You don't have to cut profit margins just to make the sale. Discounts can be a great tool, but they're also expensive. Worse, if your customers start to wait for you to discount, they're counter-productive to your business.
Fortunately, there are lots of other tools in the sales toolbag. Here are 30 of them.
1. Future-use coupons
Use wording such as "For every $50 you spend tonight, you get $10 off your next purchase of $50 or more." Your customers have an incentive to spend at least $50, and you'll get an additional $50 in purchases when they apply their future-use coupon.
2. Product packages
Package a selection of products according to a theme (color, season, gift idea, topic, whatever) and sell as a special package.
3. Seasonal specials
For restaurants, this translates into promoting food that is in season. For others, use whatever major holiday is approaching. Promote the products or services—or create new ones—that somehow connect with the season, and put them front and center.
4. Free meal night
One day or night of the week, pick a random customer who gets an entire meal for free. People will come for the chance at a free meal, and for the cost of one free meal, you increase sales on a slow night.
5. Live music
Entertainment not only draws people in, it makes them want to linger, have another cup of wine, maybe some dessert, coffee...
Any kind of contest can draw people in, but smart contests also make them want to purchase. Feature a new sandwich, at regular price, and hold a "Name that Sandwich" contest. The winner gets a free sandwich, but everyone else pays.
7. Bring-Your-Own night
For delis or cafes that don't serve alcohol, have a BYOB night. Extend your hours and provide glasses.
8. Family entertainment
Hire a clown, a magician, some dude who makes balloon animals. Let him wander the restaurant, or rope off a small area for "the stage." Publicize the whole thing as family night and have your staff promote kid-friendly selections from the menu.
Have you trained your staff in the power of suggestion? Many restaurants do, but you might have overlooked it. Wait staff or counter staff should always have an upsell suggestion at the ready. "Would you like fries with that?" is only the beginning.
10. Offer samples
Customers who are afraid to try something new will try a free sample, then, often, purchase a full order.
11. Offer a take-home option
Sit-down restaurants could easily increase sales by promoting take-home packages. Put together a "take-home lunch" offer. It could include an entree, side and dessert, be packaged for travel, and include heating/serving instructions. You're saving customers the trouble of figuring out lunch the next day. Try a "take-home dinner" option, too.
For online sellers
12. Free info products
Digital information products like e-books and white papers can be distributed without additional cost. Make them a bonus for purchasers.
Offer free shipping or faster shipping for purchases made within a certain time or over a certain dollar amount.
14. Bulk order rewards
Customers who buy in bulk get a reward of some kind, such as a free customer club membership or a free T-shirt or other promotional item.
Highlight a particular item and put it front and center. Sales will increase just because it is "the featured item" even though it isn't discounted.
16. Customer reviews
Gather positive customer reviews and put them beside the product or service being offered. Testimonials are powerful.
For B2B businesses, offer a cross-promotion opportunity, such as a directory listing or advertising spot for customers who purchase within X hours or over X dollar amount.
For retail stores
18. Freebie night
"Every Monday, our 117th customer gets a free T-shirt!" Or a free coffee mug, or a free gift of your choosing.
19. Trade-in night
"Bring in your old ____ and get $X.00 off the purchase of a new ____." Or, "Bring in your old _________ and we'll dispose of it/recycle it for you for free."
20. Charity donations
"For every $50 you spend tonight, we'll donate 5 percent to ABC Charity." Or give them a few charities to choose from. Or make it based on the total sales for the day or night.
21. Personal shopper service
Take your staff through some training on assisting customers in making their shopping decisions, and then allow customers to make appointments with these newly trained personal shoppers.
22. Club membership
Create a customer club with particular benefits (newsletter, coupons, special events, extended hours) and offer free membership with any purchase over a set dollar amount. Otherwise, membership should cost something.
23. Free gift with purchase
This promotion alone nets those beauty product companies thousands of dollars.
24. Express check-out
Have a dedicated check-out line for purchases over a fixed dollar amount.
For service providers
25. Give a guarantee
Make it risk-free for your customers. "Buy today, and we'll give you a 90-day money-back guarantee." Risk prevents people from buying. Remove the risk and you increase the sales.
26. Partner up
Find a related, complementary business and put together packages that include your service and their products.
27. Make it convenient
Working people often find it difficult to get things done during "business hours" because they're working, too. So offer an "at your convenience" option for those customers. For an additional fee, you'll extend your hours or make special arrangements for weekends, nights or holidays.
28. Free consultation
This is the service provider version of the free "personal shopper service" that retailers might offer.
Have a list of add-ons for every service purchase, and make them quick and easy. "For only $10 more, you can add on XYZ service. Would you like to do that?"
30. Rewards and levels
Offer rewards, but tie them to dollar amounts or commitment levels. The greater purchase or commitment garners the greater reward.
Annie Mueller is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. She covers small business topics with a focus on lean/zero budget start-ups, business blogging, and simple (sane) ways business can use social media without selling their souls to Facebook. Her work can be seen online at Investopedia's Financial Edge blog, Young Entrepreneur, Wise Bread, Organic Authority, Modern Mom, and her own site, AnnieMueller.com. Find her on Twitter: @AnnieMueller.