What Is Suggestive Selling? Techniques, Benefits, and Examples

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If you're a business-to-consumer retailer and small business owner, you're probably interested in strategic ways to increase revenue, boost profit margins, and enhance customer satisfaction. One way to do this is through suggestive selling, a sales tactic recommending additional products or services. Suggestive selling increases average order value, supports inventory management, and increases long-term customer loyalty.

In this article, we'll discuss what suggestive selling entails, resources to equip your staff, benefits, and key metrics to track.

What is suggestive selling?

Suggestive selling is a sales tactic meant to boost revenue, increase average order value, build customer trust, and cultivate long-term customer loyalty. For small businesses, improving revenue is mission–critical, and suggestive selling encourages customers to add adjacent products or services to their purchase.

Similar to the concepts of cross-selling and up-selling, a suggestive sale might include a supplemental item or service.* For example, if a customer purchases a bottle of wine, your sales employee might recommend a corkscrew or wine glasses. When sales employees are well-versed in suggestive selling, it comes across as a seamless, helpful suggestion.

Not only does suggestive selling increase revenue for small business owners, but it also helps build a long-term, high-quality customer relationship. Recommending an adjacent product shows you understand their purchasing needs and also creates a more delightful experience.

Why is suggestive selling important?

Suggestive selling can be a seamless, smooth process between your employees and customers. Take a look at why suggestive selling is essential, especially for small to midsize retailers.

Increased revenue

Suggestive selling increases revenue in many ways, from increasing a customer's average order value to boosting overall monthly sales. Plus, skilled employees can even generate upsell, which is when a customer ends up purchasing a higher-priced project product than originally planned.

Increased customer satisfaction

If your sales employee provides a truly wonderful recommendation, customers walk away from their purchase happier and more satisfied. Your small business can differentiate from competitors by providing excellent recommendations and garnering appreciation and trust from your ideal customer base.

What are some effective suggestive selling techniques?

Especially if you're just diving into suggestive selling, you might feel overwhelmed at exactly how to implement and get started. Take a look at some effective suggestive selling techniques.

Graphic depicting techniques for Suggestive Selling Techniques

Get to know your customers

The best way to make a strong recommendation that actually enhances customer satisfaction is to get to know your customers. Understand the problem they're trying to solve, and get to know exactly what they're using the product for. For example, the customer buying a bottle of wine for a dinner party with middle-aged adult friends is very different from a young millennial buying takeout and wine for a self-care night.

Offer sales, bundles, and special discounts

Through suggestive selling, make it a good deal for your customer. For example, try discounting or bundling common suggestive sales you make with the original purchase. In the wine purchase example, offer a 20% discount on the corkscrew and make sure they are physically right next to the wine aisle.

Use customer reviews to your advantage

Most people search online for reviews before making a purchase, so prioritize getting positive reviews from your happiest customers. Incentivize people to leave a review with a call out on a physical receipt, or for an online purchase, send a follow-up email asking for a review on your website.

Once you have these positive reviews, you can utilize them in a variety of ways. Pin social media reviews at the top of your profile, or embed digital reviews on product pages on your e-commerce site. You can even get creative and physically print in-store signage featuring customer reviews.

Provide product knowledge

Another way to make your small business stand out is to provide expert product knowledge. For example, if a young millennial is browsing the wine aisle, it's helpful to provide guidance for rich, full-bodied red wines and introduce her to new varieties. Showcasing product knowledge to customers helps your sales team feel confident in recommending adjacent products.

Offer personalized suggestions

Once you've truly gotten to know your customers and understand what problems they're trying to solve, it's significantly easier to offer personalized suggestions. Based on age, gender, demographics, and more, your sales team can provide strategic recommendations with products that go hand in hand.

What are the benefits of suggestive selling?

When implemented and executed well, suggestive selling techniques benefit both business owners and customers. Check out some of the benefits of suggestive selling below.

Increased revenue

The biggest benefit of suggestive selling is the overall boost in revenue. Customers end up buying more than they originally planned, but not in a salesy or manipulative way. They simply walk away with additional goods or services that complement what they originally intended to buy. For your business, this helps sell higher-priced inventory, increase overall sales, move inventory quicker, and sell low-price products that maybe wouldn't sell well on their own. Move inventory quicker, and sell low-price products that might not sell well on their own.

Increased customer satisfaction

Especially when you or your sales team can make a truly excellent product recommendation, overall customer satisfaction is higher. Buyers have an enjoyable purchasing experience and begin to see your business as an expert in your space. Customers will also appreciate guidance and recommendations, leading to more long-term purchases and positive referrals to friends and family.

Key metrics for suggestive selling

If you decide to implement suggestive selling in your business, monitor and track the below key metrics to see how your new strategy is performing.

Average Transaction Value (ATV)

The most important metric to track is the average transaction value (ATV) or average order value (AOV). This calculation divides your total revenue by the total number of transactions. For example, if your business generates $50,000 in revenue monthly from 1,000 individual customer purchases, your average order transaction value is roughly $50.

For example, maybe your customer's average transaction value is $25. After implementing suggestive selling for over a month, your customer relationship manager or e-commerce platform shows a new average transaction value of $42. When you look at sales data, you can see that customers are purchasing a higher quantity of products within a single order.

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) Metrics

If you're an online retailer, monitoring your conversion rates throughout your sales funnel is critical. From page views to cart abandonment rate to bounce rate and revenue per visitor, there are a handful of different metrics you'll want to measure.

  • Cart abandonment rate

  • Average order value

  • Website bounce rate

  • Revenue per visitor

  • Product page conversion

  • Customer lifetime value

Suggestive selling examples

Here are a few suggestive selling examples that might spark ideas for how to implement this sales tactic in your business.

For fashion retailers

For clothing retailers, employees could suggest a discount on a beach towel and sandal bundle to accompany a new swimsuit purchase. Perhaps you could incentivize returning customers with a complementary product based on what they purchased last time.

For food and beverage retailers

Suggestive selling might include strategically grouped items like wine, corkscrews, and wine glasses. In grocery stores, it might be smart to include all the necessary ingredients for a recipe in one area with a recipe card. Think of similar items that go together, like meats with certain spices or rubs or popular snack choices like chips and salsa.

For service-based businesses

In a service-based business, employees can suggest complementary services. For example, a hair salon might suggest a conditioning treatment or recommend a new shampoo at the end of your visit. For a local HVAC business, a technician might offer a winter prep bundle to clean out your heater after visiting for maintenance.

Implement suggestive selling in your retail business

As an effective sales strategy, suggestive selling can increase revenue and boost overall customer satisfaction. By truly understanding your customer's needs and challenges, you can make strategic recommendations that enhance both their purchase and your bottom line. Get creative with recommendations that feel natural and honest, such as bundling seasonal items for a discount.

To get started, take a look at your average monthly sales, average transaction value, and online conversion rates. Establish a baseline, and monitor performance after you've implemented suggestive selling. Metrics like average transaction value, cart abandonment, and revenue per visitor can help you assess the success of your new techniques.

To increase your business revenue and enhance your customers' satisfaction, take a look at some resources below to learn more about leveraging different selling tactics and platforms.

Survey methodology

*Software Advice's 2023 Business Structure Survey was conducted in April 2023 among 244 U.S. respondents to learn more about sales strategy and framework, and challenges faced by sales leaders. Respondents were screened for a business development or sales role in a business with 1,000 employees or fewer.