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What's the difference between upselling and cross-selling?

3-minute read

Difference between cross-selling and upselling
Rosanna Parrish

Rosanna Parrish

10 May 2023

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They say the customer is always right but that doesn’t mean business owners aren’t knowledgeable too. Sometimes you know better than anyone what products suit your customers' needs.

Two of the most common ways to help customers make informed purchases – whilst boosting your own revenue – are through cross-selling and upselling. Both of these tactics allow you to increase your income whilst upholding customer satisfaction.

Our guide covers the differences between cross-selling and upselling – as well as how you can use them in your business.

What is upselling?

Upselling is a classic sales technique which has evolved with technology – making it commonplace in businesses both online and offline. Upselling comes into play once a customer already knows what they want.

Upselling isn’t about convincing a customer what to buy, but about building on that idea to get them the best product and the most revenue for your business. After a customer has chosen their product, you can upsell by suggesting upgraded features or add-ons to enhance their experience.

The main goal of upselling is to show the customer why a more premium version of a product is better for their individual needs.

Examples of upselling

Depending on the type of business you run, upselling can take many different forms. Here are some examples you can use in your small business:

  • highlighting the benefits of the upgraded version of a product
  • analysing how your products are used and suggesting add-ons based on customer research
  • reiterating the premium options’ value for money
  • offering product add-ons for an additional cost

How you upsell your products will also depend on your business model. If you’re based in a physical shop or restaurant, or offering an in-person service, you can take the time to get to know your customers’ wants and needs and upsell them relevant products.

If you’re a digital business using a company website, there are plenty of opportunities to upsell – both before and after purchase. A great way to upsell your products is to help your customers clearly see the differences between similar items.

Think about how you’re visually displaying this information, as a user may not think to check each individual product listing on your website. Where there are similar or standard/premium options, try clearly showing the differences between them in a table or grid. Include information on their different features and price points so your customers can make an informed decision.

You can also use the checkout page to remind customers of their other options. Follow up emails after purchasing are also a good way to check in and make sure your customers don’t need to upgrade to a premium version.

What is cross-selling?

Cross-selling is another popular sales and marketing tactic. Whereas upselling focuses on convincing customers to buy more premium products, cross-selling is all about supplementary products. You’ve probably seen cross-selling in action whenever you buy something. From a supermarket meal deal enticing you to buy a drink and snack or the ‘people also bought’ section on your favourite online shops.

As a business owner, you know which of your products work well together – which gives you a unique perspective on how best to market and cross-sell your stock. Implementing cross-selling into your marketing plan is a good way to ensure your whole range of products are visible in the customer journey.

Examples of cross-selling

Cross-selling isn’t about convincing your customers to buy the most expensive version of a product – it’s about recommending additional items that work well together. Depending on your business, this can take different forms:

  • implementing a ‘customers also bought’ feature on your website
  • asking “would you like x with y?” when talking to clients
  • promoting your own list of personally curated products

Cross-selling vs upselling

When selling your products, it’s important to choose the right times to either cross-sell or upsell. This will all come down to your relationship with your customers and your subject expertise.

By knowing when to step in and make recommendations to your customers, you are continuing to build a relationship with them – which goes a long way towards customer retention. It’s always good to remember that customer loyalty can be more beneficial to your business than a one-off sale.

Listen to your customers' needs and show them that you care. If they feel pressured or misled, they’ll be less likely to buy from you in the future. Knowing when to cross-sell and upsell is mutually beneficial to both you and your customers.

How to upsell and cross-sell your products

Your subject expertise and business knowledge are key to knowing how to market your products to the right audience. Here’s a few ways you can use these tactics to your advantage:

Make it a good deal

There’s a reason this is one of the oldest sales techniques – who can resist a bargain? Remind your customers just how much money they’ll be saving in the long run with upselling, or use bundles and discounts for multiple products with cross-selling.

Educate the customer

Nobody wants to be preached to but that doesn’t mean you can’t share your knowledge with your customers. Take the time to listen to their needs and make tailored recommendations. Just make sure not to come across as greedy.

Less problems, more solutions

Although your business directly benefits from upselling and cross-selling, so do your customers. Think about the common problems people in your industry face and how your products can be the solution. If you present these solutions in a non-bias way while focusing on the benefits, your customers will see the advantages.

Have you had success cross-selling and upselling in your business? Let us know how in the comments.

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Photo: StratfordProductions/
Rosanna Parrish

Written by

Rosanna Parrish

​​Rosanna Parrish is a Copywriter at Simply Business, specialising in legal and HR content. Trained at London College of Communication, she has been creating content professionally for eight years at publications across the UK and Spain. Starting her career in health insurance, she also worked in education marketing before returning to the insurance world. Rosanna also writes about wellbeing in the workplace. She lives by the sea and does her best writing in coffee shops.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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