“The ones behind you are cheaper.” The Rite-Aid cashier pointed to an endcap, as I waited in line today to pay for my 12-pack of store-brand toilet paper.
She was right—a national brand was on deep-discount this week, saving me a couple dollars.
I dislike buying toilet paper—too many options, too much fine print. My usual shortcut is to buy a large package of store-brand 2-ply, to help me save money while also delaying my next walk down the Aisle of Decision Fatigue.
I loved that instead of an upsell, she did a “downsell”—the cashier’s unsolicited sales recommendation saved me money while still meeting my business goals (no pun intended).
Downselling creates long-term fans
As much as I love the power of upsells for agencies, strategic downselling can be a great way to build your clients’ trust.
When I bought a house in New Jersey, it came with a unique “feature”—using the shower upstairs made it “rain” in the kitchen downstairs. My first project was to retile the bathtub surround, so I wouldn’t have to choose between showering at the gym or maintaining the previous owner’s “garbage bags taped to the wall” waterproofing technique.
As I stocked up on tools and materials at the local hardware store, I chose a fancy $15 metal trowel for spreading the tile adhesive. As a new homeowner, I wanted the best for my house.
At checkout, the store’s owner asked how often I’d be doing tile work. I said, “I hope this is the only time!” He recommended that I buy a cheaper $6 plastic trowel instead—the metal one was nicer, but overkill for a single project.
He gave up $9 in short-term revenue on that sale—yet cemented my long-term loyalty to his small store over Home Depot. Indeed, his place was my hardware store of choice before I moved to North Carolina—including where I bought my snowblower, gas grill, and other items that ultimately cost a lot more than the $9 he “lost” the first time.
Consider your clients’ needs first
I’m a fan of upsells and upselling at agencies—when it makes sense for your clients—but the trowel and toilet paper stories are a reminder to include downsells in your sales and client service arsenal, too.
Your agency is selling services that are much more complicated than toilet paper and home-repair tools. Your potential clients rely on you to advise them on the right solutions. Don’t abuse that trust.
I’m not saying you should discount work by cutting prices on the same scope of work—if clients pay less, the scope needs to be appropriately less, too. But when you give them lower-priced options or refer them to competitors when appropriate—you’re demonstrating that you’re an ethically-run agency, rather than one that’s out to make a quick buck.
This applies both for current clients and prospective clients. Using strategic downsells helps you build future business, and a strong reputation. This will pay off in years to come—and it’s the right thing to do.
Applying this at your agency
Smaller-budget work can still be profitable, especially if it’s part of an overall sales strategy. And saying “no” by referring poor-fit clients to competitors makes you a trusted advisor instead of a salesperson who’d do anything for a fast commission.
Think about the incentives you’re creating for your sales team. Are you pressing them to say “yes” and “more” regardless of the circumstances, or are you incentivizing them to say “yes” only to clients who’ll move your agency forward?
Question: Have you tried “downselling”?
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