The Temple of the Upselling Masters

For the past seven days I have visited the Temple of the Upselling Masters and I have been humbled.

I am pretty darned good at helping clients increase the amount their customers buy in any given transaction. I regularly help clients dramatically increase their bottom-line profits by creating programs that “upsell” by providing additional products or services that help the customer.

But if you want to experience the work of the absolute masters, you need to spend a week on a cruise ship.

What NASCAR has done for racing, cruise ships have done for salesmanship by creating a positive buying environment. They sell lots of stuff. To top it all off, their customers love them for it.

Ask any successful salesperson and they’ll tell you that a vital key to success is to create a positive buying environment. Lose it and customers become unwilling to buy no matter what incentives you try.

So what exactly are the techniques that cruise ships use to not only create a positive buying environment, but to induce a buying frenzy? Here’s what I observed:

1. They change the environment. Salespeople for high-end business products have known for decades that clients behave differently over lunch or on a golf course than they do in their office. When you enter a cruise ship you enter a different world. It’s lavish and luxurious in the extreme. Your senses are flooded with beautiful sights and sounds. And this environment belongs to you for the next seven days. There is a definite sense that the rules are different here.

2. They remove you from direct contact with your money. At the start of the cruise, a personal account is set up. The plastic room key that gets you into your room also gives you unlimited access to shops, bars, the spa, and excursions. You never actually go into your wallet to buy anything. In fact, they won’t even take cash. You simply flash your pretty plastic card and things appear. I saw professional accountants lose track of how much they were spending.

3. They give away “free” food. Actually, what you are getting is food that was prepurchased when you bought your cruise. It is, however, never referred to that way. The food is always “free.” Would you like a second helping? Double desserts? A snack just before midnight? Go ahead. It’s free!

I watched one svelte woman enjoy three appetizers, two main courses and two desserts at dinner. I’m sure that is not her typical meal at home, but on board consumption is encouraged. What the heck! Go ahead. It’s not like you’re paying for it!

Of course the sense of abundance with food carries over into passenger’s attitudes towards experiencing and buying other things.

Now while the food is “free,” the soft drinks and alcoholic beverages are not. But don’t worry, just show your plastic card and they’ll get you whatever you want.

4. They provide a lot of distraction. Non-stop entertainment, live music, swimming pools, karaoke, trivia contests, and a huge big screen alongside the pool are just a few of the pleasant diversions. This creates a “fun” atmosphere free from the worries of the job or home. And when people are happy, they are more likely to say “yes” and spend more.

5. They give you permission to indulge. The mantra repeated over and over is, “Remember, you’re on vacation!” This is the green light to indulge in anything you desire from an extra dessert to a weeklong spa package.

The combination of these five factors creates a wildly positive buying environment. It is so strong that people happily tolerate a constant stream of upselling. Some examples:

– An hour-long massage in the spa ends with recommendations from the massage therapist for you to buy two tubes of gel for $105 to “help your body feel as good as it does right now.”

– The huge big screen alongside the pool has a constant scroll of purchase reminders running at the bottom of the screen.

– Add-on excursions for everything from scuba diving to horseback riding on the beach are offered for every port visited.

– Shopping, both in the on-board shops and at the affiliated stores on shore, is elevated to a professional level. These include live coaching sessions on finding the best deals – always at one of the affiliated stores. (Yes. I’m sure a promotional fee was paid.)

What was amazing was that instead of complaining about the constant reminders to buy, buy, buy, people loved it.

A very important balance must be achieved and maintained when upselling. If you don’t offer additional products or services, you leave money on the table that customers would have willingly spent with you. If upselling is done too often or too aggressively, it can annoy and alienate your customers.

When you create a very positive buying environment by loading on the food and fun of being on vacation, you can pour on the upselling with very few negative effects.

While leaving the ship on the final day, I was surrounded by people suffering from sticker shock. (You receive your statement just prior to leaving.) What impressed me was that despite the price tag, most people said they enjoyed themselves and were planning on coming back soon.

Many didn’t want to leave the ship.

What if you’re not in the business of running a cruise ship? Here’s how you can apply the lessons from the upselling masters to your business:

1. Create a positive friendly environment for your customers. The happier they are, the more they will want to do business with you.

2. Provide service that is well beyond expectations. This imbues your product or service with value that’s greater than the money your customer spends. You want them to be eager to buy your services or products because doing so is such a positive experience.

3. Offer an attractive array of additional products or services that make sense. Not everyone will avail themselves to these added items, but many will and that will increase your bottom line.

4. Realize, you are probably not upselling enough. That means you are leaving money on the table.

Do a little homework on your own. Take a week and go on a cruise. (No. I’m not kidding.) When you do, pay careful attention to what is happening and why it is happening. You will be watching the masters at work.

If you’re ready to add some additional upselling programs to your business, call Sentium. We’ll show you how you can increase your bottom line without having to increase your number of customers. If you want more customers, we can provide you with effective programs to do that as well. Call (800) 595-1288 to schedule a no-charge telephone appointment.

To your business success,


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Richard Wilson is the Founder/Chief Marketing Strategist for Sentium Strategic Communications which helps companies craft the right message for extraordinary results. Over the past 31 years, his clients have ranged from start-ups to major technology companies.
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