Cross-Selling: What It Is, How It Works and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated November 1, 2021 | Published February 22, 2021

Updated November 1, 2021

Published February 22, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

a salesperson talks with a customer next to a shelf of products

Key takeaways:

  • Cross-selling is when a company or salesperson sells a customer a complementary or similar product to what the customer is already purchasing.

  • Upselling is when a retailer persuades a customer to purchase a product they value more or otherwise consider to be a better version than the one the customer originally planned on buying.

  • Tips for effective cross-selling include offering products in a bundle, offering discounted prices for bundled products, using visual aids, implementing suggestions throughout the buying process and knowing how to combat objections.

Cross-selling is considered one of the most effective forms of marketing, as this type of selling allows companies to increase their revenue without having to convert new customers. Cross-selling can also reduce how much the company spends on other marketing avenues.

In this article, we explore what cross-selling is, the difference between cross-selling and upselling and five tips for effective cross-selling with examples.

Related: Upselling vs. Downselling vs. Cross-selling

What is cross-selling?

Cross-selling is when a company or salesperson sells a customer a complementary or similar product to what the customer is already purchasing. For example, if a customer is buying a shirt, the salesperson may try to cross-sell them a necklace that complements the shirt.

Cross-selling can be very beneficial to companies as it allows them to bring in more revenue through one customer. The more cross-selling a company does, the more revenue they can make on existing customers who are already committed to making a purchase.

How does cross-selling work?

Cross-selling works by offering suggestions of products or services that go well with the product or service the customer is already planning on buying. The method varies based on the shopping experience.

In-store: In a brick-and-mortar store, this is often done by showing the customer products or services that would complement their current planned purchase and explaining how the additional products or services would make their purchase better. A fast food salesperson may offer a customer fries or another side to go with their sandwich.

Online: In online retail, cross-selling entails determining which products and services most compliment a particular purchase and creating offers that appear at appropriate times. For example, a company may suggest three additional products that pair well with the product currently in the customer's shopping cart when the customer goes to check out. Online cross-selling often takes more time on behalf of the company, as they must create a cross-sell option for each or most of the products or services offered.

Related: 5 Ways To Increase Your B2B Sales Effectiveness

Cross-selling vs. upselling

Cross-selling and upselling are commonly used interchangeably. However, these are two different marketing methods. Cross-selling involves selling complementary goods or services in addition to the purchase the customer already plans to make.

Upselling is when a retailer persuades a customer to purchase a product they value more or otherwise consider to be a better version than the one the customer originally planned on buying. Upselling typically does not include offering customers complimentary products and focuses on enticing buyers to make a larger purchase.

Example: If a buyer is thinking about purchasing one version of a mobile phone, the salesperson in the store may try to upsell the buyer to purchase the most recent version of the phone. This is done by convincing the customer of why the newest version is better than the other version. In cross-selling, salespeople are more concerned with convincing buyers why one purchase would complement another.

The goal of both upselling and cross-selling is to increase the value of the purchase being made by a customer and add value to the customer's buying experience.

Related: Cross-Selling vs. Upselling: Definitions and Differences

Examples of cross-selling

Here are additional examples of cross-selling:

  • A financial company cross-sells tax planning and preparation services to clients who already have an existing bank account with them.

  • A restaurant cross-sells side items to accompany a customer's main dish.

  • A salesperson suggests to a customer who is buying a laptop that they should consider also purchasing a back-up hard drive to store their important information on.

  • An e-commerce website makes cross-selling suggestions through a "customers also liked" section on each product page.

  • A clothing store displays mannequins with complete outfits and accessories so that shoppers can see how all of the pieces go together and are more likely to buy all pieces instead of just one.

  • A car dealer suggests that customers purchase in-car floor liners to protect their new vehicles.

  • A retailer offers a discount on a tire pump or bike light when a customer is buying a bicycle.

Related: Top 20 Effective Sales Tactics

5 tips for cross-selling

Get the most out of your cross-selling marketing efforts by using these effective approaches:

1. Bundle products

Offering products in a bundle prevents the buyer from having to search for complementary products or services themselves and makes the idea of buying the bundle more appealing.

For example: A retailer bundles an “at-home manicure kit” that includes a nail file, nail polish and a top coat. While the customer can also purchase just one product from the bundle, knowing that the other products complement each other will make it more likely that buyers purchase the bundle rather than a single product.

Related: A Complete Guide To Effective Sales Techniques

2. Offer discounted prices for bundled products

You can also offer the bundled products at a discounted price.

For example: If a customer purchases a bundled group of products, they will receive a 10% discount that they wouldn't receive if they purchased the products individually or only purchased one product.

3. Use visual aids

Showing customers how well certain products pair together is a great way to increase your cross-selling success.

For example: If you own a clothing store, displaying items together in the storefront or on a mannequin demonstrates to customers the compatibility of those products. When customers can visually see how well the products go together, they are more likely to decide to purchase all products as opposed to just one.*

Related: What Is Suggestive Selling? 6 Techniques To Use

4. Implement suggestions throughout the buying process

If you have an online storefront, placing cross-selling marketing throughout the buying process is an effective way to encourage customers to purchase more products.

For example: When a customer places an item in their online shopping cart, your website could then show the customer three more items that are recommended or that are frequently bought together. You could also include a "frequently bought together" or "customers also purchased" section on product pages to make additional purchase recommendations.

Related: 7 Methods of Selling and How To Choose the Right One

5. Know how to combat objections

Many customers will initially object to purchasing additional products. The cross-selling process runs much smoother when you are prepared for these objections and can provide customers valid reasons why the additional purchase is worth it.

For example: If a customer is buying a new car and you're trying to cross-sell them protection mats for the car floor, the customer may initially decline the offer. However, if you express to the customer that they will ultimately be saving money by preventing the need to have their car cleaned or the interior repaired as often, this can circumvent the objection and entice the customer to make the additional purchase.

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