Upsell: hate the word – but know it makes complete sense?

Author: Kim Mason   |   Date: 4th December 2017   |  Tags: , ,

Personally, I think upsell is a horrible word. Just horrible.  But I also know that actually doing it can make a real difference to business growth.

In my mind, the word upsell conjures up images of a greasy-haired salesman (with pound signs in his eyes instead of pupils) following me around with a sickly grin and a wheedling tone…

“Now let’s see. That new ‘phone of yours will need a case, insurance, another case (waterproof), some proper earphones, another case (shatterproof), an extendable charging lead, a car charging lead, a portable charger, another case (soundproof), and probably some more insurance to insure you against losing your insurance certificate.”

ARGGH! Get me out of there.


Upselling is not for the faint-hearted. Or is it?

The word upsell makes me feel so completely and utterly like I’ve been taken for a ride. Sold to like a mug. Forced – through some weird process – to buy stuff I never wanted or needed in the first place.

So, upsell – yuk. Or not?

In reality, my attitude is almost entirely unreasonable. And I know that.

When, 12 years ago, I found myself  responsible for sales for the first time in my life – I soon knew I had to find another way of thinking about upselling.

And I knew that I needed to find a way that didn’t ever include words or phrases like  ‘ABC – always be closing’, ’sandbagging’, ’smile and dial‘ or ‘objections’. Or upsell, for that matter. (And these are just a few of the charming sales-jargon terms I personally love to hate.)

Think about upselling in a way that suits your own sales style

So I made myself try to think my own way about upselling. I began with thinking as if I was the customer, the buyer, rather than the person tasked with selling.

After all, I was already very familiar with buying in all sorts of B2B marketing support services for our clients. From event management services to large-scale print jobs, user experience consultants to promotional pens, I’d been ‘sold to’ myself plenty of times in a similar B2B context.

And so I asked myself:

“When I was buying. how and where in that process had I been upsold to? Either without noticing, or noticing and not liking it, or noticing and feeling it as a positive experience?”

And what I believed I found was that it was entirely about one thing. Trust.

No surprise there, but if you don’t like the idea of upselling, or are conscious you need to get better at it, then the next bit might help you break it down into do-able steps.

When I had either not noticed the upsell, or had noticed but enjoyed it, the common theme was that I  believed these people were doing honest business with me. By honest, I mean that I felt they were really interested in helping me, and the last (or at least the next!) thing on their mind was the actual objective to upsell.

Basic 3-point guide to help you get better at upselling

  1. A human relationship has to exist between you and the person buying. It could be a short-term one, but you have to have connected in some small and human way. Even in a very brief transaction, a laugh or two, a moment of common ground or a shared attitude is enough to make that first connection.
  2. The buyer has to know you are on their side in some way. This is rarer to find (I can be rather cynical). To do this, you’ve got to give them something they perceive to be of value: an unqualified chunk of your time, properly useful information, help for them to understand or solve their problem in a wider context or an introduction to a helpful contact of yours.
  3. Or – and this is the biggie – you can clearly steer them away from the wrong buying decision, despite the fact it may be more valuable for you. The words, “After hearing what you need, I don’t think our premium products X or Y are right for you. What might suit you better is to try Z, and see how you get on. You can always come back for more.” This type of honest downsell can create the strongest trust bond possible – and lead to a much more fruitful longer term relationship.

(Number 3 can be tricky if what is best for your client is actually one of your most valuable services. Not much you can do about that other than be honest and explain why you truly believe it.)

Create a real relationship with a prospect – quickly and simply

The quickest and best way of creating a real connection or relationship is to listen properly to what your clients are saying. Now, by properly, I mean properly. If that’s a big vague, here’s a list of what I consider proper listening.

Clue: it has absolutely nothing to do with what you want, and everything to do with the other person.

  • Listen actively, with 100% focus and attention
  • Listen purely in order to understand
  • Then listen in order to help, if help is asked for – in any way you can
  • Don’t listen in order to then speak your ‘bit’ – i.e. your pitch
  • And absolutely no selling

What’s your phrase?

There are some famous anecdotal upselling phrases, the simplicity of which are brilliant.

McDonalds. They instructed all of their sales colleagues to ask customers, at the counter, “And would you like fries with that?”. Which (anecdotally) added £16bn on to their annual turnover.

Private client and tax law firm. Even more anecdotally, is said to have asked all partners to ask as a parting shot at the end of client meetings – “And may I just enquire, is your will up-to-date?”

If you’ve not done it already, have a think about your own business and ask yourself, “What’s my phrase?”.

Please do send this post onto a colleague or friend if you think they’d find it useful – and let me know what upselling tactics you’ve loved or hated in the past.

Need help with your sales and marketing?

If you are looking for a sales and marketing consultant in Hampshire, give me a call on 07827 297569. I’m more than happy to have an open conversation about what you’re looking for – and if we’re a good fit, we can arrange to meet up for a longer chat. And if we’re not a good fit, I will tell you, and wherever I can I will point you towards someone who I think could help.

One response to “Upsell: hate the word – but know it makes complete sense?”

  1. alice says:

    nicely done Kim.. our one that I was taught by a master in the industry .. with a cup of our freshly roasted coffee, ask ‘ and something sweet to go with it?’ we all like a treat and when you have home made cakes on offer it can be a nice way to highlight them.

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