Cross Selling Shouldn't Be Crass


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The other night I phoned to activate a charge card, expecting it would take a minute or two, and I’d be on my way.

Instead, I was held hostage by a representative who immediately launched into a talk-a-thon about balance transfers and perhaps five more topics that had nothing to do with the purpose of my call.

If I didn’t interrupt, I might not have found the time to write this article.

Of course, I was being cross-sold, but it was being done so flagrantly, so crudely, and so insensitively, that even I, an ardent advocate of cross-selling (and up-selling-a kindred art), found the effort offensive.

What ticked me off about it?

(1) There was no attempt to weave this announcement into the fabric of the call. It came across simply as an impediment to keep me from getting what I wanted.

(2) It was a monologue, written as a one-way speech. The best speeches aren’t easy to write because they are built on the expectations, needs, and values of the audience. So, even if one person does all the talking, everyone feels involved. But a bad speech can be penned by anyone. Bad speeches sound selfish, like the banter of a five year old. Clearly, this talk-a-thon was written by someone who hasn’t a clue about communication.

(3) It was a bitter blast from the past. In the old days of telemarketing, it was common for representatives to do everything they could to keep people on the phone, even against their will. Every objection in the book would be either be ignored or crushed with a canned reply, and a high percentage of sales were consummated only after consumers were worn-down and felt they could resist no longer. Not wanting to seem rude, many buyers would dutifully listen, not out of interest, but because of politeness. These sorts of calls have been curtailed by the national Do-Not-Call Registry and accompanying legislation, but because I initiated the card activation call, and was technically an ongoing customer, the CSR was empowered to offend me, the old-fashioned, outbound telemarketing way.

There ARE alternatives to the techniques that were used on me. Cross-selling and up-selling can actually serve the interests of our customers by informing them about products and services that they might like to use.

There are several requirements for effective selling through customer service calls:

(1) The customer should feel, immediately, that his purpose for the call will be fulfilled, and that receiving great service isn’t contingent upon having to listen to a canned pitch. Only then, will he relax and be receptive to an offer.

(2) The cross-sold products or services need to seem relevant to the customer and to the purpose of the call. For instance, when I designed a cross-selling program for a famous camera company, we scoured a list of 38 auxiliary products for the ones that would be most attractive and fitting to callers. We settled on 3 of them, and our campaign was a spectacular success.

(3) The customer should ASK for the information, and not have it foisted upon him. This is where communication expertise is essential in crafting a sales presentation that is seamlessly woven into the conversation. A customer who ASKS to be sold will really persuade himself to buy, and doesn’t need to be pressured. Moreover, he’ll be happier with his buying decision because he’ll feel he made it voluntarily, and he’ll be less likely to back-out of the agreement later on.

In a word, great selling feels like buying to the customer. And if you have helped them to buy, and have made the process pleasant, fast, and easy, well, you’ve then performed great customer service, as well.

If there’s any trick to cross-selling and helping everyone to profit, that’s it!

Dr. Gary S. Goodman, President of, is a popular keynote speaker, management consultant, and seminar leader and the best-selling author of 12 books, including Reach Out & Sell Someone® and Monitoring, Measuring & Managing Customer Service. A frequent guest on radio and television, worldwide, Gary’s programs are offered by UCLA Extension and by numerous universities, trade associations, and other organizations in the United States and abroad. Gary is headquartered in Glendale, California. He can be reached at (818) 243-7338 or at: .


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