2 + 2 = 5: The Magical Math of Add-On Sales

Few things are better for business than add-on sales. For the store, add-ons boost productivity by increasing the return on investments in inventory and driving traffic through the store. Furthermore, add-on sales are “plus business” that can capture revenue from competitors in additional product categories.

Finally, the store becomes known as a destination where clients can get their needs met. For sales associates, creative add-on recommendations mean additional income, stronger client relationships, and an in- creased opportunity for future business.

But add-on sales aren’t easy. Our work with retailers indicates that less than one in four selling interactions produce an expanded sale. This gap is one reason we’ve been able to improve our clients’ sales and profitability by 20 percent or more by simply focusing on increasing add-on sales.


Ask these questions to determine how you’re doing in generating add-on sales.

  • What percent of the time do your sales associates recommend an add-on item to clients?

  • Do sales associates have specific goals for add-on sales? Where do they stand against these goals?

  • Can sales associates tell you—at any time—what’s in stock and what the best-selling items are?

  • During the sale, do your sales associates earn the right to make an add-on recommendation?

  • Do you understand the primary reason sales associates hesitate to make add-on recommendations?


Don’t underestimate the add-on challenge. Most sales associates are already motivated to make add-on sales, but many are uncomfortable asking for them. Note the hesitancy in statements like “She said she had a budget, so I was nervous to ask her to spend more,” or “I was afraid I would sound pushy and end up losing the sale of both pieces.” To improve add-on sales you need to understand the source of discomfort and overcome it.

Earn the right to make an add-on recommendation. From our years of work with thousands of sales associates, we’ve found that top sellers share several attributes by which they earn the right to make add-on sales. Most important is their mind-set—successful sales associates believe they are consultants who learn about the needs and dreams of the client through effective open-ended questioning. Because their intention is first to understand and “solve”—rather than sell—they don’t hesitate to make recommendations. In the end, the best sales associates create a buying—rather than a selling—environment that lets them make recommendations that are trusted.

Know your inventory. Top sellers also earn the right to make a recommendation by knowing the inventory. They can always tell you what’s in stock, what’s selling well, and which categories are selling together. The best sales managers take time during meetings to talk about these things and to share add-on success stories and strategies.

Watch your timing. Add-ons are an addition to an initial purchase. Don’t press for more until you hear that “yes” for the initial item—pressing too early can confuse the client. But don’t wait until the paperwork is completed. By then the client has mentally left the sale.

Justify your recommendation; don’t ask permission. With statements like, “May I show you something else?” you may lose the opportunity to add on. Be assertive. Start with “Because …” and explain why the recommendation is a good one. For example, “Because you mentioned that your wife recently had her ears pierced, I selected these earrings that go well with the bracelet you selected. What do you think?”

Don’t set limits on what you think the client might want to buy. Continue to make useful recommendations until you receive a clear signal to stop.

Set targets and track results. Set a goal to make an add-on recommendation for every sale. Even the best sales associates don’t succeed every time, but they always ask. Track your improvement by recording how frequently your add-on recommendations are accepted.

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