5 Questions That Will Help With Up-selling and Cross-selling

Are your agents struggling with cross-selling and up-selling? Are these additional revenues sources “straight lining?” If so, your strategy may be lacking in balance.

To be successful, a cross-sell/up-sell program has to clearly answer very specific “what, who, why, when and how” questions. You may have the “what” right, but have you clearly documented the “who” or communicated the “why?”

Are your agents always focused on “sell, sell, sell?” Or do they present those opportunities as an act of service?

If you are not sure about your balance, take some time with your team to answer the questions below. When you do, you just might find a balance point that will quickly drive higher customer and employee satisfaction—and higher revenues.

Are we offering closely related products?
Customers don’t do well with suggestions for unrelated products. Have you looked at what you are offering to make sure the offers make sense? Can you say a resounding “yes” to every match? A good way to assess this is to ask your agents how easy it is for them to transition from the sale to the up-sell or cross-sell item. If they are struggling to find a graceful connection, you may need to reconsider.

What is the price spread between the items?
Customers are baffled when there is a large price difference between the item you’re suggesting and the item they asked about. Are you selling a $500 camera and suggesting a $600 lens? This probably won’t fly. Look at the price points. You may want to rethink some of your matches.

Are the product (or services) features aligned?
Customers like to consider items that are similar when they are considering an up-sell. Let’s take the camera example again. Say the customer is talking about a specific digital camera with pretty specific specification concerning pixels, resolution, image stabilization, autofocus, scene modes, metering mode, blink detection—well, you get the point. Are you sure the up-sell products you’re offering are in alignment with the customer’s requirements and include some really “cool plus” features? If your up-sell doesn’t have the customer’s key features plus, you will probably lose the up-sell.

Do we have tempting packages?
Customers like it when they don’t have to think about everything they might need with a new purchase. They also like a deal. Bundling products and services is a great way to show aligned products and services; with bundling, customers don’t have to figure out all the accessories they might need. Do you have all the relevant products and services bundled? Do you offer a tempting price break—one that will seal the deal?

Are you sensitive to customer priorities?
Some customers are brand sensitive, others are price sensitive. Do your up-sells and cross-sells reflect this? If I am calling in for a Nikon camera, I may not be open to consider an off-brand lens. Agents have to know when the consumer is price sensitive versus brand sensitive. The off-brand lens may fit perfectly, but some customers simply won’t consider it. Other customers like the price and will go for it immediately. Agents have to consider the conversation prior to the product choice to know which customer is which. The same is true for up-selling. Do your agents know when to stay with a brand up-sell and when to cross brands to get those extra features?

Have you clearly documented the benefits of an up-sell?
So, you’ve got your list of “if the customer wants this, let’s consider offering him that” upgrade. Great! However, do you have the benefits clearly outlined? Can you persuade the customer to spend more based on the benefits you have documented? Ask your agents if they have to create a new benefits list each time they try to up-sell a product or service in one of your campaigns. If they do, you just might have a little work to do.

Have you considered how a customer is shopping you?
Do all of your up-sells and cross-sells align so that you are giving the customer the optimum choice while at the same time optimizing your ability to sell profitability? You know what channels your different customers shop—do you align your up-sell and cross-sell opportunities across all the channels? If you don’t, you might be missing some opportunities.

WHY (from the customer’s point of view)
Are we providing the “total” experience for our customers?
Many clothing retailers are good at this. Think, “coordinated outfit.” A customer calls in describing a dress. The agent engages the customer and learns that she is excited about going to her nephew’s wedding next week, but has been having a tough time finding a dress. It’s the first time she will be seeing “that side of the family” in years, and she wants to make sure everything is just right.

The agent suggests that she can help with all the details of a just-right outfit and offers to coordinate the dress, shoes, jewelry, purse and even the undergarments. The customer is delighted and swears she will never shop another at retailer again! When we provide the “total” experience, customers stay!

Are we personalizing our service?
Customers want to know that their needs and wants have been considered when we make them an offer. Sometimes our standard offers feel like Goldilocks and the Three Bears to our customers—too big, too little; too hot, too cold. Our goal is to find the offer that is “just right.” This takes some personalization and expertise from your agents.

Programs fail when the rules are rigid and there is no room for creative personalization. Are you being too rigid and in the process losing extra revenue? Do you encourage your agents to consider “going outside the box” whenever it makes sense? Are you somehow penalizing or preventing this kind of ingenuity? Customers recognize and appreciate when we personalize our offers.

WHY (from the company’s point of view)
Does your staff understand why up-selling and cross-selling are important?
Do your agents know that your offers are another way for customers to understand the depth and variety of what the company offers? Do they understand how up-selling and cross-selling link to customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and profitability? If not, you might be missing out on revenue. Consider this: If you change the objective when there are calls in queue, perhaps recommending that your people get off calls faster, you are sending a double message. So, which is more important for the agent to focus on, the potential revenue or the queue?

Is your timing impeccable?
Knowing when to make an offer is crucial. You know that cross-selling and up-selling can occur at different times, but do your agents understand that? Do they know what to offer when a customer is in the “considering” phase of the purchase (e.g., looking at a certain digital camera but disappointed with the features), or when the customer has already purchased one item (e.g., that belt with those pants)? How about after the sale (e.g., extended warranties)? Perfect timing is crucial when it comes to up-selling and cross-selling.

The best strategy and tactics will do you no good if you don’t teach your staff how to use them. Here are a few ways to ensure that your people are pros.

Allow a little ingenuity.
The great up-sell and cross-sell agents are those who have such in-depth knowledge of the product that they can go “off script” every once and a while. Help more agents attain this expert level and give them permission to take a different path every so often. They will probably discover a few up-sell and cross-sell tactics not currently in your playbook. Be sure to provide an opportunity to share their successes.

Give them the words and examples.
People new to this need some words to say and examples of how to say them. Make your agents storytellers. Customers like hearing about how others have benefited from a product or service. Let the agents experience the products and services when possible so they have their own stories to tell.

Practice, practice, practice.
The table below explains various ways to help agents gain expertise with up-selling and cross-selling. The main goal is to ensure that the agent is not practicing on your customer. We shouldn’t treat our customers like guinea pigs.

Skill Opportunity


Recorded examples of up-sell and cross-sell interactions

Using audio- and videotapes of agents performing real-time, actual interactions: These may not be best practice examples. Instructors discuss the interactions to illuminate the pros and cons of the interaction.

Role play

Using documented scenarios for agents to role-play with other agents or instructors. Role-play results can be inconsistent due to varying instructor/agent skill levels.

Video of best-practice processes

Using a videotaped demonstration that agents can access to reinforce best-practice skill and knowledge.

Instructor-led classroom training

Using one or more individuals to communicate knowledge and skill to trainees in a classroom environment.

One-on-one coaching

Using one or more subject matter experts to provide one-on-one coaching to decrease gaps in skill and knowledge.


Using computer-based technology to deliver case-based learning and training programs.

Knowledge management

Using a database and search engine to make the knowledge content required for reliable interactions readily available to agents.


Using speech recognition simulation software to fully replicate the agent interaction environment. Used by agents to hone their best-practice process skills. Produces highly reliable and reproducible skills.

Smart agent desktop

Using a smart desktop solution to drive an agent through the best-practice process in the production environment.

Kathryn Jackson is an associate and co-founder of Co-Founder at ResponseLearning.