Upselling The Power of Suggesting and Asking

A new customer on the phone wants to rent equipment. While the sale in itself is rewarding, did the employee who answered the phone exhaust all opportunities to expand the sale and increase revenue for the rental business? A rental store manager is likely to recognize this phone call as an opportunity to offer the customer other equipment or accessories he or she may not have thought about or even been aware of before calling, but is the rest of the staff trained in upselling?

Revenue obviously is being left on the table by not taking advantage of these everyday opportunities. Envision the impact on the rental company's bottom line if the staff increased the sale or rental of complementary products by just 10 percent. The power of suggesting and asking for additional sales often goes right to the bottom line and increases customer satisfaction.

Let's look at how a rental business can build upselling into its culture and sales strategy.

Would you like fries with that?

This famous tagline illustrates the fundamentals of upselling. In its most elementary format, a fast-food employee is trained to ask every customer this basic upselling question. Imagine the impact on that fast-food chain's bottom line if just 20 percent of the customers who are asked this question agree to the fries. This is the essence of suggesting and asking. The customer is not offended by the question, and it represents a good business practice. If the customer says no, the employee simply continues the transaction. Upselling is a training issue.

Booking an airline flight is another common example — the travel agent is trained to ask customers if they would also like a hotel or rental car. In these examples, employees learn from the start that asking these types of questions must become part of the sales process. Employees aren't asking the questions because they think the customer needs complementary products and services — they ask them because they have been trained to ask. Rental center employees can learn from these examples and adapt them to the rental business.

What are the “fries” in equipment rental?

Determine the complementary items for each piece of equipment in the rental business. Identify add-on items from the most commonly rented equipment that can be suggested to customers. Most rental companies have a showroom of supplies that can help customers. Make certain all employees know which items make sense to cross-sell with which products.

Are employees asking the right questions?

It is easier to upsell when the right questions are asked. In the rental business, asking questions that provide information about the intended applications will give employees multiple options for upselling. For example, if the customer is renting a skid steer to move a large pile of mulch, then perhaps suggest a sweeper attachment along with the standard bucket. If the customer is renting a compressor, hoses can be offered as an upsell item. Rental business owners and managers can train staff on the right questions to ask for upselling each piece of equipment.

Do employees know the products?

Along with asking the right questions, make certain employees have the product knowledge to suggest appropriate supplementary products. Develop and post a list near the rental counter of commonly rented items and complementary products, supplies and services. Encourage employees to add to that list as ideas occur to them. Review rental scenarios during staff meetings, and discuss what other items should be suggested.

It is also important that the suggested product be less expensive than the rental. The idea is to make it easy for the customer to say yes, and an expensive or complex upsell typically will not result in a sale.

Build relationships

It becomes easier to upsell when employees have good relationships with customers. People are more open to other suggestions and products when they trust a rental business' staff and have a good relationship with them. As a result, an employee is seen as a partner, looking out for the customer's best interest. Customers will then recognize an employee's upselling efforts as a function of good service rather than as a sales strategy.

As part of building relationships, employees should ask customers for their name and company name, and determine if they have rented from the business before. If the rental business doesn't have a customer relationship management system that can quickly provide this information, simply ask the customer. The more information the counter person has, the easier it is to sell.

The product or service suggested should be in the customer's best interest. That is key to building trust and loyalty.

Selling is a mindset

Regardless of whether the employee is an inside or outside sales representative, his or her job is to sell, and part of selling is suggesting and asking. Employees need to ask for the rental as well as ask to fill other needs. Use phrases such as:

  • “Is there anything else I can help you with today such as a trailer?”

  • “Will you need any blades to go with that concrete saw?”

  • “We also have small tools and safety supplies such as hard hats, gloves and caution tape here in our store. Would you like me to add that to your order?”

These are simple questions that indicate the employee is interested in helping the customer. The worst the customer can say is no.

Consider an employee incentive program

A great way to drive the sale or rental of complementary items is to offer an incentive to employees. Incentives are an effective method for recognizing employees who go beyond the basics in terms of satisfying customers' needs and driving revenues. This is a great way for rental center owners and managers to show their appreciation.

Practice, practice, practice

Reinforce these techniques with personalized coaching and role playing. Developing an effective sales team takes a commitment and a plan. Fast-food clerks know to ask about the fries because it is part of their culture and they were trained to ask. It is not an option.

In my experience of working with companies implementing a training program, time and time again, I hear equipment rental owners and managers tell me how important upselling is to their company. It is a real priority. They understand it is easier to sell to an existing customer than to a new one. Attracting new business is great, but servicing and renting to a rental business' current customer base is much easier and just as lucrative.

If upselling is a priority, then develop a program to support and encourage upselling. Work with staff to develop sales skills, and it will pay big dividends in both customer satisfaction and revenues.

Barry Himmel, a senior vice president for Dublin, Ohio-based Signature Worldwide, has provided training for equipment organizations across the United States.

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