A customer's revenue potential doesn't immediately end at the point of sale. There's a wealth of opportunity for more business beyond each initial purchase — and practices known as cross-selling and upselling can help you tap into it.
Here, we'll take a closer look at cross-selling and upselling, go over the difference between the two, take a look at how to do both, and see some examples of what they look like in practice. Let's jump in.
What is cross-selling?
Cross-selling is encouraging the purchase of anything in conjunction with the primary product. For example, if a customer has already purchased a subscription to your marketing tool, cross-selling would encourage that customer to purchase a subscription to your CRM.
Cross-selling is encouraging the purchase of anything in conjunction with the primary product. If your company offers a separate product or service that can complement or enhance how the customer's initial purchase operates, cross-selling can provide an excellent opportunity to generate some extra revenue.
Cross-Selling a Cheeseburger
Let's say you work at a fast-food franchise. A patron comes into your restaurant and orders a cheeseburger. If you wanted to cross-sell them, you would offer additional items that would make for a more complete meal.
For instance, you might ask if they want an order of fries or a drink. In this case, you wouldn't be enhancing the burger itself — you'd be "building around" that initial purchase with complementary products.
Imagine you work for an ed-tech company that sells a suite of automation software to assist university administrators. You offer three products — one for curriculum planning, one for classroom scheduling, and one for academic reporting.
You've connected with a college that has agreed to buy your curriculum planning software. If you wanted to cross-sell them, you might pitch them one or both of your other products — and explain how those programs can work together to make life easier on academic administrators.
In this instance, you wouldn't be offering an upgraded version of the software the prospect purchased, you'd be selling them separate products that can complement one another in the interest of alleviating their pain points.
What is upselling?
Upselling is encouraging the purchase of anything that would make a customer's additional purchase more expensive with an upgrade, enhancement, or premium option.
With upselling, you're not offering lateral products to complement your customer's initial purchase — you're offering an upgraded or premium version of the product they've just agreed to buy.
In short, you're "piling on" on a product when upselling — not "building around" it.
Upselling a Cheeseburger
Let's look at this in the context of the cheeseburger analogy we touched on in the previous section. If you were trying to upsell a customer on a cheeseburger, you wouldn't push offerings to give them a more complete meal — you'd try to sell them a more elaborate and expensive burger.
You might try to get them to add an extra patty or a few strips of bacon for an additional fee — or you could tell them about a higher-quality cut of beef they could choose for a small premium. One way or another, you would take the central item they agreed to buy and sell them on ways to enhance it.
For the sake of a more practical, realistic example, consider a business that sells sales automation software to small to midsize organizations. Your company offers three tiered plans — each with its own increasingly extensive suite of features.
A rep from the company is currently working out a deal with a small business that's agreed to purchase the least expensive of the three available options. If the rep wanted to upsell their prospect, they would likely tout the relevant features the middle-tier option offers that the lower-tier option doesn't.
Let's say the prospect's business is maturing to the point that it's going to lean more heavily on accurate forecasting in the near future. In our scenario, the bottom-tier plan lacks the forecasting resources that the middle-tier option provides.
With that in mind, the rep might try to upsell the prospect by stressing how upgrading to the higher option will ensure that their business is adequately prepared to easily create accurate, productive forecasts as it expands.
What's the difference between cross-selling and upselling?
The difference between cross-selling and upselling is implied in their names. Cross-selling is adding to a sale by selling additional, lateral products that complement the initial purchase. Upselling is adding to a purchase by selling a prospect on an upgraded or enhanced version of the original product itself.
Cross-selling and upselling are often used interchangeably, but different scenarios with different customers can call for one specific approach over the other.
How to Cross-Sell and Upsell
Cross-selling and upselling often occur at the point-of-sale with a salesperson — as in the examples above — but customer success managers can also play a role in either process.
CSMs can cross-sell and upsell when they spot an opportunity further down the line with a customer — once they've already purchased the initial product.
Throughout email exchanges or phone conversations, customers might mention an interest in expanding into a different vertical or wanting more capabilities with the product they're using — which can be a signal that they're ready to hear about other options. Below are our best practices to learn how to cross-sell and upsell as a CSM:
1. Get to know your audience.
You may already know about buyer personas, but it's important to get to know your audience once they've already bought your product, too. Use demographic and psychographic information about your customers — along with customer feedback — to create personas for your customers and understand their goals and challenges to identify the most helpful, relevant products you could cross-sell and upsell.
2. Build out customer journeys.
Along the lines of the first step, map out customer journeys to identify how they will use your product and how it will help them grow. When your customers get to the point where they're seeing results (thanks to your product), they'll start telling other people about it and driving referrals.
At that point in the customer journey, they'll likely be excited to hear your cross-sell or upsell pitch and spring some extra money for your additional offering.
Wait until they've reached this point before trying to cross-sell or upsell. During the period after they've just purchased your offering — while they're onboarding and before they've seen its value — you'll have a hard time selling them on additional products or features.
3. Think about problems and offer solutions that map to products.
Before you even hop on a call or email and attempt to sell to an existing customer, take some time to review your product offerings and try to align them with your customer journey.
That way, you'll have a clear idea of common challenges your customers face — and exactly which of your products you can try to cross-sell or upsell as a possible solution.
4. Practice active listening.
You might be able to cross-sell or upsell to your customers on the fly during a phone call or over an email exchange — so make sure to hone in on your active listening and reading skills for signals your customer might be ready to hear your offer.
If the customer is mentioning wanting expanded capabilities or a desire to reach their goals faster, it might be the right time to mention how your other products or services can help get them there.
3 Examples of Cross-Selling and Upselling
Here are some of the common instances where cross-selling and upselling occur:
1. Sales Reps and Customer Success Managers
As detailed in the examples above, cross-selling and upselling happen at the point of sale with a salesperson, after a customer has been using a product for a while with a customer success manager, or at various points during the customer journey.
Sales reps and CSMs can also propose cross-sells and upsells more indirectly via email by asking customers to check out new products or services on their own — and having the customer come to them with questions.
2. Customer Education
Blog posts and knowledge base content also provide compelling ways to start the cross-sell or upsell process. Where customers seek out information on their own — whether that be through knowledge base articles, blog posts, or watching videos — marketers and CSMs can include copy letting them know about additional products or upgrades they can try to make their experience even better.
3. Online Stores
Have you ever spent time online shopping, and then received the news that "you may also be interested in" another item from the website? That tactic represents another form of upselling or cross-selling.
Ecommerce websites can prompt upselling and cross-selling depending on which products the visitor clicks on and selects to encourage them to keep buying more.
Bolster your sales with upselling and cross-selling.
Cross-selling and upselling aren't always straightforward. Doing either right takes real tact, optimal timing, keen awareness, and empathy. If you can keep a pulse on how your customer is feeling, have an idea of the features or products they stand to gain the most from, and know when they'll be most receptive to an additional offer, you'll be able to upsell and cross-sell with the best of them.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in October 4, 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Dec 23, 2021 8:00:00 AM, updated July 01 2022