Training Phone Reps to Upsell

Many call center reps see themselves as order-takers or processors or helpers, not as salespeople, and they can be fearful–and in some cases, downright negative–about selling. So the approach of teaching reps to “make the ask,” as fundraisers call it, instead of asking them to “sell,” often creates less resistance.

Instead of making big explanations, keep the training presentation as simple as possible, focused on product value and practicing the language you want them to use in the call. This is easiest to do if the trainer is truly comfortable with the concepts and the details. And specific body language, as demonstrated by the trainer and adopted by the reps in their practices, can actually make a difference by demonstrating openness and an absence of stereotypical pushy aggressive behavior than many people unfairly associate with sales.

Asking the question or asking for the offer can be accompanied by an open-arm posture and, open palm gesture. Emphasize that we’re not pushing or dragging or grabbing, but offering: We don’t want to force anyone off balance or make them feel under attack, we just want to invite them to come with us.

Get the reps to demonstrate the same openness of posture and gesture as they practice their dialogs and the entire process can feel more relaxed (goofy is okay too while you’re still in the classroom. It’s great to be able to break the tension that often accompanies upselling and the pressure for increased average order value).

A single session is rarely enough. Periodic product updates and sharing of successful techniques among the reps will help keep the people engaged and the offer delivery fresher. Some common rep concerns — about dealing with customer resistance and when it’s not appropriate to make an offer — can often be overcome by hearing how other reps were able to make offers successfully under similar circumstances.

Initiatives to increase AOV will also increase the number of things the management will be checking and that supervisors will have to deal with on the call center floor.

Because a successful add-on initiative results in impulse purchases, you may experience a somewhat higher rate of return. So factor that into your financial planning. And calls will take a little longer, so plan for this operational impact as well, in terms of both cost of call and the scheduling and staffing planning necessary to account for the extra call length.

Don’t try to counteract the increased call length by encouraging the reps to speed up, though–at least not in the beginning. Make sure they’re offering at every opportunity and that they sound engaging before you coach them to streamline their calls.

Similarly, don’t try to deal with the potential staffing issue by pulling back on the upsell process when too many calls are holding in the queue. It’s amazing how turning the reps off once can lead them to feel turned off permanently, so don’t discourage consistency and momentum.

You may be surprised to find that new reps are often more successful at rasing AOV than are experienced reps. This is counter intuitive if you’re thinking about product knowledge, comfort on the phone, facility with using the system, etc.

But new reps are also typically more compliant, and have fewer negative experiences to draw on, as well as often being more eager to please. So don’t just look at performance across the entire department; check your numbers to see if length of tenure has an impact so you can work with the various subgroups in a more targeted way.

Liz Kislik is president of Rockville Centre, NY-based Liz Kislik Associates, a management and customer service consultancy.