How To Motivate Your Staff To Upsell Your Customers

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Suggest-Sell promotions, or upselling is something as simple as asking, “Do You Want Fries With That?”

While many businesses, specifically restaurants encourage their sales staff to promote extra items like desserts to customers, most waiters/waitresses and sales reps fail to really push them effectively. This of course is a big shame, because getting customers to buy one extra item can translate into 10%-20% increase in order value… The more you make, the better off everyone is… The customer gets a better experience, the sales rep earns his keep, and the business remains profitable and healthy, etc…

A great story Jeff Slutsky relates is… A restaurant that couldn’t seem to motivate his staff to suggest-sell banana cream pie desserts, even though everyone loved them. So, the owner ran a hilarious and awesome contest,“The Server who sold the most banana cream pies in one month would win one banana cream pie- To Throw In The Owner’s Face!”

As I’m sure you could imagine, the restaurant increased dessert sales that month by 50%, and the residual effect was a 20% increase in dessert sales overall.

Just think about the Return on Investment from this one promotion. For the cost of one wholesale banana cream pie, and the dry cleaning of a suit, the restaurant added thousands of dollars in profits each week.

Of course the employees had a great time with it, The Key Factor Is…”They Didn’t Feel Like They Were Being Pressed To “Push” Something. They Enjoyed it and the Customers Enjoyed It WIth Them.” 

In fact, if I was in the restaurant and the server told me about the contest, I would probably order extra banana cream pies to take home just so my server could win.

I wonder what kind of wacky fun promotions you could come up with to motivate your staff?!

Another great strategy is the mystery shopper approach. It’s simple. Obvisouly you start by encouraging your employees to upsell an item. Than, you send in a mystery shopper to the store. If the employee upsells the mystery shopper, you hand them a $50 bill on the spot. If they fail to upsell, you hand them a note saying they just missed out on a $50 bill, but will have other chances. You can be sure that your employees will Suggest-Sell your customers. It will also get the employees talking to each other, creating excitement around upselling, keeping everyone engaged and happy.

How do you choose the right product to upsell?

Well, you need to identify a product or service that is high margin, low cost, and has broad appeal. Then, give the customers a reason to buy it on the spot. Remember, once a customer trusts you enough to buy from you… you overcame the biggest challenge, and now all you need to do is suggest an upsell, and probably 50% of the people will buy it.

Remember, Smart Businesses Make Sales To Find Customers. Customers who will keep on buying more and more from you. Don’t miss out on your most valuable asset, your happy and satisfied customers.

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About David Melamed

David Melamed is the Founder of Tenfold Traffic, a search and content marketing agency with over $50,000,000 of paid search experience and battle tested results in content development, premium content promotion and distribution, Link Profile Analysis, Multinational/Multilingual PPC and SEO, and Direct Response Copywriting.


  1. I liked your article and the suggestions for motivating staff to upsell. I’m starting to have a conversation with my staff at my coffee shop about upselling. One of the question I’m trying to answer for myself and my staff is ‘why upsell’? I understand the revenue benefits from it. I find some staff aren’t too understanding about the revenue benefits to the company or to their paycheck. They see it as taking money out of the customers wallet. They see it as trying to get someone to buy something they didn’t originally want.
    What’s the benefit to the customer?

    • Hi Ron,

      Sorry for the delayed response. The issue you bring up is even one I myself struggle with. In a purely logical world, the answer is simple, it’s the customers choice, and if they buy the upselled product, its because they value it more than the money they are spending. Unfortunately, you are dealing with an emotional challenge colored by guilt by your staff based on their own financial circumstances. I don’t have a good quick fix answer for this other than find staff that doesn’t suffer from this, or find a way to package it not as an upsell, but an opportunity to give customers more enjoyment. (i.e. showing them how to pair pastries with coffee orders the same way restaurants pair dishes with wines as an upsell. Alternatively, if you ran a banana split contest, like mentioned in this post, I bet the customer would love to help the staff get to cream their boss with a dessert…so, them just telling the customers about the contest, can easily alleviate the guilt they feel.)

  2. Marianna Elizabeth Beavis says

    Having worked in retail for two years, I can really appreciate this post. I worked in a bookstore about for about 6 months of the year, we would be mystery shopped and would always have a certain task of the month to complete. Generally that would be up-selling. I remember that my least favourite of those was asking people if they would like to buy a bookmark when they were making a purchase. I personally struggled to make up-selling enjoyable for both myself and the customer and it would just come off awkward because I hated being up-sold to and that would translate, as I basically already expected the customer to say no. I also disliked the pressure of having to ask every customer this in case they were the mystery shopper, to the point where I only did it when the manager was around, and every other time I would just ‘forget’. Now, if there was some kind of motivation, I would have been a lot more enthusiastic about it, even if it was something as small as a can of coke, which might sound a little absurd, but that’s just me. What you’ve described sounds like an amazing way to encourage the staff and I too would probably buy extra if they told me what was going on, because who doesn’t want to give another person the opportunity to throw a pie at someone? It really is something I believe more business should take into account, because you could turn what is a great displeasure for staff into an enjoyment.

  3. I am a manager at an express DMV. We are privately owned and pride ourselves on our speed and great customer service. When we are hiring, we do not hire “sales people” but still expect our employees to up-sell. However, I seem to be having the hardest time getting my team motivated (my team is between the ages of 19-30). I have offered rewards upon rewards. Anywhere from a coffee at the end of the week to a feast at the end of the month, company “bucks”, real bucks, gift cards, etc. But they do not seem to care. They try for a few days and then it tapers off. I can not tell where the issue lies.
    Yes, many conversations have been had with the team to find out why they find it so hard to ask for that extra sell but nothing conclusive or anything to suggest what would motivate them long-term.
    What is the Key???

    • My guess is they don’t believe the customer needs the upsell, or they are afraid they cannot afford it – so they feel guilty pushing it.
      I dont know the solution, but maybe work on ways to have the employees feel like the customer appreciates the upsells – and they will naturally recommend it.
      It may also be a function of hiring the right people. Good luck.


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