Thursday, December 5, 2019

Kinder, gentler upselling


Sierra 18-7945 marine fuel-water separator filter Nautical Elements
Sierra 18-7945 marine fuel-water separator filter

Around 2005 the marine industry got hit with an entirely unexpected problem: the consequences of using and storing ethanol-blended gasoline.  Boaters in the US Northeast are typically lucky if they can use their boats six months of a year, leaving the poor boat freezing and out of the water for the other six months.  Following time-honored practice, most boaters completely fill their fuel tanks at the start of the winter, on the premise that to do so avoids the problem of condensation.  But ethanol-blend gasoline absorbs water like it’s meant to; and the chemical bonds between the petroleum and the water-based ethanol compound will break down in as little as 6-8 weeks.  Thus these boaters can be left with 150 gallons of dissolving fuel that will yield truly rotten performance, if it will even serve at all, till they’ve used it all up - which, if they continue to pour new fuel into any remnant of the old, affected fuel, can last forever.

Upon discovering this, I learned everything I could about the technical aspects of ethanol-blend gasoline, especially about how it pertains to the boater.  And every time I encounter a customer complaining about stalling, balking, missing, hard starting, I ask him about his fuel-water separator filters.  About half of them look at me with a blank, unknowing stare.  So I show them to the section of the store, and explain the (relatively cheap and easy-to-install) fuel-water separators, explaining why they’re important.

I’ve never considered that this constitutes ‘upselling’.  Indeed my goal is not to get more money out of the guy while he's standing in the store but to help enrich his pleasure-boating experience.  But the numbers don’t lie: most of them buy the parts (about $45.00) from me and took my advice about changing the filters (about $7.50, three or four times a season), and return with gratitude and relief.  ‘That solved it!’ they say.  ‘Nobody ever told me about that before.’  And I earn another confident and loyal customer.

Effective upselling isn’t about the seller’s needs; it’s about the buyer’s.  Consider how many times you’ve gone to buy something and the salesperson suggests adding some item that has nothing to do with it, simply because that’s what they’ve got on sale this week.  This impersonal treatment will annoy customers, who may fear they’re being treated like open wallets on the table.  But sincere, focused, practical advice, coming from an informed salesperson who has listened to the customer, has correctly ascertained his problem, and can promote the appropriate product or service to directly and succinctly address the customer’s real needs, will always be welcome - and, in my experience, will always result in the customer’s return to the store (with his wallet).

I’ve found that, as the salesperson, it becomes almost like a game between these customers and me - John helped solve one problem; can I stump him with the next one?  But if you’ve been in the business as long as I have, you’ll be able to take on the next dilemma with confidence and good cheer; and the customer will again reward you - really only pay you the respect you deserve - by granting you his regular business.

Technical customer service is one of my pet areas for sharing ideas and developing sound strategies.  Call me; and we'll see how we can improve your customers' experience when they're calling on you.

- JC2

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