Nobody Buys “Product”

Here’s an uncharacteristically short post prompted by a well-meaning, but unfortunate exchange at my local Starbucks. Note: I was going to hide the name of the organization, but I realized that the narrative details that follow would identify the organization anyway.

Here’s What Happened:

A few minutes ago I sauntered (yes, I occasionally saunter) up to the service counter to place my order. Before I could request my usual summer beverage (black iced tea- unsweetened, in case you are curious), the effervescent and paradoxically bashful Barista offered a free sample of some drink. It was an iced concoction featuring their VIA Ready Brew and I must admit it was pretty tasty. If I could be bothered to drink coffee at home, I might pick up a pack or two. At any rate, the Barista did a pretty good job of attempting the up-sell. I was completely convinced she was just casually mentioning how much she enjoyed the stuff- it didn’t feel like a sales pitch at all, which is kind of the point. Then with a single giggly, breathless sentence she shattered the illusion. She said something about how she was “so committed to the product.”

That little bit of corporate-speak was enough to remind me that this person was up-selling me. Without the illusion, my brain was ready to once again engage in critical thinking and engaging in an information search enabling me to mount a defense against what was clearly a persuasion attempt. I was suddenly reminded that this person wasn’t sharing a personal story out of a human desire to connect with another human being. She wasn’t so enamored with the taste (or other product features) of those little vacuum-sealed packets of flash dried coffee that she spontaneously broke out into testimony in front of a near-random stranger. She was doing exactly what she was told she had to do; up-sell every customer.

The Analysis

Look, I get it. I was in sales before. Always Be Selling is the name of the game and up-sells are among the easiest sales you are going to have. I also understand that selling is unpleasant for most people and if you don’t compel non-professional and un-commissioned sales staff to up-sell they probably won’t do it (I know I wouldn’t). However, nothing makes your customers feel more like ambulatory wallets than being bombarded by compulsory sales messages at every point of contact. So let’s be clear about what we do and do not know about up-selling in retail environments.

  • Issues
    • People don’t like being the target of persuasion attempts.
    • Saying “NO” is unpleasant for most people and makes our affect more negative than it was before we said it.
    • Organizations seldom want to be associated with negative affect (a lesson governmental organizations have failed to grasp).
    • Anything compulsory has negative impact on employee job satisfaction, commitment and engagement.
    • We don’t “know” that up-selling is actually pushing sales numbers higher. Is anyone performing experiments comparing sales figures from up-selling and non up-selling groups?
    • Conclusion
      • So, up-selling has known negative affective consequences on your customers and employees, but it has unknown potentially positive consequences on sales figures. Are executives comfortable with this?
      • If you are comfortable with this, you have no business being an executive. Do your shareholders a huge favor and retire immediately.

One Last Note

Real humans do not use the word “product” and neither should you. Many sales decisions are driven in large part by affective considerations. This is particularly true of smaller consumer transactions. When we buy coffee, cupcakes, candies, movies, books, video games, etc., we are not doing so as a result of a thorough analysis of product features and cost-benefit analysis. We make those decisions based on emotions and heuristic processing. The word “product” effectively strips all these intangible “value adds” from what you are selling. Unless you are on the factory floor and talking to other manufacturing employees, never ever use “product” to refer to the object of your marketing or sales effort.

Similarly, a sales person’s commitment to a product is uninformative as to the merits of said product. Though most people may not actually know that there are several types of commitment, we do have an understanding that people can be committed to things for a wide variety of reasons, few of which inform our decision to buy something from you. Don’t tell me you are committed to something. Tell me that you like it. Tell me you love it and your life before the product was but a shell of what it is now. Tell me you have never experienced anything like it and that your friends and family thank you every day for introducing them to this product. If you tell me you are “committed” to something you are effectively telling me that you are telling me about this because you have to.


~ by George Guajardo on July 5, 2010.

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