27 Nov 2012

"Do you want research support with that?" - The art of the library cross-sell

Marketing is now an essential aspect of library management, but communicating your value to customers achieves very little if you don't create conversions. Cross-selling (think of McDonalds and their "Would you like fries with that?" tagline) and up-selling (getting a customer to upgrade to a higher value product) are two classic sales techniques that are frequently used to great effect in retail. This idea may seem a little clinical to those working outside the corporate environment, but the basic principles behind these sales strategies - encouraging your customers to use more of your products or to try higher value services - are common objectives for many of us. Marion Ryan from the Entrepreneur Soul blog believes "The key is to think of upselling as additional benefits and better ways to serve the client". Additional benefits for customers? Better ways to serve your users? Sounds like a good thing to me.

Don't sell your services, offer solutions

Marketing in libraries should be all about benefits. Most libraries and librarians talk about their services; what they offer; the comprehensive list of their resources. But many users (and perhaps more importantly, non-users) will not connect with this; this information is meaningless to them unless they can immediately see 'what's in it for me?'. So stop talking about yourself and start thinking about your users (this is not the same as thinking that you are thinking about you users, you have to really do it!). In fact, cross-selling and up-selling are the easiest opportunities you will get to promote your services as you already have a captive audience (library cold-calling anyone?), so why don't we take advantage of this? If we only focus on the user's short-term query or need (which is obviously still of primary importance), we miss the moment that can turn good customer service into great customer service. Instead, by offering personalised expertise we can deliver a service that maximises our value to our users, creating loyalty, engagement and trust.

Think long-term, not transactional value

So how can we use cross-selling and up-selling effectively in practice? It requires being proactive, taking an interest in your users' broader needs and time. At a busy reference desk the latter is often in short supply, but more often than not, investing a little extra time reaps dividends in the long-run. The most important thing to remember is that it must bring a direct, relevant benefit to your user, otherwise you will be wasting their time, and risk turning a positive experience into a negative one. With a little creativity, a routine transaction such as a student enquiring how to find resources on medical ethics can provide the perfect opportunity for cross-selling an information literacy workshop. A researcher trying to track down a conference paper can be easily up-sold to a broader suite of research support services. In the public library setting, a reader borrowing a copy of Norwegian Wood presents a great chance to cross-sell the DVD or even to up-sell the monthly bookclub. These are just a few of the ways that a single interaction can be turned into a longer-term relationship by actively promoting your services as solutions that your users need, even if they don't know it yet.


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