Upselling magazine subscriptions.

Training your order-takers to upsell customers is a basic sales technique. But some catalogers now have their customer service representatives (CSRs) sell magazine subscriptions on behalf of outside companies.

“It’s a win-win for all parties concerned,” says David Hochberg, spokesman for $240 million gifts cataloger Lillian Vernon. Order-takers at the Rye, NY-based mailer began selling magazine subscriptions last year. “For Lillian Vernon, it is an added source of revenue. For our CSRs, there’s a cash incentive to sell the magazine subscriptions. And for our customers, there is the benefit of buying magazine subscriptions at a discount.”

Neither Hochberg nor Rich Vogel, president of Stamford, CT-based magazine vendor NewSub Services, will discuss how much NewSub pays the cataloger for each subscription it sells. But another magazine vendor, Boca Raton, FL-based Triad Marketing Services, pays catalogers up to $4.50 for every customer they sign up, says CEO Irv Smolev.

For a cataloger like general merchant J.C. Penney, which has sold 1.8 million magazine subscriptions since starting the program in October 1998, the commissions can really add up. “We were a little skeptical at first,” says Len Leininger, president of J.C. Penney Telemarketing. “We weren’t sure how the customer would take to being solicited by the CSRs, but I would say it’s been a very positive experience thus far.” To encourage the reps to promote the subscriptions, Plano, TX-based Penney sponsors contests and rewards top sellers with cash prizes. Although he won’t disclose how much revenue the magazine subscription program has generated, Leininger notes that the proceeds help offset the operating expenses of Penney’s 14 call centers.

`Offer fatigue’ a threat

But opponents worry that having CSRs pitch offers from outside companies dilutes the cataloger’s brand and message. As one industry professional (who requested anonymity) puts it, “If a cataloger is going to sell merchandise, it should be its own catalog merchandise. Catalogers should not be in the business of being a third-party provider of somebody else’s products.”

And even Lillian Vernon’s Hochberg admits that one possible drawback of the magazine sales program is “offer fatigue” among customers who may tire from listening to repeated offers. But, he adds, Lillian Vernon trains its reps to abandon the magazine pitch upon any customer hesitation.

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