What’s the Difference Between Upselling and Cross-Selling?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 16, 2022 | Published February 15, 2021

Updated August 16, 2022

Published February 15, 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.

Cross-selling and upselling are both techniques that salespeople use to increase the total dollar amount for each sale. They are common in business-to-consumer retail sales and business-to-business sales. It's beneficial to learn what these tactics are if you're curious about how to increase your overall sales. In this article, we describe upselling vs cross-selling, give examples and offer tips for success using these strategies.

Related: How To Be a Successful Manager in Retail

What does it mean to upsell?

Upselling is a sales technique that salespeople use to get potential buyers to purchase a more expensive item. This is a common practice of in-person retail sales, online retail sales and corporate sales. When a potential buyer expresses an interest in a product, successful upselling results in the purchase of an upgraded version of that item or a similar item of greater value. Here are three examples of successful upselling:

  • In-person retail sales: Imagine a person comes into a furniture store to purchase a reclining chair. If the salesperson is able to convince the buyer to purchase an automatic reclining chair with massage features that cost $250 more, then that is an upsell.

  • Corporate sales: Imagine a company is looking to buy basic auditing software for their business. If the salesperson can convince them that to buy a more complicated cloud version of the software for double the price, then that is a successful upsell.

  • Online retail sales: Imagine that a person wants to buy a polyester dress for $56 from an online retailer. If after viewing the dress online, the person receives an email from the company that convinces them to buy a satin dress in a similar style for $156, then that is an example of upselling.

Related: 15 Essential Sales Tips That Drive Sales and Business Profit)

What does it mean to cross-sell?

Cross-selling is a technique that salespeople use to get buyers to purchase additional items. The purpose of cross-selling is to raise the total sales amount for each client or customer. People working in online retail sales, in-person retail sales and corporate sales regularly use this tactic. When a potential buyer expresses an interest in purchasing a particular product, an effective cross-sale results in the purchase of an additional item or items that complement the original product. Here are three examples of successful cross-sales:

  • In-person retail sales: Imagine a person comes into a jewelry store to purchase a $120 necklace for their partner. If the salesperson can convince the buyer to also purchase matching earrings for $66 and a warranty package for $12, then that is a successful cross-sale.

  • Corporate sales: Imagine a company is looking to hire a consultant for a weekend-long professional development event for their staff members. If the salesperson at the consulting firm can also facilitate a contract for two additional consultants and a key-note speaker, then that is cross-selling.

  • Online retail sales: Imagine that a person wants to buy a $21 tube of mascara from an online retailer. If at the point of sale, the person receives a pop-up ad from the company that convinces them to also buy an eyeliner pencil for $14, then that is an example of cross-selling.

Related: What Is B2B Sales?

Differences between cross-selling and upselling

  • Upselling typically occurs at the beginning or middle of a sales interaction.

  • Cross-selling typically happens after someone expresses interest in purchasing an item.

  • Cross-selling regularly happens near the end of a sale.

  • The items a salesperson suggests for cross-selling are predictable and connect with the primary purchase.

  • The items a salesperson suggests for upselling are based on employee knowledge of competing products.

  • Cross-selling works best when the buyer has a specific item in mind for purchase.

  • Upselling works best when the buyer wants to purchase an item to fulfill a specific need.

Related: Top 11 Types of Sales Jobs: Which One is Right for You?

Strategies to boost cross-selling and upselling

Here are five strategies for increasing your revenue by cross-selling and upselling in corporate and retail settings:

Ask buyers what they are looking for

Whether you are in retail sales or corporate sales, asking your potential clients or customers what they are looking for is a friendly way to initiate a sales transaction. This simple question opens a dialogue between you and prospective customers and lets them know you are genuinely interested in helping them. It also allows the customer to express their needs and reason for shopping. The customer's response lets you know whether you should try to upsell or cross-sell.

If the customer has an exact item or brand in mind, then consider cross-selling. For example, if the person comes in asking for a specific phone for their daughter, you should facilitate the purchase of that exact phone—then suggest a fashionable case and a screen protector. If a buyer has a very specific reason or goal to accomplish with their purchase, then consider upselling. For example, if someone comes into your furniture store and says they want a comfortable sofa for their family room, you can show them a family-friendly sectional—then suggest the fabric protection plan.

Cross-sell at the point of sale

The point of sale is the actual time that a transaction occurs. The moment just before the point of sale is ideal for cross-selling in retail sales. This is because the buyer has committed to owning the item in question. The products that a salesperson suggests for cross-selling should complement the buyer's purchase and should improve the user experience.

Related: What Is Point of Purchase Advertising?

Be mindful of the add-on item's price when cross-selling

When suggesting products to add to a purchase, consider the price of the original item. The price of any add-ons or accessories should be less than the original item's purchase price. Remember, cross-selling should make the buyer feel happier with their overall purchase. If the buyer feels that the original purchase is only made valuable by purchasing a more expensive product, then it is likely they won't be content with their buying experience.

Related: Customer Experience: Definition and Importance

Ask the customer's price range when upselling

When upselling, it is important to first ask a person what their price range or budget might be. If a retail customer or corporate client explains that they are looking to purchase a product to solve a problem, you should find out what they are willing to spend before offering items for sale. Doing this helps narrow your list of options so you can adjust your response accordingly. Considering a customer's price range can help create the opportunity for a bigger sale.

For example, if you work in a jewelry store, there are probably items that range from $40 all the way up to $10,000. If a potential customer comes in and says they need to find a birthday gift for their spouse, it is helpful to ask what price range they are considering. If they have an actual price range of $1,000 to $1,200, then suggesting a $200 necklace would not have been an upsell. After they reveal how much they're willing to spend, you can start by suggesting a $1,300 tennis bracelet, which would put you in the position for an upsell transaction.

Always speak highly of the products you sell

Whether you are trying to upsell or cross-sell, it is important to speak positively about the products that you promote. Speaking in a way that suggests a product is suboptimal might discourage a sale and cause distrust in the future. Here are examples of how to stay positive about the products you sell in both cross-selling and upselling:

  • Cross-selling: The items you suggest should complement the original product that a person is buying. Avoid suggesting that the original product lacks value without the purchase of additional items. Instead, suggest that purchasing an additional item would add to the already significant value of their purchase.

  • Upselling: If a person comes in asking for a particular product, cross-selling is most likely the best solution. If you think upselling is appropriate, make sure you speak positively about the item they're interested in buying. Let the customer know that they have made a good selection, and tell them you have something even more amazing to show them.


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