Aim High: The Bottom Line on Bottom-Up Selling

It’s always better to start at the top

By Rich Lindblom, YSN Contributor

I would be willing to bet that at least half of you out there are guilty of one of the biggest sins a retailer or salesperson can make — and I’ll be the first to admit I was guilty of it quite often in my dealer days. 

What is that sin?  It’s the sin of using a bottom-up selling technique instead of a top-down selling strategy.

Let’s face it: It’s very easy to take a customer straight to that $399 opening price point washer in your ad, but that’s not where the money is. The money is in the $999 or higher top-of-the-line piece. And I’m not just talking about the store owner; if you pay your sales staff on a commission basis, the odds are there’s more in it for them, as well, to step the customers up.

I call this bottom-up selling, and like I said, many people are guilty of it, largely because it’s the path of least resistance. It’s the easy way out.

Here’s the problem with bottom-up selling: Studies show that on average, a shopper at most will only move two to three steps from the starting point of their buying journey before arriving at a purchase decision. So, if you have a ten-product lineup and you begin at the bottom of the line, you won’t likely get past the fourth-lowest price tier in your lineup before the customer makes a choice. In that case, at best you are probably selling a $499 washer.

Instead, you and your staff need to be retrained to sell top down. Start at the highest-priced item and work your way down the line. Sure, it takes more work, but in the end it is well worth it. If you take that same ten-washer lineup and map out that journey using the same two- to three-step rule, your customer is far more likely to end up selecting a $699 to $799 washer instead of the $499 model.

I already know what you’re thinking: How do you overcome the objections of the customer who came in looking for a $399 washer? The trick is to engage them early in the process with a sales tactic like this:

Salesperson: “How old is your old washer?”

Customer: “xx years old.”

Salesperson: “I understand that you came here to see that $399 washer, but washers have changed quite a bit in the last xx years. There have been a lot of recent innovations, and if you can give me just a couple of minutes, I would love to show you what’s new.”

If you can get them to agree to that, you’re probably on your way to selling them a more expensive product than they originally intended to purchase. You may also be doing them a service, because when you get right down to it, appliance technologies are changing constantly, and most consumers don’t necessarily know what’s new and different in the marketplace. At the very least you’ll be giving them an education in the expanded capabilities of today’s better models. 

Yes, there are going to be some people who will resist your suggestion, and with those individuals you need to tread carefully as you do not want to alienate or offend them. 

The bottom line on bottom-up selling? The law of averages says that you and your salespeople will sell a much higher percentage of higher-priced, higher-margin pieces than the loss leaders in your ads if you practice a top-down approach.

AVB’s Rich Lindblom is a past principal of BrandSource member Advanced Maytag Home Appliance in greater Chicago. He now brings his 45-plus years of hard-won retail experience to fellow members through his YourSource News columns and as product manager of AVB Marketing’s SYNC point-of-sale system. You can reach Rich at

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