831 Beacon Street #296
Newton, MA 02459

Upselling Isn’t for the Untrained

A trip to the vet provides an important reminder that non-salespeople still end up selling, and they’re not always very good at it.

This morning I took our two cats to the vet for their annual check-up and rabies shots. Instead of our usual vet a different member of the practice saw us. While she was nice enough, the visit began to feel like we were in a Petco being helped by an overeager sales associate instead of a trained medical professional.

First came the offer to do a full “senior screening” on our male cat, since it had been a few years. He would get poked and prodded and a bunch of tests would be run on his various fluids. But when I asked whether or not he really needed it, she said “let’s weight him first” and then the subject was never brought up again.

Later I was handed a pamphlet about two mysterious medications that might prevent a bunch of things my cats are really at no risk of contracting, but with no doctoral advice to accompany it.

But the pièce de résistance of the experience was when she asked if our cats had microchips (which may be used to verify a cat’s identity and to reunite them with their owners). Now, our cats are 15 years old and are exclusively indoor creatures (the handful of times they have ever gotten outside they froze up on the top step, petrified of the big, bad world before them). When I explained this to the vet, she countered by saying that if we ever had to be evacuated the cats might get separated from us and then someone else could claim to be their owner.

I restrained myself from bursting out laughing at this rationale. We live to the west of Boston and I am not sure what calamity could possibly require us to evacuate our home: there are no wildfires and while hurricanes might knock down a tree but they’re not going to flood anything. Even if there was a riot downtown it wouldn’t ever get to our neighborhood. The only evacuation-inducing incident that could ever arise where my solution for the cats wouldn’t be an extra scoop of kibble and a potentially maxed-out litter box would be a dirty bomb or a plague (zombie-powered or otherwise), and at that point I’m not too worried about the cats anymore.

Lessons from an Overreaching Veterinarian

While this incident was entertaining (and has made me sure to request our regular vet next time around), there are two real lessons to be learned:

Sometimes the people doing the selling aren’t salespeople
This shouldn’t come as a shocker, but customer interaction (particularly the upselling of additional products and services) is the responsibility of nearly everyone in an organization. Every time someone talks to a customer it is an opportunity to bring these things up.

Upselling isn’t for the untrained
While those pounding the pavement or dialing for dollars obviously need extensive sales training, the rest of the organization shouldn’t be ignored (particularly anyone who’s job description includes face-to-face or phone contact with customers). This training should focus on two areas: the basics of sales and the product and services portfolio available. While the latter is quite specific to the individual firm, the former is a little more universal.

Here are a few basics that everyone on staff should understand:

Product/Customer Fit – Make sure the customer is likely to be interested in a product or service before offering it. Otherwise it just comes off as a blatant sales pitch versus an informed value-add.

Less is More – During a given customer interaction, staff should not be offering every single applicable product or service to a customer. One or two suggestions are about all a typical customers will want to hear before they will start to feel like the original objective of the call/visit has been derailed into a sales call.

Listen First, Pitch Second – By internalizing what a customer is concerned about or interested in, those one or two suggested upsells can be reserved for the most relevant items at that specific moment.

Provide Context/Rationale for the Purchase – A customer is not in a “buying mode” when they are talking to customer support or an administrator, so staff can’t just drop an offer to purchase something into the conversation. Instead, they need to explain that there is a product or service that can address a concern the customer has already brought up.

Looking back at our vet visit, we can see where things went off the rails. I was offered products that I clearly don’t need, which reduces my trust in the upseller, I was offered other products without a clear rationale, the one legitimate service offered was not accompanies by any conviction on the part of the upseller and I was offered five different things during a 20-minute appointment.