Avoid Upselling

Anyone who has ever placed an order at a fast food restaurant has heard the question “Would you like fries with that?” Fast food establishments use this technique, referred to as upselling, to grow the size of an order. It is easy to understand why upselling is effective in a food establishment: Your guest is already dining with you, so offering something to complement their meal is not seen as too pushy. Often, the average sale could increase by 20%. But, in business-to-business sales, upselling is a dangerous tactic.

Focus on How to Solve or Serve over Sell

In his book, To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink urges readers to use the term “Up-serve” instead of “Up-sell.” You might ask “Up-Sell, Up-Serve… What’s the difference?”  If you teach your team to upsell, you are teaching your people to focus internally. Meaning, the customer does not care about how much you sell. Instead, they care about their issues. When you use the term “Up-serve,” you teach your team that your first priority needs to be focused on the customer, not your own product or service.

The subtle difference is that up-serving requires you to uncover needs that are important to your client, and serve those needs. If you focus on solving more client challenges, then you are adding value for your clients, and they’ll happily pay for the value you deliver. So, the up-serve naturally results in an upsell.


In a recent study from Software Advice called The Great Retail Experience Race: Local vs. National, researchers looked at small businesses compared to global brands like Starbucks, Nordstrom, Panera, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. They looked at how often the salespeople introduced new items or tried to “upsell” the customer. In the case of Panera, it was almost a certainty that the staff would ask if the customer wanted to add a bakery item for $0.99.

The key take away in their research may be something that the typical reader could overlook. The highest performing brands outside of food service, Nordstrom and Apple, both score high numbers in making a personal or emotional connection. At Nordstrom, when the customer said “I’m looking for a gift for my brother for under $100,” the Nordstrom associate asked “What does your brother like to do?”

Top performers do not jump at an opportunity to sell as soon as the customer indicates a desire to buy something. Rather, they realize that the greatest way to build trust and loyalty is to take the time to understand the customer’s situation.  Tweet it if you agree!

The Nordstrom rep could have immediately showed the customer items that cost around $100. Instead, by learning more about the customer, and the gift recipient, they could artfully present the right solutions that would best fit the intended recipient.

The Lesson

With so many options to purchase, those selling products or services must realize that understanding more about your client is a way to stand out from the competition. Focus on their goals, objectives, and how they might measure their results six months out from now. This approach demonstrates that you are not just there to make a sale, but are interested in the client’s outcome. Unless you are a restaurant, upselling is probably going to translate to “upsetting” to your customers.  Remember to serve not sell.

Your Turn

When did an upsell turn you away?  Are there times when a rep asking more questions increased your comfort dealing with them?

This article also syndicated in:
The Huffington Post

Washing Business Journal