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Updated Jun 14, 2024

Super Sales Strategies: Quick Tips for Upselling and Cross-Selling

Learn how to boost your sales by mastering upselling and cross-selling with these 10 easy steps.

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Written By: Sean PeekSenior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Congratulations; you’ve made a sale! But in reality, the battle has just begun. What comes after you’ve made that sale? Hopefully, more sales. That’s where upselling and cross-selling come into play. These popular sales techniques help drive more sales from converted customers, who are easier to sell to.

What is upselling?

Before we get into the best tips for upselling and cross-selling, let’s clarify the definitions of each. Upselling is a sales technique in which a salesperson entices customers to purchase more-expensive items or upgrades to make a more profitable sale. Employees with great sales personalities excel at this.

Upselling gives you a great return on your investment. You’ve already invested the time to make the initial sale. It’s much easier to upsell than to make the primary sale, and the upsell is much more likely to be successful. The customer has already decided to trust your recommendation with the first purchase. With that credibility, it’s easier to sell more to them. 

When done correctly, upselling increases customer satisfaction. Customers want value and are often willing to spend more money to get a better value. [Simplify the payment process by ensuring you have the best credit card processing solution for your business.]

However, the way you upsell is key. If the sale is framed as wanting the customer to get the most for their money, upselling makes the client feel valued. If the customer senses you are attempting to increase your bottom line, they will feel used, which could lead to the loss of the customer or a decline in sales

What is cross-selling? 

Cross-selling involves selling additional products and services to an existing customer based on their initial purchase. The products or services involved in cross-selling complement what the customer already bought. 

For example, a fast-food restaurant famously asks, “Would you like fries with that?” The customer orders a burger and a soft drink, which allows the clerk to sell them an additional product, fries, to complete their order and satisfy the customer’s needs while increasing the purchase amount for the business. 

This sales method can increase revenue and help you retain a strong customer base. Due to the complementary nature of the products or services offered in a cross-sale, the technique can be highly effective. Once you know your customers and have formed a relationship with them, it’s much easier to make recommendations, offer discounts on certain products, or put together bundles that could save them money. 

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When cross-selling to customers, you want to address and satisfy their needs. It’s more beneficial to cross-sell once you have established an initial relationship and know their desires well.

How do upselling and cross-selling work?

Though the two are different, upselling and cross-selling benefit both customers and businesses. Both strategies encourage customers to spend more money, thereby increasing your revenue and providing greater value to customers. Combining the two strategies informs customers of options, packages and products they may be unaware of or didn’t think were necessary at the time. 

For example, think about a customer who’s looking to purchase a new oven. To upsell, the salesperson might suggest an oven with upgraded features, like infrared technology for near-instant heating. To cross-sell, they could recommend the customer also purchase the matching microwave that fits above the oven.

As this example shows, these selling styles can complement each other. But for either technique to work, it is crucial to know your customers and understand their desires and needs so you can make appropriate recommendations that don’t come off as a money grab. 

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Your goal should be to respond to customers’ needs with complementary or superior products and services.

10 tips for upselling and cross-selling

When you’re upselling and cross-selling, it’s important to maintain customers’ trust and demonstrate that you value their business. Keep the following tips in mind to ensure your strategies are effective.

1. Offer free shipping.

Customers are more likely to buy from a company that offers free shipping. Online retailers can include shipping in the total product price to give the appearance that shipping is free, or they can choose to set a minimum purchase total that rewards customers with free shipping. Another way to offer free shipping is by encouraging customers to purchase subscriptions or join a loyalty program.

2. Send follow-up emails.

Customers want brands to engage with them and form a deep connection, as long as the communications are relevant and beneficial. Follow-up emails are a great way to welcome clients to your business, thank them for shopping, ask for customer feedback on products or remind them to check back in after cart abandonment. However, sending emails at strategic times is key to their effectiveness. 

Send communications promptly after customers’ interactions, such as when they browse specific items. This helps confirm their interest in your product or service, allowing you to send targeted messages that drive customers toward purchases. Automation can streamline your follow-up process by automatically triggering personalized emails or notifications based on customer actions. This saves time and resources by facilitating the follow-up process without human intervention. [Related article: How to Avoid Creating an Annoying Email Campaign]

3. Limit recommendations.

When upselling, more options do not necessarily increase the chances of a sale. Remember that more choices usually generate more confusion and overwhelm consumers. Successful upsells begin with a solution to customers’ problems — not more questions. 

When you give cross-selling recommendations, offer only a few options rather than dozens. A few well-targeted suggestions will maximize your shot at a successful sale. Here’s a great example: GoDaddy limits its upselling items to just three things. When a customer orders a domain name, the system asks if the customer is interested in domain protection, web hosting or email hosting. The company doesn’t throw everything in its arsenal at the customer; it suggests a few relevant services instead.

4. Try bundling.

Bundling encourages both upselling and cross-selling, so it’s smart to package related items together. For example, you can sell WordPress templates, plug-ins and logos in bundles of various combinations instead of offering them only as stand-alone items. The chances that a consumer will purchase all three of these items increase dramatically if they can do so with a single purchase instead of three separate purchases. Therefore, bundling can boost your company’s revenue.

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Another great strategy for successful cross-selling is to provide a range of prices for items that work well together.

5. Know your customers.

Mapping the customer journey with comprehensive audience research is essential for successful upselling and cross-selling. Make sure you know your customers and understand their wants, needs and preferences so your attempts at offering upgrades or additional products seem like natural extensions of the main product. 

For example, an effective server in a high-end restaurant knows to pay attention to the preferences and tastes of regular customers. If the same couple comes in several times a month and always orders the same bottle of Malbec, the server should take note of this and eventually recommend a more expensive bottle suited to the customers’ taste. This move would likely impress the diners and boost the restaurant’s revenue. This upselling method communicates that you have the customers’ best interests in mind.

Amazon is another great example of a company that effectively upsells and cross-sells based on its knowledge of customers. The company tracks customers’ orders and makes purchase recommendations based on past orders. If you have ever bought a book from Amazon, you have probably noticed that the company logs your book orders and suggests other relevant reading material based on what shoppers with similar taste purchased.

6. Keep the 25-percent rule in mind.

As a general rule, never try to upsell or cross-sell items that cost over 25 percent more than the original order. So, if a potential car buyer walks onto a dealer’s lot intending to purchase a Honda, the salesperson probably shouldn’t try to upsell the buyer with a Porsche. By sticking to the 25-percent rule, you will avoid making outlandish customer suggestions and boost your odds of closing sales.

The same principle applies to cross-selling. Let’s return to the restaurant example. Imagine that after the couple settles on a $100 bottle of Malbec, the waiter attempts to cross-sell the couple white Italian truffles, which would pair beautifully with the wine. The problem? An order of white Italian truffles will typically run around $250 for a 5-gram serving, which is probably out of the couple’s price range. The waiter shouldn’t try to cross-sell anything that costs more than $125, or 25 percent more than the original order (the bottle of wine).

7. Be transparent about pricing.

To upsell or cross-sell effectively, share prices upfront and include breakdowns when possible. Customers aren’t interested in tracking down pricing information on products they didn’t request. However, presenting the pricing upfront and emphasizing the value to customers can easily sway them into adding one more product to their cart.

Partner transparency with strategy when you’re upselling or cross-selling. Set a maximum price margin — ideally no higher than 50 percent of the original purchase total — and recommend relevant products and services, even if they fall below this margin. This prevents your upselling or cross-selling tactics from appearing greedy.

8. Set a limited time for offers.

Offering limited-time deals to customers is a great way to encourage fast decision-making and higher-value purchases. For example, you could offer a multiday sale to clear out last season’s inventory or a surprise promotional discount that expires in hours. 

Short-term deals emphasize the small window customers have to make a purchase. This can convince undecided customers to buy, particularly if their hesitation was due to price. A special offer can make customers perceive the product or service as a better value. Plus, it builds a sense of urgency because they might lose out on a deal if they don’t act quickly. 

9. Pitch add-ons by demonstrating the use case with the current purchase.

Give concrete examples of how the suggested product or service can benefit the customers’ current purchase. Doing so demonstrates the value of purchasing this add-on and helps persuade customers to move forward.

Demonstrating use cases presents a great opportunity to bolster your online presence, too. For example, creating social media content using multiple products together can effectively present the benefits of purchasing more. On your website, capitalize on your social proof by highlighting customers’ ratings. For example, display products and services that are most liked by customers, and suggest items that are frequently bought together based on past customer behavior.

Did You Know?Did you know
Customers face countless decisions throughout the day, often resulting in decision fatigue. The decoy effect exploits this decision fatigue to deliver an option that appears to have a greater value, thus capitalizing on consumers’ tendency to compare products on factors such as cost and features.

10. Leverage comparative offers.

Use comparative offers to show the value of your product or service. For example, you can display side-by-side comparisons demonstrating the customer’s current benefits versus the potential benefits from the upsell or cross-sell. The language you use when creating these comparisons is key to their effectiveness. So include persuasive words, and consider playing on customers’ concerns about missing out on deals.

Some businesses take comparative offers a step further by attempting the decoy effect. This strategy introduces product or service options that are priced strategically and filled with features to make certain options — generally, higher-priced ones — appear more valuable and appealing. When used correctly, this strategy drives customers’ decision-making by creating a perceived value that leads them to choose the more expensive options.

Jerry Low contributed to this article.

author image
Written By: Sean PeekSenior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek co-founded and self-funded a small business that's grown to include more than a dozen dedicated team members. Over the years, he's become adept at navigating the intricacies of bootstrapping a new business, overseeing day-to-day operations, utilizing process automation to increase efficiencies and cut costs, and leading a small workforce. This journey has afforded him a profound understanding of the B2B landscape and the critical challenges business owners face as they start and grow their enterprises today. In addition to running his own business, Peek shares his firsthand experiences and vast knowledge to support fellow entrepreneurs, offering guidance on everything from business software to marketing strategies to HR management. In fact, his expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur, Inc. and Forbes and with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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