There is a valuable lesson to be learned from the baristas of Starbucks. To increase sales, the magic question is: "Would you like something with that"

A young up-and-coming speaker asked me some time ago what I thought the most important thing about the job of being a professional speaker was. "Turning up," I said. You might not always give a great performance but the audience will be even less forgiving if they have to endure an additional sixty minutes of death by PowerPoint.

So, true to my own word, I find myself killing time in Borders in Batley where I attempt to influence people to pick out my book entirely through the power of thought. Five minutes later I decide to stick to speaking and retire to the café. Borders in Batley is one of the few book stores in the north of England where my mother hasn't infiltrated the sophisticated security system and made my book the 'Manager's Choice' with her own set of marker pens. I make a mental note to find out why she's slacking.

Meanwhile, I order a latte at the Starbucks franchise from a fresh faced barista. After establishing I want a regular size and skinny variety, she asks me if I'm drinking it in. I assume she means the latte rather than the general ambience and say yes. Then she adds the magic phrase: "Would you like something with that?" I consider replying wittily "a discount would be nice," but she's already gesturing in the direction of the cakes and croissants with a raised eyebrow. I decline, but wonder if I shouldn't have tried the eyebrow technique earlier when trying to get people to pick out my book.

I ask her if she was trained to ask that question. She says "yes" and asks if I am a mystery shopper. I tell her I'm not allowed to reveal that information but she's doing well. We then discuss the sales benefits of "would you like something with that?"

I have since turned this simple conversation into a worldwide study programme that includes the US, New Zealand and Singapore - indeed anywhere I've got a few hours to kill after turning up ridiculously early to speak at a gig. Having interviewed 50 baristas on the subject they all tell me that simply asking "would you like something with that?" increases sales by around 50%. An interesting footnote to this research programme is that I can now go for days on end without sleep and still remain perfectly alert.

So here's the rub. How often in business do we ask that question of our clients? Hardly ever, even though research tells us the time people are most likely to buy is when they have just bought. That's because they are in a buying 'mode', the mood and circumstance is right, and their wallet is already open. In Batley I bought a biscuit that up-sold the initial sale by 67%. With a Starbucks on every corner around the globe, as the Americans say, "Do the math on that."n

Philip Hesketh is a professional speaker on the psychology of persuasion and author of Life's a Game so Fix the Odds