Upselling with Integrity: connecting authentically with your target market

upsellingI recently took a cold call from Comcast – the first cold call I’ve ever taken. With my two year contract just about up, I was interested in finding cheap deals moving forward. Here was the call:

Comcast: Hi Sharon. I’m Pete from Comcast, wanting to help you sort through your options with your TV programming since your current package expires in December.

SDM: Pete, my first name is Sharon-Drew, never Sharon. Always both names, ok? Thanks. I was going to call you anyway. My free HBO and Showtime are expiring. Can you tell me how much will it cost me once they go up? Is there a different 2 year plan I can sign up for that would keep my rate about the same?

Comcast: Well, Sharon, I…

SDM: Excuse me, Pete. Sharon-Drew. My first name is Sharon-Drew.

Comcast: Um, ok. Well. I’m glad you asked. Given what you’ve got now, I think I can actually upgrade your programs and still save you money. We have a package that does X. It will give you XYZ, similar to what you have now with two added channels, but costs less.

SDM: What’s the downside? What do I gain? Lose?

Comcast: Everything is exactly the same, except you’ll get two more channels and pay less.

SDM: Exactly the same? Cheaper? More programs? Cool.

Comcast: Yup. Exactly the same and cheaper. I can send you the paperwork, and you can see for yourself.

He then texted me a link to a contract to pay; within the contract was another link to details. I clicked and noticed inconsistencies.

SDM: This is more expensive! You’ve unbundled each feature and charged separately, so I’d pay $45 more than if I just let my current deal expire in December.

Comcast: Everyone pays for those things. You couldn’t have Comcast if we didn’t offer those features.

SDM: That’s not what I said; and you’re making the argument murky. You said it would be the same and cheaper with two new channels. But it’s not cheaper; services are unbundled and charged out individually on top of the quoted rate, causing me to pay more than I would with my next contract. Sounds like you’re lying to me or at least trying to muddle the facts so it just appears that I’d be saving money. What am I missing?

Comcast: Silence. Silence. Click.

As my provider, as the company/behemoth to whom I give thousands of dollars annually, Comcast owes me honesty, no? And aren’t they big enough to not try to dupe customers who would have pressed ‘Pay’ without reading the ‘fine print?’ Surely lying can’t be the preferred avenue to successful upselling, although I’m sure sometimes sales folks ‘do whatever it takes’ to get the commission without the sanction of their supervisors. In this case I actually redialed Comcast and said I wanted to renew my plan. When the seller looked up my account, she did exactly what the first guy did – same promise, same spiel, same text/link. Sadly it seems Comcast is training their reps this way.


As vendors, our job is to serve our clients and customers; our products are the path to serving, so we’re a ‘customer service company that provides web design services,’ or a ‘customer service company that provides financial services.’ As such, answering questions and solving problems are part of the promise implicit in a purchase. [PERSONAL NOTE: Any time we betray our clients’ trust and don’t deliver on the promise inherent in their purchase, and any time we lie to our customers, they have the right to choose another provider who will be honest.]

One of our services is letting customers know when we develop an upgrade; our success at upselling depends on how we connect to inform them.

Who is a suitable buyer? There are two inbuilt problems:

  1. The only customers who will buy an upgrade are happy customers who already trust us and have taken us into their daily lives and habits. [Customers who don’t like our solution or don’t trust us will never buy again and aren’t prospects for upselling. Remember that, when designing customer support programs like help desks and call centers.]
  2. In the homes and offices of happy customers, our solution/service has become habituated; clients have developed a system of people, policies, behaviors, or habits that are in place when using the product and they’re doing very well, thanks.The problem is not in convincing them to buy a bigger/better add-on because it’s, well, bigger/better, but to help them figure out how to manage whatever change and disruption the upgrade would require.For example, if users are happily using the software they bought from you, they’d need to… to what? Take additional training and incur downtime? Face disruption that would carry a cost? Maybe buying newer services could cause more downside than upside. By merely focusing on features and functions, the real problem is overlooked: the focus of their objection is change.

The fact that they will be ‘better’ with an upgrade is most likely accurate, but beside the point. We each ‘know’ we’d be better if we stopped smoking/lost weight/jogged/meditated/were kinder, etc. But knowing isn’t the point. The problem is the change – the time, disruption, confusion, political or relationship risks, etc. – involved in altering an established pattern. (Note: I’ve coded the steps to congruent change to help you understand what buyers must do before they can buy.)

When we introduce and describe our new solutions, when we focus on introducing and pitching the value of our solution, we ignore the biggest factor that inhibits buying: as outsiders we can’t know how the purchase would affect the buyer’s environment and use routines – the relationships, politics, time factors, etc. – which may change, or might be perceived to change, with an upgrade. Before they buy, they must understand the extent of any disruption to determine if it’s worth it to them: a trouble-free working environment and nominal cost supersedes need. Remember: they find the current version ‘good-enough’ as it is; they have people and policies in place and have factored in the costs and resource. Habit and status quo may supersede benefits.

I’ve got a story. IBM was seeking local users of an old OS to place a new Beta test version, with a goal of visiting, testing, questioning, etc. There was a possible user right down the road and IBM was eager to enlist them. But three different sales reps tried to engage this user to no avail. Nope, we’re happy. Yes, our current OS is very slow and we understand this new, free, one would make our jobs easier and workflow faster. Nope. We don’t want the beta.

Since I was already there running a Buying Facilitation® training they asked me to try. The phone call follows:

SDM: My name is Sharon-Drew Morgen and I’m calling from IBM. Is this a good time to speak?

CUSTOMER: Sure. How can I help you? [Note: I was fascinated that just about everyone took a cold call from IBM.]

SDM: I am following up from my colleague’s call re giving you a free beta OS, and I heard that you’re really happy using the OS you’ve got in place now. Seems it’s working really well for you and you don’t seem to mind its speed.

CUSTOMER: It is slow. But we like it.

SDM: What’s stopping you from considering adding more speed to the one you’re using now?


SDM: Excuse me? Dad? What does that mean?

CUSTOMER: We’re a Mom and Pop shop. My dad is the Pop. He’s 75, and will be retiring next year. He’s in charge of the technology, and he’s not as sharp as he once was. We’re not going to add anything to his plate, and wait til he retires to upgrade whatever we need to.

SDM: Ah. That makes sense. I wonder how hard our new OS is to learn or use. I could find out. What would you and Dad need to know to be willing to experience whether or not the new OS would be simple enough, just in case there came a time when you wanted to accommodate all your new users?

CUSTOMER: I’d need to know that Dad would have no difficulty or confusion, and it would be easy and seamless to implement with no glitches.

SDM: We happen to have a functioning beta site for this product right down the street from you. Would you and Dad be willing to join me and visit them to try it out? Then, if Dad likes it and you find it more efficient, we could then discuss you being a possible beta site for us?


It all went well, IBM got a new Beta test site and the customer got a free upgrade. It’s not about an upgrade; it’s about their readiness for change. And as outsiders, we can never know where a ‘Dad’ is and have no opportunity to lead them through a different decision.

Convincer and information strategies close the low hanging fruit. Each customer has unique ‘givens’ that have created and maintained their status quo; they’re not ‘stupid buyers’, they just must manage their own internal integrity. And the conventional sales approach assumes that the features, functions, and benefits will convince them to buy, ignoring the ‘how’ or ‘if’ or ‘why’ or ‘when’ to handle any disruption caused to their system by addiing a new element to their status quo with no route to address change for what’s already in place.

In summation:

  1. The target audience consists only of those who are happy using the solution they purchased (and that those who don’t would most likely never buy anything more);
  2. Conventional sales merely closes the low hanging fruit – those ready, willing, and able to manage any change inherent in an upgrade. Do blanket outreach with questionnaires, surveys, contests, prizes, to find these ready buyers, or find creative ways to target them specifically.
  3. It’s possible tofacilitate buyersthrough their change process, as in the Dad story above, and broaden the buyer base.

What is the suitable vehicle? There are certainly several ways to facilitate upselling with integrity. When customers call in, ensure an integrous connection with someone or something in your company; provide a wonderful opportunity to exhibit respect and care. Each vehicle requires a different approach but includes the goal of facilitating change and managing the change-over to new routines.


Cold Calling with Integrity: Happy customers have more of a willingness to take a call. Use this as an opportunity to serve them by facilitating change. I designed Buying Facilitation® to specifically facilitate the buyer’s steps of change and decision making; or design your own unique Change Facilitation model that quickly helps them think through routes to managing any disruption, and adds product pitch once the customer is ready. Remember: unless a prospect can positively address their change, use, and habituation issues, they will not buy regardless of need or the strength of your solution.

Email outreach: Current email blasts focus on introducing reasons to buy the upgrade. It’s possible to add ‘implementation features’ or ‘ways to get your cell phone recycled’, or ideas to mitigate whatever change your particular solution might incur. For this I recommend you research the routines and issues current customers face when using your solution. When researching this for my clients, I call several existing happy customers and ask the ‘how’ of their routines, and I include the Facilitative QuestionWhat would keep you from adding an upgrade to what you’re currently doing successfully?


Help desk: Currently, help desks suck. With a focus on time rather than service, we get customers enraged and frustrated. This is a wasted opportunity. When working with Quest years ago, we taught the reps to help customers figure out how and if an upgrade would serve them; we brought the help desk upgrade rate from $300 a month to $2100 a month per rep.

Tech support: See above: this is a great opportunity to serve. You’re wasting it by keeping people on hold and passing customers from pillar to post. Have ONE person own the incident to minimize the annoyance factor and use a Change Facilitation approach while on the phone. A great venue for upselling.

On-line chat: Reprogram responses to avoid the disrespect and annoyance that keeps customers from using this feature. Again, it can be a great opportunity for upselling if used correctly.

These are merely an introduction to ideas for more robust upselling. It’s possible to upsell a lot more than you’re now selling. Good luck.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is the developer of Change Facilitation models, including Buying Facilitation®, an addon to sales that leads buyers through their Pre-Sales steps to a purchase to enable Buyer Readiness. As an original thinker, she has written 9 books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon-Drew trains, speaks, consults, and coaches in the areas of sales, coaching, leadership, communication, change, buy-in, and influencing. She can be reached at Her award winning blog has original articles and essays.

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