What Is Cross-Selling? Intro, Steps, and Pro Tips [+Data]

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Sophia Bernazzani Barron
Sophia Bernazzani Barron


It’s a mistake to assume that a customer’s revenue potential ends after their order. There are so many opportunities during and after the initial purchase. Cross-selling unlocks a lot of those opportunities for extra revenue — and increased customer satisfaction.

What is cross-selling? Intro, steps, pro tips, and data

I’ve worked in sales and marketing enough to contribute to numerous cross-selling campaigns. I’ve witnessed firsthand its profound impact on companies’ revenues and customer relationships. And it’s not just my perception.

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McKinsey reports that cross-selling can increase sales and profits by 20% and 30%, respectively. Furthermore, HubSpot research from 2023 includes a survey of more than 1,400 sales professionals across North America, Europe, and Asia. They found that cross-selling accounts for 21% of their organizations’ revenues, on average.

In this guide, I’ll break down cross-selling as a sales tactic, highlighting how it works, its benefits, and its challenges. I’ll also share some proven cross-selling strategies you can implement today to start driving revenue growth.

In total, here’s what you’ll learn:

Table of Contents

Here’s another example of cross-selling. If a customer has already purchased a subscription to your marketing newsletter, you could cross-sell by encouraging them to purchase a subscription to your CRM tool since most digital marketers could make use of it.

To start a cross-selling strategy, I first identify products that satisfy additional or complementary needs not fulfilled by the initial purchase — or that increase its value or utility. Next, I encourage the customer to purchase these additional products.

An example of cross-selling a burger by adding fries and a milkshake.

Cross-selling opportunities are available at various points of the sales process. For example, some of my favorite places to cross-sell are product pages, checkout pages, thank you pages, and post-purchase emails.

Everyone’s doing it. HubSpot research reveals that 90% of surveyed salespeople try to upsell customers and prospects during the sales process.

Cross-Selling vs. Upselling: What’s the Difference?

Cross-selling and upselling are sometimes used interchangeably, but the approaches are quite different.

While cross-selling involves offering customers additional related items, upselling involves offering them an upgraded, more expensive version of the product they selected. To upsell, you need to convince the customer that the higher-priced version is worth it.

Returning to the customer who just ordered a burger: To upsell, I’d offer options to create a more elaborate burger — adding pickles and cheese slices, let’s say — for an additional fee.

The difference between cross-selling a combo meal and upselling a single burger.

You’ll notice that cross-selling adds to a sale via additional, lateral products that complement the original purchase. In contrast, upselling enhances the original product by offering an upgraded or feature-rich version.

Bar graph of salespeople who upsell, showing the percentage of their company revenue that comes from upselling

Here are a few realistic scenarios highlighting the difference between cross-selling and upselling.

Mobile Phone Retailer

  • Cross-selling: Suggesting a screen protector, case, and travel charger when a customer buys a smartphone.
  • Upselling: Offering the same phone model but with a bigger screen and longer battery life.

​​Web Hosting Provider

  • Cross-selling: Offering domain registration and SSL certificates to customers who sign up for hosting plans.
  • Upselling: Recommending a higher-tier hosting plan with more bandwidth and storage.

Project Management Software Provider

  • Cross-selling: Proposing training workshops and consultation services to corporate clients looking to improve team productivity.
  • Upselling: Suggesting an enterprise-level subscription with advanced collaboration features, better integration capabilities, and dedicated customer support.

Air Conditioning Sales

  • Cross-selling: Recommending a voltage stabilizer to protect the purchased unit from unstable current surges.
  • Upselling: Offering a newer model of the same unit with smart technology integration and greater energy efficiency.

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    Advantages of Cross-Selling

    Cross-selling provides numerous benefits when executed properly. Here are the main perks, as I’ve personally discovered.

    Increased Revenue

    The most direct and immediate benefit of cross-selling is an increase in sales revenue. According to Invesp, the typical odds of closing a sale are 60-70% with an existing customer. That’s in contrast to 5-20% with a new one.

    More specifically, encouraging customers to buy complementary products typically boosts the average order value (AOV). A higher AOV means higher overall sales from my current customer base, which can reduce the need to constantly acquire new customers.

    Higher Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)

    One of the biggest benefits I’ve seen while cross-selling is it helps me maximize customer lifetime value (CLV), which is the total revenue generated from each customer over the course of their relationship with my business.

    I’ve found that when customers perceive my business consistently meets their needs via relevant product suggestions, they’re more likely to develop loyalty and trust. This encourages more purchases over time, meaning a higher CLV — meaning more long-term revenue.

    Greater Customer Satisfaction

    As a sales technique, cross-selling relies on products that enhance the overall utility, enjoyment, or longevity of the primary buy. A customer who just bought their first camera from me will probably benefit additionally from a tripod and a camera bag. Having those extra products will make their overall experience more satisfying.

    When I’m a customer, discovering relevant offerings via expert cross-selling is a pleasant surprise that makes me feel more understood and appreciated by the business. If there’s one thing I know, a smooth and satisfying shopping experience breeds customer loyalty.

    More Product Visibility

    Cross-selling involves strategically placing related products in the customer’s line of sight during their purchasing journey — products they might not have been aware of. From impulse buys to newbies experimenting, I’m able to get more purchases this way.

    Disadvantages of Cross-Selling

    Like any other sales tactic, cross-selling comes with some hurdles.

    A pitfall I often see is annoying the customers. The line between making a helpful suggestion and unsolicited nagging is very thin.

    To avoid this, what I do is closely observe customer reactions and engagement levels during the interaction. If I sense any hesitation or disinterest, I immediately ease off the pressure.

    If my customers feel like every transaction is an attempt to sell them something more, they are more likely to view my business as purely profit-driven. This would damage their trust in the brand and reduce the likelihood of future engagement.

    Another disadvantage is that cross-selling can ironically be less profitable — even when used successfully.

    A Harvard study found that the costs of cross-selling to certain “problem customers" — such as people who frequently return products, overuse customer support, and primarily avoid regularly priced items — can actually overshadow extra revenue generated from them.

    This is an issue because these types of customers account for as much as 70% of the average company’s customer loss (which is when the cost of goods and marketing exceeds the revenue generated).

    quote of pro tip from post about cross-selling

    To overcome this problem, Harvard suggests thoroughly examining your business practices, identifying any that may unintentionally attract or encourage problem customers, and making adjustments.

    Additionally, analyzing each customer’s transaction data can help determine whether they fall into one of the problematic categories. Depending on what I find out, I tweak my sales strategies, like upselling them instead or choosing to focus on other customers.

    How to Cross-Sell Ethically

    While cross-selling is a legitimate practice, you still need to approach it with caution. Here are a few guidelines I follow to stay within ethical boundaries.

    Focus on the customer and their needs.

    When cross-selling, the focus should always be on the customers and their needs. Don’t cross-sell just for the sake of it — make sure that every recommendation genuinely adds value to the customer's purchase. Natalie Hogg, president and head of marketing at Method Q, says:

    “If the cross-sell products/services bring additional value and enrich the customer outcomes, then it is less selling and more solving. The focus should be on what the customer benefits from, not what the salesperson needs to sell.

    Respect customers’ choices.

    I’m sure you’ll agree with me: There’s nothing more annoying than a sales rep trying to sell you a product you’re clearly not interested in. Always respect your customers’ decisions when they decline cross-selling offers.

    Whenever I’m cross-selling, I look for any verbal and nonverbal cues that indicate disinterest or discomfort. If I start a pitch but realize the customer isn’t receptive, I switch my focus to delivering excellent service and building rapport. This approach paves the way for future cross-selling opportunities based on trust and mutual respect.

    Be transparent.

    When taking advantage of a cross-selling opportunity, be transparent about the situational value of the product. Don’t say that a product does more than it does. If there are limitations or drawbacks associated with the additional product, mention them and offer workarounds.

    As business development manager Yaz Hanley explains, being transparent about the value and costs of additional products “builds trust and helps establish a long-term relationship with the customer, which is far more valuable than a one-time sale.”

    Maintain long-term engagement.

    Stay in touch with your customers consistently throughout the year, not just when there’s an opportunity to cross-sell. Sienna Quirk, CMO at Invisory, explains the importance of maintaining long-term engagement:

    “If your customer only hears from you during renewal season, you’ll come off as shallow and money-driven. If you continue a fairly steady beat of sharing contentyou won’t seem as desperate.”

    Free Sales Plan Template

    Outline your company's sales strategy in one simple, coherent sales plan.

    • Target Market
    • Prospecting Strategy
    • Budget
    • Goals
    Learn more

      Download Free

      All fields are required.

      You're all set!

      Click this link to access this resource at any time.

      Preparing to Cross-Sell

      Effective cross-selling begins with thorough preparation. Specifically, you must take time to learn about your customers and map out their buying journey. Honing your listening and analytical skills will take you far. Let’s dig a little deeper into that.

      Get to know your audience.

      You may already know about buyer personas. It’s important to get to know your audience after they have purchased your product, too, because their needs and expectations may evolve significantly after the purchase. To keep up, you’ll need to understand customers’ goals and challenges.

      The goal is to use demographic and psychographic information — along with direct customer feedback — to create updated personas for post-purchase customers.

      I’ve found that taking time to get to know my audience helps me identify not only which cross-sell products are most likely to appeal to them, but also how to communicate the offers in a way that resonates.

      Build out your customer journeys.

      The customer journey refers to the path a person is most likely to take from initial awareness of your brand to purchase and beyond.

      According to 2023 HubSpot research, 31% of sales reps who cross-sell said mapping out the customer’s journey is one of the most effective cross-selling strategies.

      Cross-selling can happen at any point in the customer's journey — it’s just easier to cross-sell at some points than others.

      Mapping the customer’s journey helps me identify the sweet spots of cross-selling.

      For example, I find that customers are most receptive to my cross-selling pitches after they’ve seen results from my products. Plus, they’ll naturally talk to other people about it, potentially driving referrals.

      Learn your products.

      Become an expert on your entire product range. Identify each offering’s respective strengths and weaknesses. How do they address specific customer needs? Most importantly, learn how different items complement one another.

      If I tried cross-selling without comprehensive knowledge and understanding of my products, I’d risk suggesting combinations that don’t make sense to the customer and don’t bring any value. That would erode customer trust by leading them to believe that my primary goal is to increase sales rather than meet their needs.

      In contrast, since I thoroughly understand how my products interconnect, I’m able to make informed recommendations that genuinely enhance the customer’s initial order.

      Enhance your listening and analysis skills.

      Sometimes, opportunities to cross-sell can arise unexpectedly, such as during an unrelated phone call or email exchange with a client. Therefore, another move I recommend is identifying receptive signals from customers. This involves active listening.

      For example, when speaking with customers, I pay close attention to their voice and tone. It provides insight into their emotional state and readiness to engage.

      I’ve also discovered that what a customer doesn’t say explicitly can be as telling as what they do say. Pauses, hesitations, and indirect comments can all provide clues for areas where your products or services can offer additional value or support.

      I like to encourage dialogue by asking customers open-ended questions instead of yes or no questions. This gathers more information by letting people express their needs and concerns fully, which in turn creates a fertile ground for discovering opportunities to serve them even better.

      quote of pro tip from post about listening to customers

      Effective Cross-Selling Strategies

      Now that you know how to prepare for cross-selling, let’s explore a few top strategies to use once you’re ready. These are tactics I’ve personally used with tremendous success.

      Personalize your cross-sale offers.

      According to McKinsey research, 71% of modern customers expect brands to deliver a personalized experience — with up to 76% of people expressing frustration when that doesn’t happen.

      When it comes to cross-selling, ensure that you tailor your recommendations to each customer based on their preferences, purchase history, and behavior.

      Data analytics tools and AI have made that much easier to do. In fact, HubSpot research reveals that 30% of U.S. salespeople say one of their top three cross-selling strategies is leveraging AI to suggest the right products and services to customers at the right time.

      Personalized cross-sales make your clients feel understood and appreciated by your business, which increases the likelihood of acceptance. But don’t just take my word for it.

      Lisa Richards, CEO and founder of Candida Diet, tells us that sending automated, personalized product suggestions to customers (based on their initial purchases) is one of their most successful cross-selling strategies.

      “Paying customers who received our personalized recommendations were 37% more likely to add at least one additional product to their basket and 25% more likely to increase their average order value.

      Richards further notes that these customers typically return to make subsequent purchases more frequently than general website visitors. The result is an impressive 12% more customer lifetime value from those who get personalized product recommendations.

      Offer discounted add-ons.

      HubSpot research from 2023 shows that 37% of U.S. sales reps who cross-sell cite offering discounts and promotions as one of their top three effective cross-selling techniques.

      Furthermore, research by Wildfire Systems indicates that 82% of online shoppers are more likely to complete a purchase if they have a discount code and coupon. Who’s surprised? Everyone loves a discount.

      Make sure to highlight the cost-saving benefit of your promotional offers or discounts. More importantly, emphasize how the add-on product enhances the customer’s experience and provides extra value.

      Offer exclusive bundles and packages.

      Create special packages and bundles that combine the principal product with complementary items. Consider making the bundle cheaper than ordering items separately.

      Another thing I like to do is position the bundle as a special offer available only to customers who buy a particular primary product. I've found that this often provides an extra incentive for customers to take advantage of the bundle.

      According to HubSpot research, 30% of salespeople who cross-sell said that offering bundles was one of their top three cross-selling strategies.

      Typically, the higher the discount on bundles, the higher the likelihood a customer will accept it. A research study appearing in the Journal of Risk and Financial Management found that if a discount is only 20%, customers still prefer to buy individual products. If it’s 45% or higher, the preference for bundles is higher than for individual products.

      Show products frequently purchased together.

      Another great cross-selling strategy, particularly for ecommerce businesses, is to show products that other customers frequently buy alongside the main item.

      When your customers see that others who bought one item also bought additional items, they’ll naturally hypothesize why it’s the case. If they determine the additional product has relevant value, they’ll probably add it to their purchase as well.

      Monitor and analyze performance.

      The key to keeping your cross-selling efforts sharp is to constantly monitor and analyze your performance. Personally, I track metrics like conversion rate, average order value, and customer satisfaction. Google Analytics helps me here.

      Once I have that data, I analyze it to identify patterns and areas for enhancement. From there, it’s a matter of brainstorming ways to fine-tune my cross-selling tactics and optimize my offers.

      Test different strategies.

      Even when your current strategies are doing well, there’s room for improvement. Test different offers, messaging, placements, and bundles to see if there are more effective combinations.

      Personally, I conduct A/B testing to measure the impact of variations and iterate based on my findings.

      Leverage social proof.

      Another cross-selling strategy I’ve found to be effective is using social proof to build confidence and trust in my offers. Display ratings, reviews, and testimonials from satisfied customers who have benefited from complementary products.

      This increases the perceived quality and usefulness of the product, which will boost your customers’ willingness to accept the cross-sale. The Medill Spiegel Research Center found that displaying reviews can increase a customer’s likelihood of buying a product by up to 270%.

      Train and empower your team.

      Empower your sales and marketing teams with the knowledge and tools to maximize cross-selling opportunities. This includes providing comprehensive training sessions that focus on understanding customer needs, product knowledge, and effective communication.

      Additionally, offer ongoing support and feedback to help your team refine their cross-selling approaches.

      When I work with a sales team, I like to give them some autonomy within established guidelines. This allows them to personalize their approach to cross-selling, which I've found leads to more authentic interactions with customers, increasing the likelihood of success.

      Boost Your Sales With Cross-Selling

      Everyone wins when you execute cross-selling effectively. You increase your brand’s bottom line, and your customers get solutions that better address their expectations and ideals.

      Sure, it requires a strategic and nuanced approach, but you have all the information needed to start. Stay in tune with how your customers feel, learn which features or products will benefit them the most, and calculate the perfect timing to introduce an extra offer.

      Oh, and stay patient until your cross-selling efforts thrive.

      Editor's note: This post was originally published in October 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

      sales plan

      Topics: Sales Strategy

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