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This One Question Can Send Your Profits Through the Roof

Dr. Cindy McGovern
Dr. Cindy McGovern

Learn how to increase your sales by asking your customers a simple question.

"Thank you! Please come again!"

Years ago, a sign with that message was on the door of every gas station, restaurant, and five-and-dime store. Many small and midsize businesses still display similar signs on their exit doors so customers will know the owners appreciate their business and hope they'll return.

But a sign isn't enough. The sentiment needs to be on the tip of every employee's tongue during every interaction with every customer.

Too often, employees whose titles and job descriptions don't require them to sell overlook the simplest and most pervasive opportunity to bring additional business into the company. All they have to do is ask their customers what else they need.

"What else can I do for you today?"

"Can I open another order for you before you leave?"

"Can you give me just a minute to see if I have something that could solve this additional problem?"

Those simple, courteous questions are an invitation to the customer to keep shopping. They're a cue for the client who probably does need something else but either isn't thinking about it at the moment or doesn't want to trouble anyone for anything extra after an employee has just spent an hour helping her with something else.

It's no trouble at all, of course, to open that second order or ring up another sale, so make it a company policy that every employee – even the ones whose jobs don't officially require them to sell – asks every single client for more business at the conclusion of each meeting.

To successfully incorporate the practice of asking for more business into each employee's work routine, managers should ...

  • Make it an official policy and a requirement of everyone's job.
  • Train the staff to look for opportunities to ask for additional business.
  • Reward employees who open additional orders as a result of asking the questions.
  • Enforce the policy consistently for all employees – from executives to front-desk staff.

1. Make it official.

Professional salespeople know that they have to ask for business to get it. But it might not occur to employees whose jobs do not involve sales that they can – and should – bring in additional orders by requesting them from customers and clients who already do business with the company.

Because their job descriptions don't mention sales, they don't think about selling – even when an obvious opportunity presents itself. Some non-salespeople might even believe they're not allowed to try to sell something extra. Or they simply might not want to because they don't like sales or don't believe selling is their responsibility.

The fact is, every job is a sales job, and the owners and managers of SMBs who recognize this sell more than those who don't. The front desk clerk has the opportunity to sell every time she greets a potential or existing customer with a friendly smile and a helpful attitude. The helpdesk tech can open an extra order simply by asking an existing customer, "Is there anything else I can help you with before we hang up?" The accountant or lawyer can expand the company's book of business by asking clients, before the final handshake, "What other financial or legal problem can I help you solve as long as we're here?"

Managers should not count on those non-salespeople to ask those goldmine questions, however, unless they require every employee to do it.

A tool to help employees make the transition from "Thank you; have a good day" to "Thank you; what else can we do for you today?" is a checklist that includes everything the employee should say to customers before they say "goodbye" and before they close the customer's file.

"Thank you" is at the top of the list. Following that are questions that invite the client to buy something else, sign up for another service, tell the employee about problems that need solving or make a follow-up appointment for the near future.

2. Look for opportunities.

A new "always ask" policy might meet with pushback from employees who say they shouldn't have to sell or they don't know how. The fact is they already sell every day.

For example, a friendly receptionist who asks, "How can I help you?" sells visitors on believing the company values their business. A lawyer who hits it off with a realtor at a settlement and suggests, "Let's do this again" is making a sale.

Employees can look for opportunities like that to ask questions that will lead to sales.

In addition to asking a prescribed list of questions of each customer before closing the file or hanging up the phone, employees should learn how to spot opportunities to ask for additional business.

Once non-salespeople realize how easy it is to bring in new business – and have permission to go for it whenever the opportunity arises – they will see opportunities everywhere.

Employees can ask customers to refer their colleagues and acquaintances to your business. They can ask clients to post positive reviews on social media and industry review sites. They can ask the potential customers they meet during the day how the company can help them.

Train non-salespeople to look for the same opportunities that the professional sales staff keeps its eye on and the business can double, triple or quadruple its incidental sales.

Questions – especially the ones that invite additional business – are a powerful sales tool that non-salespeople can use without pressuring anyone into anything. In fact, asking questions is perhaps the best way for any employee to show a customer that the company is in the business of helping people get what they need and solve their problems.

3. Offer rewards.

To show employees that you are serious about bringing in more business by requiring all employees to ask for it, reward those who successfully do it.

Supervisors should keep track of which employees faithfully adhere to the checklist and ask all of their customers for additional orders. The ones whose questions result in extra sales, in turn, should earn commissions or bonuses.

Make the stipend substantial enough to convince even the most reluctant non-sales employees to ask for sales; it will pay off in extra revenue.

For well-paid staff members who don't want to sell, however, even a per-sale bonus might not persuade them. In such cases, incorporate an evaluation of how well employees follow the required policy into each employee's annual review and make it count toward raises.

Money often is what gets those critical questions asked.

4. Enforce consistently.

The best way for managers to get employees to try something new is to do it themselves.

Everyone from the CEO to the maintenance staff should be charged with – and rewarded for – asking every customer and client for new business before ending any transaction. Everyone should know how to spot opportunities when they arise and feel free to offer additional services,

Everyone should also be held accountable for applying the checklist and asking the questions – that includes executives and supervisors. If employees observe the higher-ups skipping the questions, they will consider those questions optional.

The key to the success of the "ask for more" policy is training. Include every executive and employee on the staff in training sessions that teach the new routine, explain why it works, and convince them that asking how the company can help its customers is a win-win way to fulfill the needs of others while growing the business that they're lucky enough to work for.

Image Credit: Drazen Zigic / Getty Images
Dr. Cindy McGovern
Dr. Cindy McGovern Member
Known far and wide as “Dr. Cindy,” the First Lady of Sales, Dr. Cindy McGovern holds a Doctorate Degree in Organizational Communication and a Master’s Degree in Marketing. She earned her reputation by building (and rebuilding) entire sales programs from the bottom up. Dr. Cindy, who is CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting, has helped hundreds of companies and individuals around the world from small to huge create dramatic and sustainable revenue growth. She has also authored, Every Job is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work, scheduled for release in September 2019 by McGraw Hill Professional. Dr. Cindy is an expert in the areas of sales, interpersonal communication, leadership, and change management. She can quickly figure out what an organization or individual needs to be more successful, and her current knowledge of many industries helps leaders implement new behaviors needed to succeed. One reason for her success is that she serves as both teacher and coach, working together with individuals, regardless of their role or where they are in their career to co-create their future. She doesn’t tell her clients what to do—she listens, learns about their successes and challenges, and then helps them create strategies designed to be effective long after her visit has ended. An in-demand speaker, Dr. Cindy has presented at both national and international conferences on the topics of Sales, Management, Leadership, Sales Management, and Interpersonal Communication, Organizational Change, Conflict Resolution, and Collective Bargaining.