that looks great!" When the offer (or a similar one) is repeated to the next customer, the suggestion will already have been planted--and is even more likely to succeed!

Why not apply this to your company? Add the word "Repeat" to your training. Servers and sales associates may not think that suggestive selling works, but make them use these skills and then show them how much your company's profits increase. They'll also be pleased by the increase in commissions or tips they receive by being such a great, upbeat, knowledgeable server or sales associate.

How do you start the process?

Even if you don't have a formal customer service training program in place, you can teach your employees to make suggestive selling work for them.

Lead by example. If yours is a restaurant, start by taking them out to lunch. Have another employee you've already trained serve them. The new employee will learn while watching the trained employee take the order and make specific suggestions for an appetizer, entree, dessert and drink.

The same principle applies in other customer situations. Set up a role-playing situation with the trainee, and have him or her "purchase" from a trained sales associate. Have the well-trained associate say, "I know the perfect scarf to go with that blouse. May I show it to you?" or make another suggestion for an additional item. Demonstrate that for the customer, this actually can enhance the purchasing experience by helping the customer walk out with an "outfit" they love instead of a single item.

o Reward employees for getting it right.

Rewards for good performance are one of the best possible forms of performance management--much more effective than penalties for poor performance. If suggestive selling is your goal, make sure that employees see it as a winning strategy for both of you. If something as simple as suggesting an appetizer works, the reward might be as simple as giving the server a pat on the back.

You don't have to hand out all of the new cash you earned; it's much simpler, and often equally effective, to give out awards. Place these awards up for everyone to see. Employees will always work harder if they're more interested in the incentive--but don't forget that public praise is a powerful performance management tool, too.

o Monitor employee performance more consistently.

In some cases, you can review sales by individual employees and note how many "add-on" sales they typically achieve in a day. Customer research surveys from an outside vendor can provide detailed performance management feedback you can use to help your employees improve. Secret shoppers can identify which servers or sales associates are doing their jobs right, and are using the suggestive selling techniques effectively.

For example, sales associates or restaurant servers sometimes unconsciously fall into the habit of making negative statements to the customer instead of using positive language. ("You didn't want the pink scarf with that, did you?" "So you don't want an appetizer?" They may think they're employing suggestive selling, but may not realize it's working against them. Secret shopper feedback--which can include collection of verbatim comments from your employees--will help them zero in on how to improve. We've seen it happen time and again.

Just remember: if "repeat" is the key to employees generating better sales and service through suggestive selling, it's also the key to you achieving better customer service training and performance management. Train new employees in suggestive selling. Then repeat frequently with ALL employees.

And enjoy all those newfound profits!
About the Author
Dan Cosgrove is CEO of the Mercantile Systems, Inc. and an expert at identifying practical ways to improve customer interactions for business gain. Also check Mini Case Studies and more great resources for further ideas.
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