Art of the Upsell

Chevy to Caddy: How to educate and listen to your customer

EVERY BUSINESS WORTH ITS SALT knows that the customer is always right. First, you listen to what she has to say but then you must also educate her, and open up the possibilities of raising her budget — shifting what is really “right” for the customer.

Budget-raising, or upselling, is both an art form and a science. Flooring and interior design consultant Jeanette Martin, owner of Mybc Consulting in Abbotsford, B.C., has distilled her sales technique into something she calls “Power of 10.”

The number 10 comes from the 10 expectations that are gleaned from the customer about her project, and that are committed to a document for future reference. “When you are talking about upselling, or right-selling, it’s all about getting the customer to tell you what their expectation is and you mutually agree to what their expectation is. Therein lies the opportunity to right-sell.”

Martin sees a subtle difference between upselling and right-selling. “Upselling is making sure that the customer is aware of all of the actual products that are available to their purchase. Right-selling is making sure the customers get the initial product that’s going to meet their needs.”

Those actual products vary between flooring surfaces, of course. Upselling can mean providing the proper hardwood floor cleaning solution and mops, as well as floor protectors on furniture and even flush-mount vents.

“It’s like picking out a beautiful dress and forgetting the earrings,” Martin says. “I show them a flush-mount vent and they say ‘of course we have to have it.’”

Even a maintenance package can be part of the upsell. “’Every two years I can come in and give your floor a recoat,’” Martin tells some customers. “If it is a carpet, ‘here’s our carpet cleaning guy so that once a year you give him a call and he’s going to come in to clean your floor.’”

According to Christopher Capobianco, part of the sales team at Spartan Surfaces in New York, N.Y., and the Coverings installation columnist, his retail carpet experience taught him that upselling was all about getting the customer into a better quality product that would have particular benefits. “A lot of times people come in with a budget in mind,” he says, “but if you are able to demonstrate another product that maybe costs more that has particular benefits — longer lasting, more stain resistant, easy to take care of — that kind of thing, then you have a lot of opportunities to upsell.”

Accessorize her experience

Adding things on to something the customer has already selected is key to Capobianco, such as in-floor heating for example. He notes that not every residential installation is equal, since they can range from detached homes to condominium apartments. “If they were putting tile in a kitchen and it was occupied space below,” he says, “you might want to recommend a sound control underlayment underneath that tile so there is less noise impact passing into the space downstairs.”

Capobianco has found, however, that even in some high-end residential spaces that some of his dealers will ask about acoustic dampening, “especially where someone is installing some kind of hard surface.”

When discussing a wood surface, tile or stone the client will sometimes ask the dealer if the flooring will be too noisy. “We’ll specify a rubber underlayment or a cork underlayment to go beneath that floor so that it minimizes that impact,” says Capobianco. “So it is one small example but it could be one upsell for the dealer.”

Every improvement in an installation has a higher price tag and should be communicated to the customer, according to Martin. This means that, for example, a $6 per square foot budget might look good at first, but unravel later. “It could be that we have to glue the flooring down, an underlay might be needed — especially in a condominium, and that adds to the cost. Meeting an acoustical rating could add $1.50 per square foot, not including other elements such as T caps and transitions.

“Right selling is bringing all these items into your presentation that the customer didn’t realize even existed.”

Tact with the ambitious

Then there is challenge of the DIY crowd who watch This Old House, says Capobianco, that can take up an inordinate amount of time in the sales process by asking endless questions about the installation steps. The trick is talking them out of it.

“You have that opportunity if someone is coming in to make a DIY purchase maybe you’ll be able to discuss the advantages of having their flooring professionally installed since the cost isn’t as much as they thought. It gives you the opportunity to make that sale.

“That’s a strong case for anybody that does full service supply and install. For the customer it’s a one-stop, single-source responsibility for the whole purchase. If anything goes wrong, you have no question about who to call to remedy things.”

Showrooms have an integral part in the art of the upsell, providing both a desirable environment for the first point of contact and for subsequent visits by the customer. “The true salesman is the one who does not give the customers what they ask for when they walk through your door,” says Martin. “Customers go to the big, bad Google before they go into your place of business and they are coming well informed.”

Building repeat business

For Capobianco, offering small add-ons that help the client at the time of purchase can also lead to future business. “Sometimes when they were in the showroom they would see something else and get another idea. Maybe it’s a window covering or carpeting for a guest room. You get them back into the store with a little add-on at the time of purchase. You either just give it away, discount it or include it in the price.”

A good example has always been cleaners and maintenance products, according to Capobianco, either for a vinyl floor or carpet, as well as products that go on wood. “We would sell Armstrong kitchen floor wax vinyl and give away a small bottle of the recommended cleaner. Nine times out of 10, that customer would come back in to get that cleaner again and again.”

But what if you are a shop-at-home business and don’t even have a showroom? That’s the case for Mark Aydin, owner of Victorious Flooring in Mississauga, Ont., who changed his business model in 2001.

“That model clears up many complications for the customer,” says Aydin. “This includes time committed to come by the showroom, picking up the sample, taking it back to their property and us going back. Now we show the samples in their own décor and lighting.”

Aydin noticed that his customers were getting tighter and tighter with their time over the years. “In the flooring industry you have to be 24/7. As people are getting busier than ever,” he says, “they have a much more loaded work schedule. Our business hours are shifting towards 4 pm to 9 pm and all day Saturday and Sunday as a result.”

Of particular concern to Aydin before the transition to a shop at home model was the 60 to 70 percent of sales estimates and quotes that were not being closed. “We were getting really tired and frustrated, but we couldn’t just make a sale for the sake of a sale because that wasn’t the right product.”

The shop at home model of selling still shares many of the same challenges that bricks and mortar storefronts face, however. At first, Victorious Flooring had trouble telling its clients that “‘this isn’t the right product for your budget, it won’t work because of these reasons,’” says Aydin. “But we stuck to the strategy where we were trying to establish what their problem was.”

The problem could be that the customer already had engineered wood, laminate floor or carpet but wanted to replace it with the same material, even after having encountered problems resulting from the previous installation. Telling his client that “‘If you stick to your budget,’” says Aydin, “‘you’re buying another problem and you’ll go through this problem one more time. So how about increasing your budget, go with this other product.’”

In other words, “‘We are going to upsell you, we not going to sell what you’re looking for, we are not going to sell to your budget that ignore the consequences that we will face. This is the right choice to go with this time.’”

Aydin concludes that the customer that decides to go with his company’s approach were happy and relieved not to be burned again by a less scrupulous business. “We gained our trust with the customers and that helped build our brand name, credentials and market share over the last 16 years.”

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