One of the first rules I learned when I was starting out in the work force was: “Don’t just sell the burger, sell fries, a drink and the apple pie, too!” In other words, don’t just sell the core item for a project; sell as many extras as you can. Selling extras, or “add-ons,” is sound business, but unless you are clear about what you’re selling and why, you may be missing out on potential sales – or even alienating your customers.
People typically experience add-on products in two ways. First, you go to a nice steak restaurant and the waiter asks if you would like a drink, appetizer, side dishes, coffee and dessert. Or, you go to the movies and buy popcorn and a soda on the way into the theater. The core purchase was a steak or a movie, but to get the complete experience (and more fun), you added on.
The second experience, on the other hand, feels quite different. You find something advertised at a really great price, go to buy it and get a salesman pushing a bunch of required extras. Maybe it’s not exactly a “bait and switch,” but that’s the feeling you get. As a result, you end up unhappy with the experience and the seller.
Add-ons are great for generating additional profit, but the fear – or reality – of our customers having an experience like the second example often inhibits success. This is why simple add-ons — such as soap dispensers or air switches – are easy to incorporate, but bigger items like towel warmers and steam are a challenge. Getting beyond the basics requires you to think and plan a lot more.
Ironically, the reason we like add-ons – the potential for added profits – is often also the stumbling block to selling them. As owners and managers, we see the benefit of selling more to the same client, but we need to remember that our sales staff is having a different experience. They spend significant time explaining products and working through choices. After an hour or two of this, presenting yet another product is difficult and may even endanger the sale. So the order of the master bath ends up closed with the towel bars but without the towel warmer.
Some sales managers tell me their staff is motivated to sell high-profit add-ons because they are paid on profit margin. Yet those same managers told me that most of the add-ons they sell are the simple ones.
While it may seem strange, money alone is a weak motivation. If your staff is uncomfortable with an add-on item, either because they don’t understand it or don’t think the customer wants it, then the promise of increased profit will likely not be enough to get them to attempt the sale. They fear the feeling of being perceived as a pushy salesperson or of losing the customer’s trust, so they stick with the core products they are most comfortable with.
So what is wrong with just focusing on your core products? If you do well and have a busy showroom, why risk introducing add-on items? Isn’t doing everything right enough to keep customers coming back?
Consider this: You have an employee who shows up every day, does the job and meets basic sales goals. The employee is nice, follows the rules and doesn’t cause problems. You’re probably glad to have this person in your employ, but are you moved to give the person a big bonus or think of him or her as invaluable because the person does just what you expect? Probably not.
Well, if you do only what your customer expects of you, and no more, that customer may be satisfied, but they won’t be impressed. We remember people and things that stand out, that offer something extra. Being good isn’t good enough. You may lose customers to other showrooms that do go the extra mile to impress. Smart use of add-ons is a great way to offer an extra level of detail that will get your customers’ attention.
Just like with the steak dinner, clients not only want some extras, they need them to get the complete experience (and the maximum fun). By holding back on add-on options, you are failing to present the client with an opportunity for the best, most complete result possible.
Someone once told me, “Money flows from good situations.” When offering add-ons, think from a perspective of improving the customer experience.
Of course your staff must think this way as well. A constant challenge is dealing with salespeople who sell based on their own budget or preferences. They are uncomfortable offering towel warmers or steam or expensive accessories because they themselves either can’t afford them or don’t see the value in these things, and they assume the customers share that view. And if salespeople are uncomfortable with a product, it’s unlikely they will sell it.
It’s critical that your sales team have detailed knowledge of the products they are selling. Additionally, they must discover what extras will meet their customer’s unexpressed needs. What are the add-ons that will best enhance the project and complete the experience?
Product knowledge training is the easier of the two elements, as most team members expect to learn the details of the products they sell. Learning how to talk to customers to discover their unexpressed needs is a bit more of an art. Try brainstorming with staff first about how to talk with customers to identify an unexpressed need.
For example, a woman comes in at 4:30 looking for a kitchen sink and says she just got off work and only has a little time before she has to pick up her kids. Immediately you know that she works, has children who are probably too young to drive and likely doesn’t have much extra time. A little further probing will reveal that she’s looking for ways to save time (instant hot water) or make the kitchen more efficient (sink accessories) or protect her children’s health (water filtration).
The knowledge you gain from conversations like these allows you to offer add-on products that will create a more personalized experience for the client. As a result, she can leave knowing you are paying attention to her and not just selling sinks.
Good salespeople love a challenge, so asking your sales team to think creatively about these products is a much better way to get them to approach the sale than just talking about profit. You might even make a friendly competition of it. Once your team understands and believes in the potential of add-ons to customize the project, they will sell with enthusiasm.
Giving your people good tools is also required for success with add-ons. The old adage, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” is still true. People buy more from emotional connection than logic, and good interactive displays are a critical element.
It is one thing to tell someone about how nice it is to have warm towels after a shower, but use a heated towel rack to warm their coat on a cold day and you make a connection you can never describe with words.
Good displays also help to remind your staff about products and, more importantly, these help start the conversation. In our showroom, we have a working steam display, heated towel racks, a bubble water dispenser and a working Vedana display. We turn on the steam (with aromatherapy), serve bubbly water and offer a warm towel to dry wet hands. Finding these functioning products surprises our clients and gets people talking. We learn more about them and they remember us.
While offering add-ons is certainly a plus, we must be thoughtful about what kinds of things we add to our showrooms. During the Great Recession when we were all looking for ways to increase sales, many plumbing showrooms started adding things like lighting, tile or appliances and saw mixed results. It’s tempting to think that because these are installed alongside the plumbing, your team will be able to easily add them to the order. The truth is, salespeople see these out-of-category additions as opportunities to make mistakes and lose a sale. So before you take on an out-of-category product, ask yourself: How will this category allow my sales team to offer customers a better experience with us?
We all continue to see increased competition from many sources and we’re all faced with finding ways to stay ahead of the pack. Offering thoughtful add-on products shows your attention to detail as well as your focus on the client. Don’t just be good, be the one they remember. ▪
Kate Brady is director of showrooms for General Plumbing Supply, where she oversees the operations of five showrooms in northern California. She also is a past president of the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association and remains as an active member of the DPHA Board of Directors.