Your most important customer is the one you have in front of you right now.

Lauderbaugh & Associates

"How to Win at Upselling
and Cross-Selling"

by JJ Lauderbaugh, CMC

At a recent conference, an excited woman rushed up to me. She had called the travel supply catalog Magellan's, and when she listed the products she wanted to order, the phone rep asked her how they were going to be used. Based on her answers, he suggested other products that would better serve her needs. The shopper was delighted with his recommendations and ended up going only slightly over her budget. "I'll be a Magellan's catalog customer for life, as long as I get that personalized treatment," she told me. "It was a 'wow' experience!"

How many customers are likely to say that about your catalog? Can your call center reps "wow" customers while increasing your company's revenue? They can -- if they learn how to go beyond service to sales. Most inbound customer service reps fear and resist cross selling and upselling, or proactively suggesting related or unrelated items that may increase the size or dollar amount of an order.

Done adroitly without the rep being pushy or seeming too eager to force unwanted items on the customer cross selling and upselling are extremely effective ways to increase revenue. But to get reps into a sales mindset requires some dexterity on the call center manager's part. It involves training reps to think differently about selling, and the key to doing this is to get them to think about suggesting other products as simply offering an "additional service." This attitude can go a long way toward breaking down a rep's resistance to sales.

At the beginning of any cross- or upselling training program, when asked if they see themselves as salespeople, few reps will answer "yes." But after a day of training that focuses on the concept of additional service, almost all the reps involved are likely to say that they do see themselves as salespeople after all. Most will start upselling right after they return to the phones.

                 HIRING AND INCENTIVES

So how do you work this magic in your call center? Before you initiate an upselling training program, keep in mind that the main quality you want your reps to project is a caring attitude. Customers need to know that the rep cares about them and how they're going to use the products they're buying. Your catalog company's reputation is only as good as the customer's impression of the service rep, so make sure that impression is flawless.

Here are some ways to ensure that it is:

1. Hand-pick reps for their "people" skills and attitudes.

Unlike product knowledge, people skills can't be learned. If you hire reps who are friendly and outgoing, you'll greatly increase the odds of training them to cross- or upsell successfully. The reps you select must genuinely like talking to people and helping them. Reps must also be patient, listen and communicate well, attempt to build strong relationships with customers, and represent the company professionally and in a positive way.

2. Set goals, incentives, and rewards to keep exceptional reps motivated.

Many catalog companies have introduced upselling and cross selling to their reps without giving much thought to incentives a big mistake. Your reps will perform far better if they know exactly what's in it for them.

Entire books can be written on the subject of goals, but in a nutshell, the best goal for all reps would be to upsell or cross sell on every call, even one from an upset customer. The reps can then track the average number of successes and dollar amounts generated, enabling the supervisor to set quotas and expectations.

Incentives can be just about anything: extra money, participation in a company profit sharing plan, discounts on merchandise from the catalog, theater tickets, time off, a trip, a radio, or other predetermined prizes. Some marketers conduct contests such as a card or board game offering points, dollars, or prizes to be won. Recognition is also a powerful incentive. For instance, many call centers announce an upsell or cross sell publicly by ringing a bell or other type of noise maker, or by putting up a daily tally of cross sells and upsells on a visible tracking board in the call center. This spurs competition and creates a festive and exciting environment.

                                    TRAINING TECHNIQUES

Now that you have a winning team, build its members' strengths by teaching them specific customer service skills. What drives a successful cross- or upselling training program is the philosophy that reps must listen for service cues first, sales cues second.

Your best performers should be able to think of a related upsell or cross-sell at the very beginning of the conversation, even if the customer is upset. But the rep should take care of the customer's problem first, and then, if the rep has been appropriately caring and helpful, he or she can ease into suggesting sales often with remarkable success.

For example, at Southern California-based Russell and Miller, a business-to-business cataloger that sells merchandising products such as sale banners, racks, and tagging guns, an order entry rep in one of my training programs gave an excellent example of listening to both service and sales cues and making appropriate suggestions.

The rep said that a customer called to replace a fabric steamer he used in his retail store. It was his second call, and the rep wondered why the steamer kept breaking, but didn't say anything.

She also recalled hearing him say that he needed the new steamer right away because he had a shipment of drapes coming in soon. The rep told my training group; "If I had asked him whether he was planning to use the steamer on drapes, I'd have known why he was replacing his steamer so often. What he probably needed was a heavy-duty steamer made for draperies. That would have been an upsell because that kind of steamer is more expensive than the one he was ordering. And to make sure his steamer held up this time, I'd have suggested a cleaner so that it would not clog and malfunction. Those items could have been my first upsell and first cross-sell."

The rep was absolutely right, and deserved a big round of
applause -- which she got from her colleagues.


Placating upset customers is one of the most challenging tasks that any phone rep faces. Add the burden of cross-selling or upselling at the same time, and the task becomes doubly difficult, if not altogether impossible to achieve. But it can be done if your reps learn to use the right words and phrases to defuse the emotions of angry customers. As with all service, the key is to address the problem first. By doing so, the rep builds a rapport with the customer that lays the groundwork for sales. Each of your reps will develop his or her own unique way of soothing ruffled feathers. However, there are some proven scripts and techniques for handling difficult customer service situations. Here are a few that your reps should become familiar with:

Let the customer vent.

Most reps feel so uncomfortable with customers' anger that they rush them off the phone. But a wise choice of words can empower the rep to take full responsibility for the customer's experience on every call. For instance, while the customer is blowing off steam, the rep should use empathizing phrases, such as "I can see how that happened" or "I understand what an inconvenience that must have been." Statements like these almost inevitably calm the customer down after a few minutes.

Don't snow the customer with policies and regulations.

Customers want your company to be easy to do business with, and will only become more infuriated if your rep says that the company can't fulfill a request because "it's our policy." Instead, the rep should say, "Let me check to see what I can do." This gives the rep time to judge the caller's level of irateness and salvage the customer.

Never make the customer wrong!

If a rep tells a customer that he or she is wrong or unfair, even if this is the truth, you will lose the customer -- even if you give the customer everything that was requested. If you cause customers to lose their dignity, they will always feel uncomfortable about calling your catalog.

Defuse the customer's anger.

The most effective way to do this is to place the situation in perspective and avoid inflammatory words and phrases. For instance, even if the customer says he has a "problem," the rep is better off responding, 'Tell me about your situation (order, delivery)." It becomes a bigger problem if you call it a problem.

Similarly, saying things like "You'll have to wait until Friday for delivery" automatically pushes the customer's button. Your customer is calling on a voluntary basis and does not "have to" do anything. "We'll get the order to you by Friday" is a softer approach.

These substitute words and phrases help the rep stay neutral, neither toeing the company line nor siding with the customer. They defuse the customer's ire sooner, cut call time, and allow the situation to be resolved before the rep moves into sales.

Ask open-ended questions ... but only after giving the
customer ample time to vent.

Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a "yes" or "no," so the customer will provide the details of his or her complaint. But if the rep's questioning and problem solving begin too soon, without allowing the shopper to express irritation first, the customer will perceive the questioning as interrogation. This steps up the tension several notches and lengthens the call.

The most effective open-ended questions begin with, "what do you need to...?" "Tell me about..." "How can I help?"

Questions should start with "what" rather than "why," which can intimidate and put the customer on the defensive.


Congratulations! Your rep has resolved the customer's problem and is now ready to move from service to sales. Here's where the rep's energy and enthusiasm come in. Reps should assume that sales will happen on every call, so they should ask for additional sales on every call. Again, however, the right techniques and words make all the difference. Here are some suggestions:

Take charge of the call.

It is essential to control the customer's reaction by assuming a positive ending to the conversation. For instance, instead of asking, "Would you like to hear about our specials?" The rep should say, "By the way, did you know we have ... on special this week at just $60?" Similarly, to ask "What other items would you like to add to your order?" is a far better upsell tactic than to say, 'You don't want to add anything else to your order, do you?"

Use command words.

In this situation, it is acceptable for reps to use words such as "must," "need," and "have to." In fact, such words can help close a sale. For example, when a rep has suggested the perfect add-on item, he or she may tell the customer, "You have to have this! It would ..." (add the benefit the customer might like to hear, based on the customer's own words if possible).

Sell the product's benefits, not its features.

Reps must remember that from the customer's point of view, 90% of a sale is emotional. Active verbs such as "gain," "improve," and "save," along with words that express benefits, such as "new," "free," and "proven" are likely to appeal to the customer's emotions. The impact of these words will be greater if reps combine them with any needs that the customer may have expressed earlier for example, "You'll gain a savings of 50% if you buy this new cushion, which will make your back feel much better."

Appeal to emotion, not intellect.

Reps should ask customers how they feel, not what they think, about adding the suggested item or items to their order. Asking them to think may cause them to question the appropriateness of an item, whereas asking their feelings about it tends to help them see how it might be suitable.

Close on an upbeat note.

The last comment the customer hears is what he or she will remember. Rather than ending with "Have a nice day," the rep should invite customers to "call back again," especially if they were upset, then say "goodbye" or "'bye," with an upward inflection at the end of the word. This keeps the door open and ready for the customer to walk through again soon.


None of the cross-selling and upselling techniques described above will work unless reps practice and feel comfortable implementing them. The best way to train reps to really get the "feel" of what they're doing is to role play, with one person acting as the rep, another as the customer, and a third as an observer who gives feedback. If your group is small, use two people and let the customer give feedback to the rep. Urge everyone to give honest evaluations so improvements can be made quickly. The evaluations would include grading the rep on how well he or she let the customer vent, the use of defusing words or phrases and open-ended questions, and whether the rep bridged from service to sales by listening, responding, and using the customer's words to close. Feedback should focus on whether the rep was quick on the uptake, adapted scripts to sound natural, and controlled the call efficiently. After the observer or customer gives feedback, switch roles and repeat the process.

Give your reps partial scripts to adapt to callers' needs. Phrases or sentence fragments will encourage reps to use their own words more, which will sound more natural than scripts recited verbatim. Make sure your script demonstrations don't sound too slick. If managers also appear to search for words and phrases, reps will find their demonstrations more convincing and less intimidating. Some script ideas are listed below:

1. "Tag-ons."

The rep can tag on a statement or question about other issues, products, or services at the end of the conversation, whether the rep called the customer or answered an inbound call.

Tag-ons include phrases and lead-ins such as "by the way," "you may not be aware of our new ..." or "this will help you prevent XYZ from happening again." This technique can be used for any related, unrelated, special, or sale products to increase the size of the order.

2. Stories.

Use of examples or stories demonstrates that the rep knows other pleased customers and has successfully guided them in their catalog selections. For instance: "One of my other customers used to get so upset because she was constantly replacing her vacuum, so she finally tried our new heavy-duty model. She says it has been very dependable and has taken the extra expense and stress out of her life."

3. Personal endorsements.

To give impact to the suggestion of new products or services, the rep can refer to herself or to other people she knows who use these items, but only if this information is the truth and the rep is genuinely sold on the product.


If you approach upselling and cross-selling with an "extra service" rather than a "sales" attitude, you'll have no difficulty growing your customer base and increasing profits.

Couple this service attitude with the appropriate training (including frequent role playing), a fun atmosphere, and solid team spirit, and your call center will break old sales records quickly.

Copyright 1997 - 2012
JJ Lauderbaugh, CMC

JJ Lauderbaugh is an international speaker, trainer and consultant
who specializes in customer service management.
JJ may be reached at:

Phone (408) 445-1590




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