What is suggestive selling?
Suggestive selling is a sales technique that encourages staff to prompt customers to include additional, (generally lower priced) items to their purchase. Upselling or add-on selling are terms that are used interchangeably with suggestive selling. The aim of suggestive selling is to persuade customers to buy items that they hadn’t considered when entering the store.
A common example of suggestive selling is “would you like a muffin with your coffee?” Suggestive selling has the potential to positively influence business profits. This technique is so powerful, that McDonalds has used it to combat ‘challenged sales.’
Badly timed suggestive selling approaches
Customers need breathing space when they come into your store. They need time to browse or locate the item they’ve come to buy. When your staff implement suggestive selling tactics too soon without starting a conversation, customers are likely to withdraw, because of the hard-sell approach.
Best opportunities for suggestive selling
The ideal time to make suggestions is when your staff have developed a rapport with the customer because they’ll have a better idea of what the customer is looking for. Another good opportunity to make suggestive sales is when a customer already has a product in their hand. Objection handling also provides a chance for your staff to not only convince the customer of the item in question but to suggest complementary products.
Training your staff on suggestive selling
Due to the proven benefits, training your staff on suggestive selling should be a key part of your business strategy. Although suggestive selling is typically easier than getting the first sale, (because your staff is persuading a customer to buy something of lesser value) recommending complementary products still requires special skills combined with exceptional customer service.
An increase in sales is only one advantage of suggestive selling. When staff have been trained to implement suggestive selling the correct way, your business will benefit from a higher level of customer satisfaction because of the personalized level of service offered.
Suggestive selling isn’t only applicable to restaurants and fast food establishments. You can train your staff in suggestive selling techniques irrespective of your industry, for example:
- Apparel retailers can suggest additional clothing items, for instance, a shirt to accompany a new suit.
- Bars could train their bartenders to offer appetizers with particular drinks.
- Automobile dealers might recommend supplements like extended warranties or additional features, for example, seat warmers.
- Travel agents could use suggestive selling by offering add-ons like travel insurance and car rental deals.
When formulating a training plan for your staff on suggestive selling, you should focus on the importance of timing in relation to making the suggestion. If staff make suggestions for customers to buy additional products at the wrong time, your business may end up losing the original sale if the customer becomes irritated.
5 tips for training your staff on suggestive selling
Your business strategy should account for the increased profits as a result of suggestive selling. However, in order for these profits to be realized, your staff need to be adequately trained on the best way to upsell your products. Here are five tips for training your staff on suggestive selling:
1. Encourage an in-depth knowledge of your products
It will be difficult for your staff to carry out suggestive selling if they’re not aware of the items you have in store. A selected portion of your staff training should include detailed descriptions of new items. If you own a large retail store and receive vast quantities of new stock on a daily basis, provide at least one unique selling point (USP) per item. The USP should be easy for staff to remember and must be relatable enough to introduce into a conversation with your customer.
Your staff should also be familiar with price-points to suggest items within the customer’s budget. Having in-depth knowledge of inventory also extends to stock levels. Your customer will be disappointed if they’re convinced to buy an item, only to find out that it’s not available. Utilize your inventory management and point-of-sale systems to ensure your staff has access to accurate stock level reports.
According to Expertcity, who work with retailers such as The North Face, Reebok, and Quicksilver to help retail sales staff have a deep understanding of their product, “82% of consumers are likely to follow expert recommendations.” Train your staff on suggestive selling with the aim of turning them into product experts. Staff should have an in-depth knowledge of your inventory, given that a Wharton School of Business study found:
- Half of customers (50%) want expert advice on what they should purchase when they come into a store.
- Over two-thirds of customers (73%) advised that product knowledge is the most important thing they need from a salesperson.
- Sales people who are educated about their product sell up to 123% more than others with no training.
2. Build a rapport with customers
Your suggestive selling staff training should include customer befriending techniques. Customers buy from people they trust and this also extends to suggestive selling. Your staff should be encouraged to take a genuine interest in the customer. This goes beyond what they’re shopping for. A simple question about how the customer’s day is shaping up can result in a positive dialogue. This open conversation will not only build a rapport to increase the likelihood of an upsell, but it’ll also make your staff’s job more enjoyable, as they learn new things about the customer.
When a customer regards sales staffs’ interest as genuine, as opposed to just chasing a sale, they’re more likely to listen to advice. Train your staff to think about how they’d like to be treated when shopping and try to replicate this in your store. Your sales staff should become a trusted advisor or friend to the customer while in your store to increase the chance of making a suggestive sale. Training your sales staff to be motivated by both enhancing the customer experience and increasing their commission will result in a more authentic interaction with shoppers.
3. Trust staff to use their initiative
Apart from fast food retailers, there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all approach to suggestive selling. Train your staff to use their inventory knowledge and customer information to propose appropriate products. Even though suggestive selling normally centers on offering lower prized items, there may be occasions when your sales staff can recommend a higher priced product.
An example is where there’s a scenario in which a customer is attending a wedding and has chosen a dress. Your sales staff can suggest shoes at a higher price while saying something along the following lines “the shoes truly completes the outfit” or “the shoes will match different outfits and can be worn on more special occasions, so they can be regarded as an investment.” Offering higher prized items when they are discounted is an even more effective way to make a suggestive sale. The fact that the customer is making a saving should be highlighted.
4. Personalize suggestive sales
Delivering a cookie-cutter suggestive selling experience will be off-putting to customers. Customers want to feel like you genuinely care about them and personalization is a proven way of delivering a better retail experience. Unoriginal responses come across as fake and customers will be reluctant to believe what your sales staff is saying. If a customer asks for an opinion about an outfit that’s not the most flattering, your staff should be trained on how to break the news tactfully while offering alternatives. Listening to the customer will also provide clues about how to personalize suggestive selling. If they mention that they’re looking for a pair of sneakers for running, suggest insoles for a more comfortable running session.
Another instance of personalized suggestive selling is when a bartender or barback recommends an appetizer based on whether a customer will be having dinner after their drinks. The bartender should suggest a light appetizer like pretzel sticks if the customer is dinning after drinks. However, the bartender should recommend something more filling, such as buffalo chicken wings if the customer is only having a drink.
When training your staff on suggestive selling, demonstrate items that fit together. This will spark ideas about how a group of products can be customized according to the customer’s taste. In order to increase the probability of a sale, your staff should aim for the suggestive sale item to perfectly complement the original item.
5. Consider creating a loyalty program
Take inspiration from Starbucks, and combine suggestive selling with a loyalty program to skyrocket your profits. Starbucks revamped its My Starbucks Rewards loyalty program to focus on rewarding customers who spend more. The results were an increase of 18% in net revenue, which amounted to $4.9 billion. Under the old loyalty scheme, customers would need 12 stars to qualify for a free item. The new loyalty program changed the number of stars required to 125. The change provided a great opportunity for Starbucks’s staff to make suggestive sales. Their sales associates encouraged customers to add one more item to their order to gain more stars and qualify for free items.
A customer loyalty program should form part of your suggestive selling strategy and training because it encourages customers to spend a little more to get closer to receiving a reward. Suggestive selling becomes easier when your staff notify customers that they can receive a discount or, a free item for spending a few more dollars. Loyalty programs create a win-win situation for the customer. Firstly, they walk away with a supplementary item and they also get closer to redeeming an offer on their loyalty card. If you do implement a loyalty program, train your staff to link their suggestive selling to the great discounts on offer.
The five tips above will help you to train your staff on the very valuable skill of suggestive selling. Demonstrating how your staff needs to make suggestions to increase sales should be a continuous process and ought to be a feature in most training sessions. Set the parameters of suggestive selling by ensuring that your staff is up to speed with your products and how to engage customers. Then, trust your staff to use their personality and their unique touch to increase sales by recommending additional products.
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