Suggestive Selling 101: The Death of the Sleazy Salesman

How do you leverage suggestive selling for your modern day consumer? Rebranding your sales team from sleazy to successful.

“The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is, you’re a salesman, and you don’t know that.” – Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Closing sales has never been more difficult than it is today. Remote selling is on the rise and your consumer’s buying and spending habits have shifted. This calls for a similar change in your sales mindset. 

But it’s no secret that changing the behavior and mindset of your entire sales team can be daunting. Behavior change starts from above – and that means with you. 

We’re here to help you retrain your team to be more confident, efficient, and motivated with a new perspective on sales closing techniques

This starts with throwing out the idea of the ‘sleazy salesperson’. Swap out this perspective in favor of sales excellence. Because, the thing is, sales excellence isn’t just a measure of your organization’s success – but the success of your individual sellers. 

To empower your team to do away with old habits, you need to start by mastering your traditional sales closing techniques and updating them to fit the needs, goals, and desires of your modern-day prospects. 

The face of sales has changed. For you and your team to keep up and be this new face of sales you need to rethink how you approach closing a sale. 

We’ve already talked you through the traditional techniques like the Assumptive Close or Alternative Close

What about suggestive selling? 

What is suggestive selling?

Suggestive selling, also known as up-selling or add-on-selling, refers to the practice of including add-ons to the buyer’s original purchase. 

For example, in restaurants you’ll often hear things like:

“I can recommend this white wine with your main course.”

“This side dish goes perfectly with your main.”

Or, if you’re more of a fast-food fan, “Do you want that supersized?” 

This closing technique makes a suggestion that will add on to the previous purchase, in order to drive more sales and customer loyalty.

Suggestive selling is so intrinsic in the hospitality sector because consumers are already in their ‘buying’ decision-making phase. 

In other words, you wouldn’t up-sell the penthouse suite to someone who wasn’t already staying at your hotel, would you?

This means you’re leveraging a soft-close (i.e., background suggestion) to facilitate your customer’s purchase behavior. Suggestive selling works well to close sales because your prospects are already customers. 

However,  it can often come across as ‘sleazy’ if you’re adding unnecessary purchases. Especially when a customer has already bought something!

That’s why it’s important to take this technique and adapt it. 

Suggestive selling vs. upselling

Suggestive selling prompts customers to try something they normally wouldn’t try. For example, when a waiter suggests a wine pairing for a meal, they’re building trust in their customers by being the source of knowledge buyers can consult for future purchases. 

Upselling, on the other hand, is a suggestion of an add-on that ultimately drives sales or profits. For example, if you and your date orders a glass of the same wine and the server suggests a whole bottle instead.  

This is where you need to see a difference when training your sales team in this technique.

To adopt a truly customer-centric suggestive selling strategy, you need to: 

  1. Learn what your customers buying goals are
  2. Provide tailored recommendations that will fit their individual needs 
  3. Time it right. Suggest a sale when your customer is experiencing hesitation, conflicting choices, or signalling their interest in an additional purchase. 

This is how to win the suggestive selling game and do away with the perception of being a sleazy salesperson. 

Suggestive selling and the death of the sleazy salesperson

Who do you think sells more in a less ‘sleazy’ way?

A. The Hanoi shoe shiners who are renowned for ‘fixing’ shoes after cleaning them, (although this wasn’t asked for in the first place)?
B. The Apple Store Support who help their customers decide which new phone to get, and use the opportunity to advise them on add-ons like dongles and phone cases?

Suggestive selling can only work if you enter into a conversation with your customer. You need to listen to their goals and provide them with the best recommendations. 

But that’s not the only way we’ve been able to rethink the sales closing game. 

Why does suggestive selling work?

In terms of driving buying behavior, there are a few tried and tested principles that show you why this closing technique is so efficient. 

1. Commitment and consistency

Your prospects are already buyers. This makes it much easier to convince someone who is already committed to your brand and products to sell them ancillary products or services to the original purchase.  

But, to leverage this behavioral theory properly, make sure you keep your customer’s budget in mind. 

Suggesting an additional purchase that is way out of your prospect’s price range can cause hesitation and, in some cases, resistance.  It can also make them suspect you weren’t properly listening when they communicated their needs. 

2. Authority 

Ever wondered why we tend to obey authority figures? Trust doctors in lab coats? Or buy more from big brand names for top-of-line products?

It’s a well-known psychological principle that building Authority as a brand will see your sales go a long way: 82% of customers are more likely to listen to the recommendations of an expert. 

Suggestive selling leverages this psychological bias. Meaning, it’s also up to you as the expert to build credibility and foster trust

So, to leverage this as a salesperson –

Be confident. When you have a positive attitude that what you’re selling fills a gap in your customer’s life, your optimism will be mirrored throughout the sales process. 

3. Making your products, services, or solutions stand out

Suggestive selling is a good opportunity to present more of your stack, inventory, or expertise to the customer. You can quite literally show off your brand and propose additional purchases in line with your buyer’s needs. 

According to the sales team at Sentry Equipment,

“A customer might not normally get this product or service, but because it is new, different, and exciting, they’re willing to give it a try.”

To properly leverage this, make sure you and your team know your products and service inside out. 

We’ll discuss more on how to do this later on. What you need to know for now is that applying suggestive selling only works if you can leverage:

  1. The features that differentiate your brand.
  2. The characteristics of what you’re selling that fit the buyer’s goals. 

Get started, get selling: Why is suggestive selling important? 

According to the CEO of Sullvision Jim Sullivan, suggestive selling will work anywhere between 58% and 72% of the time. 

If you can adopt the right skillset to turn suggestive selling from up-selling into a meaningful conversation, you’ll be on your way to sales excellence. 

It helps that you’ll also see some key performance indicators that prove suggestive selling is crucial to your business impact:

  • Increased average order value: In eCommerce, suggestive selling accounts for up to 31% of revenue on average (Barilliance)
  • Upselling generates a revenue boost of 10-30% (Groupon)

From your customer’s perspective, you’re removing the barrier for them to choose your other products, services, or solutions. 

Instead, they trust you to choose for them, giving you the opportunity to show off your knowledge as a salesperson. 

Of course, however, this mindset doesn’t come at the click of your fingers. Suggestive selling to the modern-day consumer requires a rethinking of your selling skillset. Doing away with bad selling habits. And bridging the ‘knowing by doing’ gap. 

Suggestive selling techniques: Scenarios for re-thinking

Scenario: You’re selling frozen yogurt with the option to have multiple toppings (so you’re a Froyo vendor! How do you apply suggestive selling in the right way?) 

Suggestive selling: What not to do

Prospect: Hi, could I have one natural yogurt with five chocolate toppings.

You: Sure, which toppings do you want?

Prospect: I’ll have M&Ms, dark chocolate, white chocolate, and chocolate nuts. 

You: Can I interest you in the almond chocolate topping as well?

Prospect: No thanks, that feels like too much chocolate. How much is it?

You: $2.99 plus toppings makes $5.12

Prospect: Can I pay by card?

You: Yes, you can. 

Although this may feel like a win (after all, you sold your product), there’s something severely lacking from this scenario.

Can you guess what that is? 

In fact, this conversation reflects a salesperson’s bad habit. It’s the kind of exchange that gives the suggestive selling technique a bad rep; i.e., ‘sleazy’. 

What do you do instead? To properly use this technique, consider re-doing this scenario. 

Suggestive selling: What to do instead

Prospect: Hi.

You: Hi there, what can I get you?

Prospect: Could I have one natural yogurt with five chocolate toppings?

You: Great choice, we have lots of fresh chocolate options today. Which ones do you prefer? 

Prospect: I’ll have M&Ms, dark chocolate, white chocolate, and chocolate nuts. 

You: Can I interest you in some fruit toppings to balance it out?

Prospect: No thanks, but you mentioned chocolate was fresh today...

You: Yes, I personally love to add chocolate sauce to everything. It’s only an added $0.50. 

Prospect: Sure!

You: Good choice. Would you like to pay by card or cash?

Prospect: Card, please. 

You: Next time we have chocolate toppings fresh in, I can email you if you like? All you have to do is sign up here. 

In this second scenario, not only are you promoting your brand more holistically, but you’re also encouraging the prospect to elevate their purchase with these add-ons. 

Plus, you’re considering: 

  1. The prospect’s budget
  2. Their chocolate preferences
  3. Your own personalized statements to build rapport
  4. The post-purchase journey by prompting customer loyalty

Taking this second scenario above, here are some tips you should do when carrying out suggestive selling in the future. 

From ‘sleazy’ to supportive: 4 Suggestive selling tips to retrain your behavior

1. Adopt a positive and likable attitude 

Your customer needs to like you. Your goal shouldn’t be to push your products or services to close that sale. But instead to build a rapport across the entire purchase journey.

There are plenty of ways to do this from the get-go, such as:

  • Making eye-contact
  • Smiling
  • Asking questions about their day-to-day
  • Greeting the customer 

In fact, a simple “Hi, can I help you?” can increase sales by 16%. 

Before you start leveraging the right skills to close sales with suggestive selling, you need to check your attitude:

Do you have the right mindset around sales?

Do you have the right persona?

Are you resilient and diligent in your closing techniques?

Are you goal-oriented and determined?

Check off these boxes before continuing. 

2. Have in-depth knowledge of what you’re selling 

Now that you have the right mindset, it’s time to start training your employees to understand your products inside-out. 

But to do this, you need to adopt a customer-centric approach:

  • What do your customers like about your products?
  • What features stand out to the customer?
  • What can you take from this to build your unique selling point?

Every buyer will respond to these questions differently. So it’s up to you to get personal and understand what it is about what you’re selling that appeals to your customers. 

With this, you can start to give product knowledge statements like:

“This scarf is actually one of our bestsellers and a personal favorite of mine. I think it compliments your outfit really well. Are you interested in purchasing it for an additional $9.99?”

3. Sell on value rather than product 

If you focus on your customer’s potential, you can begin to create meaningful opportunities. Remember, it’s not about pushing the purchase, but selling something that you believe could fill a gap in your customer’s life. 

To do this, look at the entire sales funnel and consider the buyer as an individual with a wealth of characteristics, pain points, values, and needs.

Then, add a customer-specific value proposition to your suggestive selling. This can look something like:

“Did you know that many brands lack sustainable options? To buy more sustainably in the future, you can sign up with us and we’ll give you free and exclusive access to our eco-friendly lines. All you have to do is leave your email and you can start your move towards more sustainable shopping. I know this is important to you, and we can lower the barrier for you to achieve this.”

For more training on advanced value selling, we’re here to help elevate your sales training and apply what you’ve learned in real life. 

4. Pick items that are relevant to the sale 

If your buyer already wants a Froyo full of chocolate toppings, does it make sense to add another chocolate topping? 

Maybe they want a fruit topping instead. Maybe – like in our scenario above – they do want more chocolate, not as a topping, but as a sauce. 

It’s likely your regular buyers may already know what they want. So acknowledge their choices, and try to sell them additions that will elevate their purchase and is in line with their previous purchase history. 

The art of suggestive selling

Your suggestive selling is part in parcel of your sales closing techniques. It’s been tried and tested and proven to efficiently increase your revenue, average order values, and create loyal customers that keep coming back.

So keep it in your toolkit – while modifying it to a new culture of sales. Today, the state of sales teams looks like remote selling, with buyers becoming wary of being sold too (hence the perception of the ‘sleazy salesman’). 

To do away with this bad habit, retrain your suggestive selling techniques. By permanently anchoring these new behaviors into your every day, you can continue to build the skills of your team, future-proof your organization, and – as ever – close more sales. 

Suggestive Selling 101: The Death of the Sleazy Salesman