Comment: Upselling brings loyalty but it requires a deft touch

Digital Drums’ Steve Dunne believes the skill has been lost for some segments of the sector

When it comes to sales in the travel sector, the art of upselling is one of the most important strategies any travel sales professional can deploy.

As a young marketer being introduced to the benefits of upselling for a travel company, I was told that it was a chance not only to increase the brand’s margins but also to improve the customer’s experience of our product by offering them something that might better suit their needs.

Ultimately, I can remember being told upselling can generate greater client trust and brand loyalty, and secure a customer’s lifetime allegiance to the brand as they are introduced to enhanced services.

And it’s that last bit – generating greater trust and loyalty through upselling – that I believe has been lost for some segments of the sector, as a frustrating encounter with a car rental company illustrated to me on a recent holiday.

Indeed, the efforts of the sales assistant, from one of the most famous car rental brands in the sector, didn’t just prevent the increased value of the sale with me, it left me with a negative view of the brand – one that will now deter me from using them.

My experience underlined to me that upselling is a skill, and sales teams should be trained to do it subtly, rather than instructed to implement it by a line manager focused on achieving a sales target regardless of cost to the brand.

Subtlety is key

I’d arrived at the US airport tired after a nine‑hour flight. A further 90 minutes had been spent waiting for luggage to come off the aircraft, before I progressed through the long lines at US customs and immigration. A final long wait in line at the car rental desk meant that when I reached the sales assistant my nerves were, I admit, a little frazzled.

Mistake number one from the sales assistant was to show no warmth or empathy. No greeting was offered, other than an extended hand for paperwork, and no eye contact – an important part of the relationship-building exercise – was made.

The initial rental process went smoothly enough, until we got to the first upsell opportunity. “Are you happy with the car you’ve already booked? It’s a very small car,” said the assistant, still making no eye contact with me.

“Really? It’s an SUV,” I replied. She reeled off a list of car models she felt would be better for me but, being British, I had no idea of what they were.

Tactical switch

I declined the offer, but that was clearly not going to work for her. Reading the sales prospect’s body language and tone of voice was not a tactic she had seemed to have heard of.

“I think it’s a mistake not to go for a bigger car,” came her response. My answer remained no, but now we were starting to spiral down into a sort of Mexican stand-off – not ideal for selling anything to a customer.

Following a sharp intake of breath, she changed tactics. “Your insurance is really very basic; you are going to need to upgrade this,” she said. This seemed an instruction rather than advice.

Wearily, I asked what was wrong with my insurance policy, one that I had bought off the car rental company’s own website in the UK and one I bought every year. She reeled off, in a doom-and-gloom tone of voice, what seemed a never-ending list of things I would need, outlining the dire consequences of not covering each item. I declined, but she carried on with her list. It was another upsell mistake: be aware when the client means no. Suffice it to say, no upsale was achieved.

Upselling requires key elements in its approach: empathy; knowledge of the customer; reading reactions; winning confidence; and deploying subtlety when introducing a new item to sell.

Upselling is a definite skill and one that customer teams need to be trained in. Leave it to an untrained member of the team and you may damage the brand permanently.

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